In the current climate, when so many of us feel almost overwhelmed by the cataclysmic changes occurring all over the world, many wise voices, Robert Reich amongst them, are urging us not to give in to the paralysing feeling that it’s all too much, and there’s nothing we can do.
One small change we have recently made in our house is to close up a loophole in our commitment not to eat factory-farmed meat. We have for years, as much as our domestic budget allowed, bought free-range meat, and have only used free-range eggs for decades now, but we had continued to eat meat when out and about in establishments where there was no claim made about how the animal was reared.
I won’t go into the horrors of factory-farming - there is plenty on the internet*- but share a couple of thoughts. To any woman who has gone through the intense tenderness of early breast-feeding, I think we can all empathise with a sow that is constrained in a metal pen while her piglets are allowed constant access to her teats, literally tearing them into a bloody state. And I recall an acquaintance who through economic misfortune was reduced, late in life, to collecting cracked eggs from a battery-farm barn. The smell was so overpowering, he said, that he frequently had to exit the barn to vomit.
We decided last autumn that we would henceforth buy organic meat wherever possible, given that organic farmers, committed to not using antibiotics routinely, have to give their animals more care in respect of room to breathe and roam etc. This meat naturally costs more, so we agreed to eating smaller portions - no great imposition, as we are already a family that by choice generally has more veg than meat on a plate!
When we bought our first organic free-range chicken, the flatness of the breast (no growth hormones!) was noticeable. It looked and tasted like the chickens we used to have on the table when we were children. It also had no red burn-marks on the legs from excreta-saturated barn-floors. It’s actually more economical to buy a whole chicken and joint it for casseroles etc than to buy portions, and the carcass makes great chicken-stock for soups, rice dishes, etc.
The second part of our commitment was not to eat meat when we were away from home unless it was clearly labelled as free-range, so actually we just eat vegetarian most times. The Toby chain’s a good option when travelling - they’re all over the place, and you can have a lovely plate of fresh veg and the vegetarian alternative to the Carvery meats - there are usually three choices including a vegan one.
So a win-win-win result! Less cruelty to animals, better health, increase in self-esteem resulting from sticking to our principles, and lastly better taste: we tried some of Helen Browning’s Organic dry-cured bacon for lunch today, and Martin commented it was the best bacon sandwich he’d ever eaten. Praise indeed!
*For an obviously authentically-researched fictional account of factory farming chickens, try Martina Lewycka’s novel Two Caravans.