Big fuss on Prime Time recently when An Taisce’s Green Schools Programme with support from the National Climate Change Action and Awareness Programme recommended that schools implement ‘Meatless Mondays’ and encourage children to eat less meat and dairy. The IFA were up in arms and the ensuing debate only served to confuse viewers even further.
So what to do…? There’s no denying climate change, it’s a blatantly obvious reality in all our lives and each and every one of us has a responsibility to play our part to mitigate it in our own little way. Cooks and chefs can combat climate change by actively sourcing their product from farmers and food producers who farm sustainably in harmony with nature and by working towards a zero waste policy. The same principals apply to the rest of us, but back to the furore. The farming community overall are responding positively to the challenge and are doing their best to move to more sustainable farming systems but meanwhile there’s nothing to be gained from ‘shooting the messenger’. Best to concentrate on producing the very best meat and dairy products, delicious, nutrient dense food that consumers can truly trust: grass-fed, chemical-free and free from residues of antibiotics. I’m often asked what exactly is the definition of grass-fed? Difficult to get an answer…
Nonetheless, whether we like it or not it’s time to accept that reduced meat consumption is a trend that is definitely here to stay. Note that multi millions of dollars are being invested in the meat substitute industry. That is not going to change anytime soon so let’s put our efforts here in Ireland into producing REAL quality not quantity and charge enough for it. One can of course be super healthy on a vegetarian diet provided one can source nutrient dense organic vegetables and grains.
I myself am, what’s nowadays termed as a flexitarian and a very happy one at that. I love vegetarian dishes and also eat lots of ‘accidently vegan’ food but love good meat, poultry and fish. However I’m super careful about the quality of the meat and fish I eat. I go to considerable lengths to source organic, free range chicken – considerably more expensive but cheaper in the end because I can get six meals from one plump chicken and a fine pot of broth which in itself is ‘super food’. I also try to find lamb from a local butcher who can find a sheep farmer who finishes his lambs on grass rather than concentrates, the difference in the sweetness of the meat is palpable.
I search for beef from our native breeds, Hereford, Aberdeen Angus, Poll Angus, Shorthorn, Dexter or Moilie. I’m looking for a rich beefy flavor when I enjoy a small steak, a stew and indeed the crucially important offal or organ meats as they are referred to by the excellent Weston A. Price Foundation, whose Wise Traditions podcasts and guidelines for optimum nutrition are worth checking out.
However, it’s really important to remember our farmers who labour day in day to produce the food that nourishes us… Many are having a really tough time at present, struggling to meet the challenges coming from all directions – the uncertainty caused by Brexit, rising production costs coupled with lower and lower prices at farm gate as the supermarkets force the prices ever lower to provide their customers with cheaper and cheaper food.
We urgently need ‘true cost accountancy’ so consumers understand that cheap food is a myth in health terms and socioeconomic terms. As tax payers we pay many times over to provide subsidies to support what are in many instances unsustainable systems, to clean up the environment, and our rivers and lakes and to fund the health service.
So the real price of the item is invariably 4 or 5 times the price on the shelf. The biggest threat to our health and food security is the low price of food at the farm gate. Farmers, particularly small farmers, are leaving the land in droves all over the world, sad and disheartened because they simply cannot produce the nourishing wholesome food, we say we want for the price they are being paid for it. We are sleepwalking into a gargantuan crisis. The non-farming communities are generally unaware that farmers are fortunate to get 1/3 of the retail price and lucky to be paid months later. What other section is expected to sell their product or services below an economic level and survive?
I happen to believe that dairy products and good meat and fish are vitally important elements in our children’s diets and am a great fan of butter and organic raw milk from a small dairy herd. It’s interesting to note that the demand for raw milk is growing steadily as people become aware of its extra nutritional elements and flavour. Despite the perception, it is not illegal to sell raw milk in Ireland, it is available at several Farmers Markets and small shops. Check out Mahon Point Farmers Market, Midleton Farmers Market and Neighbourfood to name a few…