A few months ago, I talked to someone I cooked for about food ethics. The lady in question had a very interesting perspective on meat and dairy consumption. She said, she eats meat, but does not consume any dairy. Why? Because dairy animals have to endure a long time of suffering while animals that are reared for meat tend to have a short life with less suffering – especially if you buy free range stuff.
Food ethics are a hairy issue. The newspapers, magazines and TV programmes are full of stories about what to eat and what not to eat – not necessarily for health reasons, but to help the planet. I recently came across a string of articles telling people to stop eating all fish and seafood no matter how good they are for you.
So how does Somethingfromanything deal with this?
Most of the time, I eat vegetarian (not vegetarians!). That means: no meat or fish, but occasionally I have gelatine-containing sweets and my mum insists I should have fish twice a year which she cooks for me (usually steamed whole trout with potatoes, horse-radish sauce and butter). There are ethical, financial, vanity-related and snobbery -related reasons for this.
Ethical, because I think if you want to eat meat, you should be able to raise and kill ‘it’ yourself and not have it produced for you by the Meatrix. I used to work next to a slaughterhouse and see the cute little piglets getting driven in at around 5am in the morning (I know, a very girly reason!). I even went into one once to collect something – not nice, although the people were very nice to me. At most workplaces, I’ve had to prepare meat. I don’t mind it as long as I do not have to buy and eat it. Ironically, quite a few of my meat-eating co-workers find raw meat revolting so that I sometimes ended up being the ‘meat specialist’ – usually up to my elbows in blood from intestines to prepare traditional English fare (e.g. liver and bacon, steak and kidney pie – another note about that later)… I have to confess I quite revelled in the shock effect on my fellow cooks! Also, handling raw meat has something strangely spiritual about it. After all, you are handling the remains of a living being that is going to feed you. I wonder if more people felt like that, would meat become less of a casual commodity that some people eat several times a day without thinking?
The thing I’m actually most worried about when it comes to food is over-fishing. I have a friend who researches this stuff and the statistics are indeed scary. And I bet a lot of this fish goes to waste or stupid purposes like pet food. And those fishing practices! I also don’t like seafood related decadence. The food that is now used to display status such as caviar, oysters and lobsters (and this is not only applicable to sea food) used to be the food of the very poor. I also find it offensive when people eat certain meats because it’s tradition. Of course, I mean turkey. Turkey’s are such cool and eccentric animals – why do you need to eat them? Every year, people complain how awfully rubbery and dry the meat is, no matter what you do with it. Don’t buy it, for God’s sake! Make a fake turkey – it’s much more fun anyway!
Many people are vegans for ethical reasons. I find this diet hard to maintain at a reasonable cost and effort, especially if you eat as much as I do (I have a very fast metabolism), although I do agree that it’s a good thing if you can keep it up. What I sometimes have a problem with are vegans who aggressively try to convert you to veganism – usually while smoking unethically sourced and marketed cigarettes and talking about their political activities in various exotic countries they flew to. A more comical annoyance is vegans unexpectedly turning up at birthday parties pointing at every cake on the buffet asking ‘is this vegan’? Come on, what are the chances? Dream on! It’d be like me going to a Mongolian barbecue asking if any of this was vegetarian! I do have to say that I know some very nice vegan cakes based on medieval recipes. Expensive to make though under modern supply conditions (spelt flour, honey, nuts etc). Must dig them out to drool over them!
Financial, because it’s cheaper to eat veg than meat – although sometimes meat can be scarily cheap (unlike meat substitutes)! I have to say that most of the time, I get any kind of vegetables from the market – sometimes they ain’t that nice, but I can make them nice with a little tweaking. I pay attention to seasonal foods (they tend to be cheaper anyway), but sometimes I get confused. Luckily, the market guy knows his stuff and my shopping habits. I would like to buy all organic (and fairtrade) food, but that’s usually out of my reach unless the market guy happens to have some, or I find it in the ‘reduced to clear’ pile, or friends give me leftovers from their ‘organic boxes’. I’ve heard that there is cheaper organic food somewhere, I don’t think in my part of London. Apparently having it delivered is getting affordable, but I like independence from deliveries. I tried growing some food myself, but that worked out more expensive and was pretty laborious on a mostly shady balcony (not to mention lugging 50kg bags of compost around on only a bicycle!). And where is the compost ‘mined’ from, anyway? Sometimes, I am annoyed when vegetarian food is more expensive than the meat. Even at MacDonald’s and Subway, the vegetarian sandwich is never on special offer and always more expensive than the cheapest meat option. I know, it’s the freak option in these businesses, but hey, it’s just a burger bun with some reconstituted potato et al. Dairy is also expensive (I guess it should be), especially cheese, so I don’t have it a lot. If I buy cheese, I try to buy small amounts of non-cow cheese (I like to think that non-cows live happier lives). Most of the time, it’s goat’s cheese, because cheese from sheep or buffalo milk is even more out of my reach. And I don’t think they do horse-milk stuff in this country. The occasions where you find this kind of stuff in the reduced-to-clear pile are very rare – and you have to go to places like Waitrose, and I think I recall all of them, because of the nice taste of the stuff – although goats milk can be pretty harsh if you don’t consume it regularly. Buffalo milk tastes a bit musty like milk fresh from a cow (had that on several occasions as a kid), Ewe’s milk cheddar was nice and subtle and the French goat’s cheese was absolutely delicious, although it’s nowhere near as nice as the (actually pretty cheap) stuff you get in French supermarkets. Talking of vegetarian food in France: it’s not easy to find, but if you do find it, it’s the best you will ever have! Even if it has weird names like algae-tofu burgers.
Vanity-related, because I get really bad skin from meat. And I mean: teenage acne strength bad!
Snobbery-related, because while I am quite partial to fish, I know that the only way it tastes good is when it comes straight out of the water. The only way you can get this in London is when you fish your own in a pond somewhere – and that’s somewhere between boring and disturbing (unless you really have no money) or if you are really really rich and decadent. Ah, and you can also try fishing in the Thames for the ultimate Simpsons experience… although it’s apparently improved. Check out this rather interesting article on commercial fishing in the Thames!
And meat-wise… as a kid, I ate quite a lot of meat, though mostly non-cooked meat like tongue lunch meat and mince meat mixed with spices and onions, which are both eaten on bread, but also typical children’s favourites like chicken nuggets and other reconstituted crap. Now, the only meat I could imagine eating is wild boar. It was my favourite hot meat (juicy, but not fat and earthy, but not too musty), and in Germany, there are so many of these critters (due to people planting too much corn which the boars love to eat) that it’s practically ethical to eat them, because they destroy the forests, the fields, inner city parks and gardens (imagine waking up to that!) and also you if you’re in the way! 😉 We used to have a cheap supply of the dead beasts, not because of roadkill, but because a few people in my family were rangers and hunters. The disadvantage was that you got a whole animal delivered which usually ended up in our bathtub, because it was so big. You had to then go to your neighbour’s, ask for a wood axe or meat cleaver, get rid of the parts you did not know what to do with in the (= my) baby bathtub – and hack and sometimes saw the rest into pieces that would fit into the freezer. I still remember the sawing noises, the axes and both kitchen and bathroom being full of blood and vessels containing blood and body parts. Yum! You know now why I laugh at mere liver and bacon preparation, even if it’s for a whole canteen full of people!