We’ve become disconnected from our food.
I remember sitting with my Bristol classmates at 11 years old. A group of girls were discussing why milk bottles had pictures of cows on.
“I don’t think all of them have cows on. I think it’s just a certain brand”
“What, like a logo?”
“Yeh. The cow’s just a logo”.
At this point I had to interrupt. I had recently moved to Bristol from the Cornish countryside and so was slightly more informed on the cow/milk connection.
“Milk comes from cows, that’s why there’s pictures of cows on it.”
“…comes from cows? How? Where does it come from”
“Well, the udders. Underneath the cow. You milk them”
The girls went on to discuss how gross it was, how they were never drinking milk again. One then proceeded to take a chocolate bar out of her bag and munch on it quite happily. Apparently milk mixed into solids wasn’t a problem – especially if it were made by Cadburys.
This concept perplexed me. That they could have spent the majority of their lives drinking milk yet have no idea where it came from.
I was hit with a similar feeling recently. Me and my best friends spent the best part of our teenage years drinking at field parties and then suffering through hangovers together. We therefore consumed copious amounts of bacon.
One of these wonderful friends came to visit the farm and couldn’t believe how casual I was about eating our piggies. I pointed out that she loves bacon, sausages, ham and all the other delicious pig sourced foods. She replied that, although she did, she liked to think of her bacon as food rather than as an animal.
I suppose this isn’t exactly surprising. Lots of people don’t like eating fish that “looks like fish”, chicken breast sells better than anything with bones in and lets not even mention offal! The further removed people are from the animals that become the food that they eat the better (according to most).
This shouldn’t be the case.
So, me and my family aim to be self-sustaining and that includes rearing our own meat.
Nasty, right? How could we! We should just go vegetarian. Urm, unfortunately it’s not as simple as that.
Just because you’re not eating the animals doesn’t mean the production of your veg isn’t damaging to animals. Agriculture often forces deforestation and if the majority of your food is being imported in from Timbuktu then the earth will be suffering for your kale and coconuts.
So, I started only eating food sourced from the UK. Simple. But, turns out that food produced in the UK isn’t always packaged here. Food that’s locally reared may still circle the globe before making it to your plate. Sigh. Let’s try again.
This is why we decided to be as self sufficient as possible. By seeing each step of the food rearing process we couldn’t turn a blind eye to anything that made us feel uncomfortable. Were large areas of habitat destroyed to make room for this crop? No. Were any people mistreated in the picking and packing of this produce? Nope. Did the animals have a good life before being sent to slaughter? Yes they did! But ah, that gets us back to the sticking point. Why not just grow our own veg and leave the animals well alone?
We live on culm grassland. It’s boggy and a bit rubbish for growing crops. Commercial farmers laughed at our foolishness when we bought it, it would never yield a significant harvest. The only way to make it viable for growing large amounts of fruit and veg, or at least enough to sustain a vegetarian family and guests, would be to drain it and that would do more harm than good.
Wildlife LOVES culm grassland. We have a huge variety of indigenous plants which sustains deers, bugs and butterflies which in turn sustain birds of prey, hedgehogs, moles, shrews and all manor of British wildlife – so much so that Natural England helps us manage our land. The whole circle of life! So, if we drained the land, making it more crop friendly, it would become less wildlife friendly.
It’s also hard work! Pigs will eat anything, they’ll survive almost anything, they’re tough as hell! You know what’s not tough? Potatoes, sweet corn and salad leaves. They are taken down by slugs, mice, poor weather, too much water, too little water – seriously! It takes a skilled horticulturist to be able to grow the variety of plants needed to sustain a family. Living purely off home grown veg would also mean eating only frozen and pickled foods from November until around March. I don’t know about you but that sounds a little depressing to me.
So, we eat meat, but it’s not something we take lightly. I’m not religious but we still take the time to thank the animal, or whatever is up there, for the sacrifice. We try and make sure that nothing is wasted.
By choosing to undertake the occasional ruthless act ourselves we avoid hundreds of ruthless acts taking place without our knowledge. Killing animals isn’t fun, and nor should it EVER be, but if it means being in touch with our food then it’s the right choice for me.