I recall standing in the supermarket looking at cheap meat. Then I looked at the numerous cooking sauces which were placed next to that meat. I knew the meat would be all water and additives (why else could it be cheap?) and I knew the animal probably wouldn’t have had a good life. I knew I would need the cooking sauce to add any taste. I knew the meat would last one meal only. I walked out and I have rarely frequented a supermarket since!
Since then, we buy all our meat from the farmers who produced the meat and the fishermen who caught the fish – and the vegetables we grow ourselves (except that with my track record I often have to top up via one of the box schemes for fresh veg that thankfully abound these days or a local pick-your-own farm place!). An occasional foray into the local Budgens, which is a franchise and which sources locally, also tops up on those things I cannot get direct from the source.
I know that many farmers and fishermen need the supermarkets to reach scale for production, efficiency and profit purposes. However, I do know from years of legal practice concentrating on business disputes that the contracts are not always ‘of mutual support’ nor even equal when it comes to bargaining power. But if it works for the farmers fine – it often doesn’t though.
A recent discovery has been a local farmer, Geoff Brunt who farms locally to us, who supplies his meat direct from the farm. Plus fabulous chickens from a family member nearby, all sorts of delights (apple juice which is great) from other local growers and producers. The meat he sells ‘stands on its own’. It tastes – how it should. It actually not only does have a taste (very rare I find now and I don’t think I am old enough yet to be losing my taste buds…) but it has a really super taste. The sort of experience that makes you realise that actually you haven’t noticed how lacking in taste has been much of the meat you’ve had for years!
I have always had a fondness for farmers – I grew up in numerous countries abroad and saw the connection between man and beast; man and vegetable. In some countries it is a subsistence level connection. Any spare goes to a market (very few large supermarkets in some places) but often there is none spare once the family has been fed. Life in those countries can be basic, simple, tough, harsh and honest about the relationship between growing it, eating it and surviving on it. I am not an economist so I can only base what I do know on what I have learnt during my life experiences.
And my husband grew up on a dairy farm on Exmoor. The stories he tells me are often of physical hardship – tractoring milk through the snow to the nearest but still far away collection point (stopping off inadvertently via a deep ditch on the way!) to save having to chuck the milk away because the nearest collection points were inaccessible.
But if we think the recent floods in Somerset and snow in the North and in Wales last year hit farming hard (and unless you’ve been on the moon you’ll know that it did), we need to compare the reality of farming in the countries where there is simply no help nearby from neighbours, help (however limited) from Governments doesn’t exist, rallying calls from farming representatives is simply not there. No such thing as an extension to the overdraft, a claim on the insurance etc. However rare they are in this country! And I haven’t even started on the risks that fishermen take to catch fish in other countries. So when abroad, eat locally. Avoid the awful large hotel and restaurant chains if you can.
Tough in this country yes (and you will notice how little publicity has been given to the fishermen who currently are fighting the EU, the weather, the purchaser seeking cheap fish etc, compared to the farming community). But far more in other countries.
Again, I can only comment on what I try to learn. I cannot comment on the reality of being a farmer, a food producer, a fisherman, a veg grower (my front-garden-dug-up-lawn to grow veggies is hardly a challenging experience!). You can glean a lot from listening to those in the know, from twitter and from the power of the internet and the television. It is wonderful to see Gareth Wynn Jones’ Hill Farm on the BBC (only in Wales but you can get it on iplayer). After a fair amount of anti-townie sentiment emanating from some farmers on twitter (and of course in real life!), it is good to see farmers educating the townies about what they do, rather than criticising townies for not getting what they are all about.
If you enjoy food, and if you eat meat and fish (as I do), you need to know where it comes from and to take responsibility for it. Kindly Lived? But also Kindly Killed? I never forget speaking to a local pig farmer who loves his pigs, but who said that he loses control over them having a good life, and death, experience when he has to ship them off in large lorries to the nearest ‘local’ abbattoir. And don’t even start thinking about the live animal exports from this country. Perhaps more on my Kindly Lived Kindly Killed focus another time!
I made two meals recently using meat from Geoff Brunt’s farm – they both tasted great. Here, and Here. The meat ‘stood up’ to the few ingredients I added to the beef dishes. Not subsumed by it. The ultimate judgement of course is always made by the Husband who grew up tasting good beef.
I am not a journalist or a very proficient writer of blogs – I trained as a lawyer and worked as one too for too many years to have any vestiges of literary talent. But I do know what makes good food that I like. Local ingredients (so meat and veg from source, fresh, traceable, and I can take responsibility for buying it because I know as much as I can about it); good value (a chicken from Geoff’s farm lasts at least 3 meals in terms of the meat from the carcass, and then the bones make great stock which in turn adds to other meals); and great taste. That of course is for the eater to judge – but if you have to hide your main ingredients under a host of e-numbers, colourings etc rather than use a few herbs and spices to bring out the flavour, then of course there is something wrong.
So – see what local food you can find. Do some research about it. If time is short for you, in my experience folk are always helpful in delivering/staying open a bit longer often. Try it. I (boringly) do a menu plan for the week based on what I have ready to purloin from the garden, what is seasonal locally and what it seems the dish would look like if I combined it all! Then I just buy whatever is on the list that ensues. If you like what you buy, stick with it.
And in a time when, more than ever we need to sit back and assess what we are doing to this world as a result of how we live in it, I leave you with a quote from David Hume ( a Scottish philospher from the 1700s!) : “Your corn is ripe today; mine will be so tomorrow. ‘Tis profitable for us both, that I should labour with you today, and that you should aid me tomorrow. I have no kindness for you, and know you have as little for me. I will not, therefore, take any pains upon your account; and should I labour with you upon my own account, in expectation of a return, I know I should be disappointed, and that I should in vain depend upon your gratitude. Here then I leave you to labour alone; You treat me in the same manner. The seasons change; and both of us lose our harvests for want of mutual confidence and security.”
We owe it to our farming (meat and veg) community and to our fishing community to not leave them to labour alone. We who eat need those who provide it. That’s it. And we can choose whether we connect with the providers via a plastic box of lord knows what meat/vegetable/fish in a supermarket alleyway or we can go to the source and find out more and actually have a relationship with them which is mutually beneficial.
So, if you want this:
You’ll need this:
And most importantly this person!:
Enough said. I am now off to cook the chicken! Kindly lived? Yes. Kindly killed? Yes. How do I know? I found out for myself. Because I know where it comes from.