Sep. 28th, 2013

dormant_dragon: Sleepy Stan from 'All Yesterdays' (Default)
One of my favourite treats from Queen Victoria Markets is ham made from free-range pigs raised in the Otways. Well, I say ‘treat’ but the truth is that I buy some nearly every time I visit the markets, simply because it’s the most delicious ham I have ever experienced. I’m not sure how much of a psychological aspect is involved – perhaps a significant one – but I strongly suspect that the deliciousness of the ham is due in no small measure to the fact that the pigs from which it’s made are afforded a healthy, natural, outdoor life rather than one spent cooped up in a concrete prison.

As you might well suppose, I spend quite a lot of time thinking about food and the food choices I make – which, of course, affect much more than just my own health and conscience. Matters of animal welfare, environmental impact and fair trade all influence the decisions I make with regard to the food I consume. These days it’s become quite the trendy thing to be a foodie, though not everyone takes it to the extent of building an entire food philosophy.

My first attempt at taking my food choices seriously culminated in what turned out to be a brief flirtation with vegetarianism. At the time, it seemed like an easy and logical choice to make for someone who genuinely cared about the welfare of other animals, including the ones we use for food. For some time already, we had been opting for free-range eggs and I had long since stopped eating veal, having found out how veal is commercially produced; so going the whole hog, so to speak, and giving up animal flesh altogether made sense. Besides, I reasoned, I could probably never bring myself to actually kill another animal for food – and if I couldn’t obtain it for myself, what possible entitlement could I have to eat meat?

Transitory though it was, my stint as a vegetarian was quite instructive. For one thing, it allowed me to appreciate how many people actually misunderstand vegetarianism to mean that, oh, maybe you’ll still eat chicken or maybe fish; not long ago, in fact, we were happily told by a waitress that the restaurant’s mussel special could be made vegetarian by removing the bacon. I also found that actually being vegetarian pretty much forces one to be more creative with cooking – provided one does not simply resort to meat substitutes. Much as I rather enjoy tofu and Quorn, for example, I am much less a fan of “fake meat” than I am of finding new and interesting ways to make use of vegetables, eggs and dairy products.

However, the biggest thing I learned from pursuing vegetarianism was this – I really, really like meat. I missed it, in all its varieties; I missed its taste, its texture and the qualities it lends to the dishes of which it’s a component. In the end, I had to admit that vegetarianism can actually be as culinarily limiting, in its way, as the old meat-and-three-veg approach. This is not to say that I don’t, even now, enjoy vegetarian food, both cooking and eating it; it’s just that these days it’s one of several possibilities, rather than something I feel constrained by my food philosophy to do.

So, having decided that my diet would contain meat, I felt it necessary to consider the ethics of meat production and consumption. I became much more conscious of the welfare issues involved in the meat industry – in the ways animals are bred and raised and eventually slaughtered. Happily it is becoming easier to obtain meat from animals raised in humane conditions, where they have access to outdoor foraging and the chance to pursue their natural inclinations. Some people would say – indeed, have said to me – “Well, what’s the point of them having decent lives if they’re only going to be killed anyway?” The question comes down to the degree to which the animal suffers. It’s one thing to be concerned about the brief suffering involved in the actual slaughter; the more prolonged suffering the animal endures during its life is a separate but related concern. I feel much better about eating meat from an animal that has led a contented existence while it lasted, than one that has been raised in miserable, cramped, unhealthy conditions. I may be going out on a limb here, but I don’t think death is necessarily the worst experience a sentient being can have.

It was some time after I had become more attuned to the ethics of meat-eating - and of food altogether - that I first encountered Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage philosophy – and it resonated powerfully with my own thinking. At the core of the River Cottage approach is respect – respect for the animal during its life and respect for its meat as the precious food source it really is. This respect extends to food in general and the central importance it has in our lives, whether we recognise it or not. I like to think my own involvement with food is reflective of my deep appreciation for it; not just cooking and eating it, but also especially the exercise of growing my own food enhances my sense of connection with the natural world that produces it. Food is so integral to the business of being alive that it makes perfect sense to me to immerse myself in the enjoyment of it, from paddock and garden, via kitchen, to table; and on that note, I am now going to head out into our garden to fetch some garlic and onions for tonight’s dinner.


dormant_dragon: Sleepy Stan from 'All Yesterdays' (Default)

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