I had a wonderful experience this weekend, we attended the 1000 Mouths Festival at Nancarrow Organic Farm. For me, this ticked on my passion points: organic farming, local food, healthy food, environmental care and meeting passionate people (yes the English can be passionate, well defiantly the Cornish!)
It was a whole weekend of evening feasts and day events with fascinating talks, delicious food and walks around the farm. I was in heaven, so much so that I forgot to take a single photo, talk about being caught up in the moment, not very social media savvy of me. So apologise for the blurry photos I had to borrow.
Anyway, while there were so many interesting discussions and my mind was heading off in many different directions one thing that really stuck out for me and I have been toying with writing about for a while is the debate around eating meat.
The idea around the 1000 Mouths was to kill one bull and then waste nothing from that animal. Feeding 1000 people from that animal, using the tallow for soap and the skin to make jackets. Even the tendons were going to use for dog treats. This philosophy of nose to tail has become very popular amongst chefs, using the less common parts of the animal and wasting less. Nancarrow was taking it to a whole new level.
The vegan movement (yes it is a movement) has helped to make us aware of how damaging to the environment our food choices can be. The documentary Cowspiracy was instrumental in showing the connection between environmental degradation, carbon emissions and mass meat production.
The key point to remember is that not all animals are reared equally. I have always wanted to eat the best quality food I can afford to and that has included my meat choices. Organic if possible, pasture-raised, free-range and ethical reared. So what do these things mean and can it be good for both me and the environment?
Now my intention in asking this question is not to upset any vegans, it was more a question for me and those other meat-eaters out there. Should I still be consuming animal products? Are they good for me and are they good for the environment?
Just to be clear although I am referring to meat I mean all sources of animal protein including chicken, duck, lamb, pig, goat, venison and beef. So what are some of my choices and how do you decide on what to buy?
Organically produced food is the gold standard for making sure the food you eat is as natural as possible. They are strict criteria for organic farms to adhere to that range from animal welfare to the food they are fed. But organic food is not always easy to come by and can sometimes come at a higher price.
This is where things get interesting. Once the consumer became aware of how industrial farm animals were being treated we started demanding that animals be kept in a more natural environment. So the concept “free-range” became popular. But free-range can mean meaning things. Pigs outside but on a concrete slab is far from ideal. Or in the case of chickens live in big barns and have access to the outside through a door but all the food is inside so what’s the point of going outside.
Free-range does not tell you what the animals are fed, if it was given antibiotics or how it was treated. It is a loose term that can be used in any way a farmer feels would help them sell their produce.
This is far more in line with how we should be rearing our meat because this way of farming not only takes care of the environment but is also good for us. Here in Cornwall, the Cornwall Wildlife Trust has started an initiative called Wilder Beef but the same principle can apply to all animals reared for their meat.
Cattle that are grazed on 100% grass/pasture have a much lower carbon footprint to cattle that are raised on grains. It’s the growing of grains, mainly soya and corn, that has caused so much environmental degradation. Vast areas of rainforest are cut down and burnt releasing carbon (a bad thing) and are then used to grow crops intensively. The crazy thing is that these crops are for animal feed and not for human consumption. Not to mention the amount of water used to grow these crops.
What the Wilder Beef Initiative has found is that if farmers plant a wider selection of herbs and plants in their pastures the cattle self-medicate, selecting certain plants for certain ailments. They also have a more varied diet rich in different vitamins and minerals, like us a varied diet makes for a healthy animal.
Of course, cows also contribute to greenhouse gases due to the amount of methane they produce. By having smaller fields farmers can allow the grazing crops to grow for longer, and more carbon is captured (a good thing). Greater plant coverage and smaller herds help to lower the carbon footprint of these farms.
Pasture Reared meat is also better for us because the animals are eating a more natural diet. They are not fattened up on corn or feed concentrates. Pasture reared animals are leaner with a healthier protein to fat ratio, similar to wild animals. Their fat contains CLA (conjugated Linoleic Acid) and omega 3, both are healthy fats.
The same holds true for animals used for dairy production. If they are pasture-raised their milk is full of healthy fats, vitamins and minerals unlike those that have their diet supplemented with concentrates to help them produce more milk.
When I visit farms that practice mixed farming they tend to be organic farms. This is because organic farmers rely on their animals not only to provide food but also to provide the best fertiliser for the other crops they grow such as grains, vegetables or fruit.
Organic farming is in fact based on more traditional mixed farming practices. Nancarrow is an example of how small herds of animals are well cared for with everything being done to ensure they have a healthy diet, raised slowly they are allowed to express their natural animal behaviour.
Farmers who follow organic mixed farming practices are also farmers who are more likely to be custodians of the land and value biodiversity. On Nancarrow, they are working with Cornwall Wildlife Trust to continue to re-wild the farm. Allowing more trees to be planted and wilder hedgerows. This is important for allowing animal diversity and ensuring that wildlife continues to flourish.
Everything from bees to butterflies to birds is seen as vitally important to keep the farm healthy.
The recently discovered wild beehives at Nancarrow are a testament to them allowing this biodiversity to flourish.
OK so let’s get down to the thing that often governs our food choices, it does mine, price. I am sure we would all love to be buying organic food and supporting farmers who grow food in a sustainable healthy way. But so often this food comes at a premium. It doesn’t always need to and one way is to buy fruit and vegetables in season. Or even better to grow our own vegetables and fruit where possible.
Another option is to buy less food and this is so true of meat, we generally eat too much animal protein. As a nutritional therapist, I have always felt that small amounts of animal protein are part of a balanced diet and a sure way to stay healthy. But we only need a small amount, I recently came across a lovely term Condi-Meat.
We should treat our meat as a condiment, as a small part of our meal. Our main food focus should be on a wide variety of seasonal vegetables with meat added in small amounts to add flavour and protein to a meal.
Another option is to have fewer meals that contain animal protein. Why not focus more of our meals around being plant dense. I have always liked Meat-free Mondays but what about also having Crazy-Veg Wednesdays.
Asking questions about where your food comes from is a vital key to your health and that of the planets. From chicken eggs to fish and everything in between:
What did it eat?
How did it live?
How was it treated?
How much do I need?
I have made the choice to eat the best quality animal protein I can afford. Wild or local and pasture reared from small farmers who are passionate about their animals and are custodians of their land. Taking an animals life should be expensive and by spending more and having less I can give it the reverence it deserves.