Rural – Jersey Country Life Magazine

THE UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES OF EATING LESS MEAT

Against a barrage of calls to cut our meat consumption, our guest contributor from the UK, Suzanne Wynn, believes there have been some unintended consequences that work against most people’s desire to eat more responsibly

My fellow contributor, Colin Tudge, has said quite rightly that our diet should consist of ‘not much meat, plenty of vegetables and maximum variety’.  Some have seized upon this as confirmation of the damaging effect of meat production, whereas it is actually more of a statement of the basic structure that underpins peasant cuisine throughout the world. 

That we had allowed the balance between meat and vegetables to swing so far in favour of meat is indeed a problem, which has led to the demand for cheap meat rather than something to be valued and used carefully.  But allowing the pendulum to swing too far in the opposite direction, would create other problems.  We live in a land that excels in growing grass, which we can’t consume directly but need grazing animals to turn into meat that we can eat.  Much of the land that is grazed wouldn’t be suitable for growing vegetables.

The carbon footprint of livestock farming in the UK is two and a half times lower than the global average, thanks to the fact that their diet is mainly grass and that most of the water they drink comes from our abundant rainfall. Livestock should be considered part of the UK’s solution to global warming. However, if we weren’t wasting some of that animal production and instead eating the animal nose to tail, we could cut our animal production without eating less meat.  One German study estimates utilizing the whole animal could cut livestock numbers by about 14%. 

Against a barrage of calls to cut our meat consumption I believe there have been some unintended consequences that work against most people’s desire to eat more responsibly.  For example, if we eat ‘not much meat’, perhaps just once a week, what will it be?  Research by the BBC suggests that, whilst we have reduced our total meat consumption by an average of 17.4 g per person per day between 2008 and 2019, we are eating more white meat and less red. This does not help the environment, and the increased pollution in rivers is often put down to run off from intensive chicken farming.

I have read of ‘mostly vegans’ who enjoy a steak once a week believing that this provides sufficient nutrient to avoid them requiring supplements.  I have also met several people who are mainly vegetarian but are comfortable eating meat from wild animals as they know they have led a natural life.  The added bonus is that wild meat contains more nutrients than its farmed counterparts and, in the case of wild deer, controlling their numbers would certainly benefit the environment.  I have, however, never met or read of one person whose weekly meat treat would be offal, despite liver delivering the greatest nutritional benefits of all.

If the first of the unintended consequences of eating less meat is that we are being wasteful in our consumption, the second is that we are eating less nutritiously. A group of doctors were so concerned about this that they chose to counter the Veganuary campaign with their own, called Organuary.

People overestimate the protein contained in plants when compared with meat.  For example, 100g of chicken would give 32g of protein whilst the same weight of tofu would provide just 8.1 g so you would need to eat four times the weight to get the same protein; other plant sources include red lentils (7.6g) and chickpeas (7.2g).  The British Nutrition Foundation states that people need around 0.75g of protein per kilogram of body weight – around 56g per day for men and 45g for women.

The protein contained in meat is a complete protein, providing all the essential amino acids that the body needs, but this is not the same for plant sources, so supplements of iron, zinc, selenium and omega 3 might be required.  60% of vegans are estimated to be deficient in vitamin B12 (along with 40% of lacto/ovolacto vegetarians), which could have serious consequences for their brain and neuro function.   If a weekly meal of offal was incorporated this would be easily turned around. Adults are advised to eat 1.5 micrograms (mcg) of B12 per day (10.5 per week) – liver is the best source at 83 mcg per 100g compared to beef (2 mcg) and chicken (0.35 mcg).

Let’s consider more closely how these unintended consequences might have come about.

In 2016, a National Food Survey found weekly liver consumption in the UK had dropped from 50g a person in 1974 to just 5g in 2014.  But the question is whether this demonstrates a lack of demand or a lack of availability?  The majority of offal in this country is sold direct from the abattoirs for pet food, and if not used in this way it would have to be dealt with as waste.  When so many people are, apparently, living in food poverty, how has this nutritious food become so worthless?  We usually think of food waste as occurring after the food has been purchased and taken home, but in fact the majority occurs before the food even gets into the supply system.

I’m not at all convinced that the decline in offal consumption is because people don’t like it.

Offal remains popular in the Manchester area, as highlighted by Rick Stein’s recent Food Stories series, which included a visit to Bury market.  Here every sort of offal was available, including Tripe and Cow Heel.  Rick also visited Higher Ground restaurant where the young chef proprietor demonstrated his pigs’ liver Bolognese sauce, which he said was initially made to use what was available and cheap, but has become a much-requested dish, served with his homemade pasta.  This is the second time recently I have referred to the strong food culture of this area, the previous being in connection with Parched Peas .  I think a visit to Manchester is long overdue!

There are restaurants elsewhere in the UK doing Nose-to-Tail dining – Fergus Henderson at St John’s in London probably invented the term a quarter of a century ago, and I am fortunate that his wife has renovated a pub in Somerset which shares the ethos.  But outside of restaurants it has become increasingly difficult to buy offal.  An inherent problem is that it has to be sold very fresh, so separately from the rest of the carcase which requires hanging.  Although butchers can request that the offal is returned to them from the abattoir, several have reported that they do not necessarily get back the offal from their own animals – which makes a farce of traceability!  The decline in small local abattoirs has been a tragedy on several levels.  I find the best way to ensure I eat the whole carcase is to buy it that way. You can buy online from farmers whose animals have a particular USP, although the offal will, of necessity, usually have to be sent frozen.

There are other examples that lead me to believe that it is unavailability rather than a dislike which has reduced our offal consumption so dramatically.  Once considered a decidedly odd Scottish speciality, sales of Haggis (containing every bit of a sheep’s pluck) are booming south of the border.  Proper butcher’s faggots also sell out rapidly.

