Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Reconnecting With Food - For Humans, Our Pets & Our Future...

In 2014 The Guardian ran an article:
"Should meat be displayed in butcher shop windows?"
I thought there was going to be a twist, or it was a clever play on words - but no.
"I, too, have been disgusted at the needless display of multiple mutilated carcasses on display," wrote Ben Mowles from Great Cornard, who claimed he had been forced to suspend trips with his 12-year-old daughter to the nearby sweet shop because he would "rather not look at bloody severed pigs' heads when buying sweets."
Presumably Ben has also suspended trips to the supermarket too, because you can see chunks of meat there - imagine the trauma of the bacon aisle!  You'd also run the gauntlet of running into a whole fish (with eyes) as you scurry past the monger, something surely no child should be subjected to.

I'm going to avoid the obvious #firstworldproblem eye-roll (not least as I hate the term"first world problem"),  and the fact the Tudors would have been horrified and continue with the article:
"It is a stark image. The father shielding his daughter's eyes as he rushes her past the "mutilated carcasses" – which show the signs of provenance, the story of where the meat came from. He protects her from the reality of the chicken that goes into chicken nuggets, the beef that goes into beef burgers, the pork that goes into sausages. And he rushes her to Marimba sweet shop to find solace in a bar of chocolate instead."
 And that's the upshot isn't it?  People happily eat sausages, yet show them a pig's head and a petition is quickly arranged.  Butchering their own meat is something many now would struggle with, but we're going a step further to the point we shouldn't even be exposed to what it looks like?

Supermarkets are in no small part responsible for the shift in what we eat,  how we perceive foods and our sense of entitlement.  Historically the Butcher's window was a place to show the quality and quantity of their wares; whole, large animals versus scrawny, unhealthy stock or cheap cuts.

Before we all became blind to the privilege of having an abundance of intensively farmed food, meat was expensive and people couldn't afford to be squeamish.

Chickens were spun out to provide meals for days.  My dad jokes my grandma used to stretch it the best part of a week, with nothing going to waste including the neck, feet and so on which were used to boil up a tasty broth and pad out another meal somewhere.

Now people often just buy the parts of an animal they like, or toss away what they don't. As clean, cling filmed pieces of meat become the norm - people are not only losing touch of where it came from, but are objecting to being reminded.

Does it matter?

I think it does.  For more reasons than I can cover in one blog entry, particularly for some animals; so I plan to do a few in this series to follow :)

The most obvious of course is that butchers for years have had problems with excessive demand for some parts of an animal, yet virtually no call for other pieces such as a beef shin or offal.  At once time people with extra cash may buy steak, those without would buy a cheap cut and cook it for a long time; but as supermarkets drove the price of meat down, not only did steaks become more affordable for all, the reduced cooking time and convenience also fitted well with the trend of the time.

We need far more animals to meet this demand if we're all only eating certain bits of them. If half the animal is virtually worthless in terms of retail,  we need to sell a lot more steaks or chops to cover costs and make the same income.  It also often costs to dispose of "waste" or unwanted meat.

We can't deny that intensive farming is cruel.  Some animals never see daylight, never graze and instead are given modifier feed to cause rapid weight gain and get them on the shelf ASAP.

We surely all remember "chicken out" and the horror many felt when they saw what the chickens endured first hand, and yet so many people don't think twice about buying a supermarket chicken.

This is purely because of the disconnection between the pre-packaged, plucked, de-headed birds we buy - and the animal itself.  

If you had to visit a battery chicken and see the state of them, before placing an order for it to be delivered to you all neatly diced and packaged - would you buy it?

It struck me recently just how extreme our displeasure at recognising the animal we eat is becoming.

We recently got a cat.  It's years and years since we had one, back when choosing between a can of whiskers  or "the science diet" was about as far as you went when it came to considering diet.

A few years ago after reading some information about raw feeding, my parents decided to switch their adult dog to raw food.  The change was ridiculous, from a dull coat always put down to type, to one that shined like a polished mirror. He started to play again like a puppy, chasing toys and full of energy.

When we went to visit the breeder to collect our kitten, we discovered he'd already been established on raw food - so I joined a couple of groups online and away we went.

