Rainy rainy ride back home from Low Bridge End farm! I cycled over there today to participate in some very shady dealings concerning pigs. Their lovely rare-breed Tamworth pigs have gone ‘on holiday’, which is Low Bridge’s euphemism for going for slaughter. The shady dealings come in the form of I, the long-time vegetarian, procuring a small amount of pig for myself to eat. Let me explain…
The last time I ate meat was two years ago, when I ate Hebridean lamb. This was also raised on Low Bridge End farm. The link above gives an in-depth explanation of why I chose to eat that bit of Hebridean lamb that day, and the same theory applies to the Tamworth pigs from today.
In context: For the last nine months or so, I’ve been living with an almost-vegan diet. In addition to eating no meat, I have excluded all dairy (milk!) products from my diet, as I’ve had on-going stomach troubles that I am trying to sort out. The no-dairy makes my belly happier, but leaves me with precious little options in terms of protein sources that are local to Cumbria. Why? Because Cumbria’s food production capacity is limited, and protein sources in this area are very much animal-based. I do eat a lot of eggs that are locally/ethically produced, but from a local-food perspective, I dislike how much soy/lentils/beans dominate in my diet.
So I’ve been thinking about introducing small amounts of ethically produced, context-specific meat into my diet.
This is a very big deal for me. For a long time I outright rejected meat because I disagreed (on many levels) on how the majority of meat in the Western world is produced – using intensively reared, factory farming methods. I didn’t want to participate in this system, and having a diet completely free of meat made it much easier to disconnect from it.
I still don’t agree with the current factory farming system (at all!), but a few things have changed. I now believe that animal husbandry has a place in sustainable farming practices, whereas before I wasn’t sure. I am starting to realise that in certain places – Northern England and Cumbria being good examples- a local, sustainable food production system will need to include animals. This doesn’t mean there is now a green-light to go meat crazy with your diets. It is all about balance and context:
In the past, the amount of meat and dairy products that were consumed was more or less governed by the resources available. The number of pigs in a community would depend pretty much on the amount of waste food and crops available. Pigs are great food recyclers. The number of other animals would be restricted to the availability of land after staple crops such as wheat and vegetables had been catered for.
But then came a change: Population growth, wealth and subsequent demand for animal food products outstripped the supply and broke the ‘permaculture’ type equilibrium. The result was that extra resources had to be put into rearing animals, and crops are now grown specifically to be fed to animals to give us food. It’s a very inefficient process energy-wise, resulting in about 10 calories of energy being put in to get one back out in the form of meat protein. Additionally, the intensification of animal farming reduced livestock to mere commodities that were treated with increasingly horrific methods.
Quote gleaned from a review of the book ‘Meat: A Benign Extravagance‘, which I have only read a small amount of (but plan to read it in it’s entirety!).
As outlined above, our food production used to be on a smaller, more balanced scale with regards to animals. Animals used to be used for all sorts in a food production capacity – grazing on grass lands not suitable for arable crops, rooting around to clear land, manure for nutrients, eating potential pests, etc. They were raised as part of a system, in conjunction with many other food production activities – whereas now they are just an end in themselves (usually just for meat!).
Suffice to say, animal production has an integral place in a sustainable food system that takes in a systems/holistic view of everything. The trick is the context – why is it reared, how is it reared, what are the other viable options for food production in the area, etc. When animals are reared in a way that has more of a nod to an entire sustainable food system, one that takes into consideration context and balance, then I largely agree with eating meat. In fact, I think those farmers working towards ‘doing it right’ need to be supported through people buying and consuming their products.
Photos from my wee ride!! ^^^
So, all that being said, I made my first real forays into intentional meat eating! The reason I say it’s a ‘shady dealing’ is to do with my firm sense of identity as a vegetarian which is quickly shifting … so I feel like I’m obtaining illicit drugs when I’m dealing with meat! I stashed the rashers of Tamworth bacon in my panniers and stole off in to the night …