What these dishes have in common is that they are time consuming to prepare, and as I have previously discussed, recipe books of today almost never include anything time consuming.  When eating out, I always appreciate the type of food that would have taken all day to prepare and that only becomes viable when cooking for a larger number. Staff time is expensive but, once they are employed, it makes sense to utilise them to the full, working on less expensive ingredients that few people have the time to cook at home.

Yet steak and kidney pudding used to be a mainstay of pub cooking and when did you last see that on a menu? I think that is exactly the sort of dish Colin had in mind when he sent me the following quote from Eliza Acton…

‘ … savoury puddings are worthy of any table; though the [dictates] of fashion which in many instances have so much more influence than they deserve, have hitherto confined them almost entirely to the simple family dinners of the middle classes.’

(From Modern Cookery for Private Families (1845))

Colin added:

‘I couldn’t agree more. And puddings to my mind should made with suet – “the sparing use of meat” (or at least of livestock). Plenty of calories but not from sugar! Mountains of greens and carrots on the side (not reduced to decoration, as in most (British) restaurants).  

I reminded him that suet is also difficult to buy nowadays, unless you are prepared to use the stuff that comes in packets – which never delivers the comforting and savoury aroma that comes from freshly grated suet and is what made these puddings so enjoyable.  I’ve included a recipe for Mutton and Caper Pudding below in the hope that it will tempt you to seek out proper suet, which you should find online. 

These are examples of changing fashions in how we cook and eat, largely dictated by changing lifestyles, but not, I believe, an indication that such sound cooking practice bears no relevance to today.  We need to ask ourselves whether it is morally right that we throw away food whilst others in the world are starving, or that we continue to diminish their ability to feed themselves by buying their food which took scarce resources to grow?

The hungry gap, when we are waiting for new plant growth, is the perfect time to alter the balance so that we eat more rather than less meat, but always of high quality and using the animal from nose to tail.

Mutton and Caper Pudding

For a 1.2 litre/2-pint pudding basin (Serves 4)

1½ lb mutton

1 onion, chopped

1clove of garlic, crushed

1 carrot, chopped

1leek, chopped

1 stick of celery, chopped

1 tbsp flour

1 tbsp capers

¾ pint of lamb stock

¼ pint Madeira

1 tbsp chopped parsley

salt and pepper

For the Suet pastry:

300g/10 oz self-raising flour

salt

150g/ 5 oz freshly grated suet

200ml/7fl oz water

Trim the mutton of excess fat, which can be rendered in a large casserole ready for frying the meat.

Cut the meat into cubes of about an inch, season with salt and pepper and then fry until well browned.  Remove the meat from the pan, turn the heat down and cook the onions gently until softened.  Now add the crushed garlic and the rest of the finely chopped vegetables and cook until softened.  Return the meat to the pan and sprinkle a level tablespoon of flour over. Stir and cook for a minute or so.

Bring the stock and Madeira to the boil in a separate pan then add to the casserole, stirring to amalgamate and make thin gravy.  Stir in the capers and chopped parsley, taste and adjust seasoning.  Cover the pan and cook for 1-1½ hours.

At this stage the meat will be just becoming tender, but remember that it will be cooked for longer in the pudding.  Taste and check the seasoning.  The liquid should now be drained off and reserved and the meat and vegetables left to cool.  The pudding can be made to this stage a day in advance, which will give the flavours time to develop and also allow you to remove the excess fat that will settle on the surface.

To make the suet pastry, sift the flour and salt into a bowl and mix in the grated suet (peel away the thin skin before grating or chopping the suet).  Add the water and stir to form a dough.  Wrap in cling film and chill for 20 minutes before rolling.

Whilst the pastry is chilling prepare the pudding basin by buttering it well and chilling.  Jane Grigson swore by plastic pudding basins with snap top lids for ease of turning out but if you are using glass or china pudding basins they can be chilled after buttering and then re-buttered to build up a good layer to make turning out easier.

Lightly flour the work surface and roll out three-quarters of the pastry to line the bowl.  The dough should be between ½ and ¾ inch thick.  Leave a border of pastry overhanging the lip of the bowl.  Now put the filling into the bowl, leaving a little room at the top.  Pour on the retained liquid (heat slightly to liquefy if necessary) until it just reaches the top of the meat.  Keep the rest back to serve as gravy with the pudding.

Now roll out the remaining pastry to form a lid.  Fold the overhanging rim of pastry in on top of the filling and brush with water.  Press the edges of the pastry together with a fork to seal.

Cover the top of the pudding with buttered greaseproof paper and then either put on the plastic lid or cover with a double layer of foil.  The plastic basins usually have a handle.  For foil-covered bowls you can create one with string.

Put the pudding into a steamer with boiling water in the base, or, if you do not have a steamer, place a trivet (or crossed skewers or upturned plate) in the bottom of a saucepan and pour on hot water to reach half way up the bowl.

Cover the pan and steam for 1½ – 2 hours, checking the water level regularly. When cooked remove the foil and paper covering then turn the pudding out onto a plate.  Serve with the re-heated and strained gravy.  Swede or buttered cabbage would be good accompaniments.

Suzanne also writes on the Colin Tudge newsletter: www.colintudge.com

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One Response

  1. I have been vegetarian for over 50 years and have two grown children who have been bought up vegetarian. We don’t eat fish either.
    I really do not agree that I need to kill animals and to eat meat to live a healthy life.
    B12 is easy to access by eating marmite and combining certain foods to extract vitamins efficiently.
    I agree that eating white meat has created an unintended consequence as you suggest and cheap imported meat is a real issue not just because of issues of animal welfare but environmentally.
    You really don’t need meat to be healthy and many of our top sportsmen are vegetarian.

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