I discovered that intensive farming and cruelty was just as rife in the pet food industry as any other, yet even fewer are aware.  I've met people who only buy organic grass-fed meat or are vegetarian for ethical purposes, who carry home a bag of pet food from the supermarket without a second thought.

People feed a raw diet in all sorts of different ways:

Some give a raw mince (similar to "wet food"), either purchased ready to use or made at home (to a recipe that provides the required nutrition).

Others give raw meat like wings and thighs (to name two from a list which would fill a blog post on its own), liver etc chopped into pieces - again following specific ratios and guidance to ensure a balanced diet.

Some feed "whole prey"; that is a whole (dead) animal or bird, without any prepping or production. Examples of these for a cat would be mice, pigeon or quail.  This method is more popular than many might imagine, because it's also the most simple.  The ratios of organs to muscle meat to skin and fat are all balanced by nature. no calculating or prep required.

Lastly some people do a combination of the above.

One day a member posted some (actually rather fab photos from a "skills" perspective) images of her cats eating whole prey.  Another poster (who was already feeding her cat raw chunks of the same animal), said she felt it was disgusting to post such pictures and she didn't want to see that on her timeline. 

In a group focused purely on raw-feeding pets - chopped unrecognisable parts are acceptable, but if it can be identified as the animal it was it's a no go.

I have to wonder where do we draw the line?

If I buy a whole chicken at what point does it go from decent to not?  When the head is removed?  The feet?  The bits our particular culture doesn't regularly use?  Why are fish exempt from this "decency rule"?

Last week I went to order some more raw food, this time from a different site.  They had items listed I hadn't seen before and so clicked through for more info.

The word "CENSORED" sat were the picture should be, but I wanted to see what it looked like to decide if it was suitable for my pet.  I contacted the company who replied there were several reasons a picture might not be shown including:
"Sometimes yes we don't use a picture because it isn't a particularly pleasant looking product, and we don't want to put off those new to raw feeding or those that prefer to stick to the complete minces."
Yes heaven forbid people see that their minced up chicken, cooked and covered in gravy once looked like an actual baby chick.

I do understand the knee jerk squeamish "ew" reaction  many have, I just think we need to get over ourselves.  If we're prepared to eat it, to feed it to our pets - I absolutely think we should be prepared to not only look at it but acknowledge and respect the fact it was an animal.

Because it's surely a weird sort of irony, where we're more grossed out by recognising an animal, than we are by the cruelty some suffer to feed us and our pets.  Isn't that what we should really be concerned about?

The cuter the animal, the stronger the ick factor too.  Less people respond to a picture of an adult bird eg a quail, than they do a fluffy yellow newborn chick.  You can't show a photo of a wild rabbit shot to be fed to a pet, yet bring out a glossy tin of cat food made from rabbits who lived like this and we're good to go?

As an aside I also wonder where this sense of entitlement to not see things we find displeasing comes from, and who gets to decide?  I'm sure a vegan would much rather not look at packs of steak or cartons of milk in a supermarket, should they all be covered with a big censored sticker?  I think ick when I see a carnivore being fed a carb based biscuit with some dodgy plant protein mixed with cheap animal filler - do I get to claim this shouldn't be shared as I don't want it on my timeline?

The bigger picture goes far beyond meat.
"According to a recent survey by the British Nutrition Foundation, a whopping 14 percent of 8–11 year olds living in the United Kingdom think that bread comes from animals, and more than a quarter of 5–8 year olds and 22 percent of 8–11 year olds believe that cheese comes from plants."
We need to reconnect with our food on a bigger scale for so many reasons.  

We can't begin to make healthy choices and reduce diet related diseases, if we can only relate to food in its processed form. We've established we can't sustain intensive farming as a mechanism going forward to feed the ever expanding population, we need to thing bigger and better.

There are so many initiatives to try and tackle the problem but I really think a starting point is to just think about what we're eating.  It is amazing how quickly you start to desensitise, something I'll share more about in another entry outlining our experience of trying out whole prey feeding; so for now I'll carry on channelling my inner Bear Grylls, and encourage you to do the same x