My first ever experience of having a hand in the creation of my own food came as a child – I remember my Dad wandering down the garden and picking mint leaves then bringing them back to the kitchen and making mint sauce with them. To be fair that is about the extent of my Dad’s culinary expertise so I can’t claim to have learned anything else to do with food production at his knee, although he also taught me that sucking the end of a clover petal gave a taste of honey so I guess he is also responsible for my interest in wild food and foraging.
My interest in animal welfare in food and farming came much later. I was always aware that meat came from animals, not from Tesco and have never been squeamish about dead animals being ingredients but credit for raising my consciousness about the life those animals led before they ended up on my plate can go in no small way to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Ady and I watched River Cottage from the beginning, signed up to all the petitions for the Chicken Out campaign and it started our change to eating free range, traceable meat and shopping at the local butcher, reducing our meat bill by reducing our consumption and upping the quality. We visited various farms as Open Farm Sunday events, I became a volunteer shepherd as part of a local council run initiative and learnt about sheep handling and welfare, we went to an open day at a local agricultural college and I actually cried at the conditions the pigs and cattle were kept in – tiny stalls, never setting foot / trotter / hoof outside. We had a visit to River Cottage and saw their happy animals kept in natural conditions. We hatched chickens, bantams, ducks and quails and killed and cooked a chicken.
All of these experiences set us on the road to heading off on our WWOOFing adventure where we spent time working with poultry, pigs, sheep and cattle kept in all sorts of environments. We visited a slaughterhouse, markets and auctions, tasted various meat produce and began to firm up our own ideas about how we would like to keep animals.
Our animals are allowed to live as natural a life as possible, given freedom to roam, to forage, to grow slowly and live long. They are kept in their family groups and we watch them behave in ways most farmed animals don’t get the opportunity to act – playing, forming relationships with us and each other. Just this week three people have commented on how happy our pigs seem as they walk past them on the croft. The birth of the piglets last year was one of the biggest highlights of our adventure here so far.
But all of this is only the case because we eat meat. I have massive respect for my vegetarian (and even more so vegan) friends but all four of us love meat and want to carry on eating it, we just want to ensure it has lived as good a life and has as respectful a death as possible.
On Sunday we had roast pork from our pig, yesterday we had cold pork and today we had the holy grail of self sufficient meat production. The meat that vegetarians cite as the smell that weakens their resolve and has them craving meat once more. Bacon. Salty, smokey, fried to crispy perfection, served in a still warm from the oven freshly baked bread roll with just the right amount of butter and ketchup.
It was divine.
That path we began walking several years ago today stopped for a very delicious lunch.