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Free Range PigsI am currently reading The Food Revolution: How Your Diet Can Help Save Your Life And Our World, an inspiring book by John Robbins. The only son of the founder of the Baskin-Robbins ice cream empire, John Robbins was groomed to follow in his father’s footsteps, but chose to walk away from Baskin-Robbins and the immense wealth it represented to “…pursue the deeper American Dream…the dream of a society at peace with its conscience because it respects and lives in harmony with all life forms. A dream of a society that is truly healthy, practicing a wise and compassionate stewardship of a balanced ecosystem.”

The Food Revolution explores the connections between our diets and our health and also the way that our food is produced, including meat production. The Food revolution explains the US production systems and how these differ in other countries, such as here in the UK. It is making me think seriously about if I still want to eat meat when visiting the US and has also made me thankful that here in the UK the production of meat is done in a more respectful way. But is UK meat production respectful enough?

Last night I was catching up on some recorded TV, including Jimmy and the Giant Supermarket in which rare breed pig farmer Jimmy Doherty has challenged Britain’s biggest supermarket, Tesco, to let him prove he can make free range food affordable for everyone.

Back in early 2008, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, along with fellow chefs Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay, was featured in Channel 4’s Big Food Fight season. Hugh filmed Chicken Run for the series, in which he created three chicken farms (one intensive, one commercial free range, and a community farm project staffed by volunteers) in Axminster, near River Cottage HQ and the series culminated in the Chicken Out! campaign to encourage the promotion of free-range chicken and an end to intensive chicken farming. At this time I remember being in supermarkets where the free range chickens were sold out and nobody was buying the factory birds. Sadly it has been 4 years since “Chicken Out!” was launched and in the current economic climate so much of the focus has returned to price.

Animal welfare standards might have come a long way in the UK, but…

  • Around 90% of UK chickens are reared for meat in standard intensive systems, farmed in barren and crowded sheds with no outdoor access, no natural daylight and little room to move freely.
  • 60% of pigs still spend their whole lives in sheds, only seeing the world outside on their way to slaughter
  • Tens of thousands of dairy calves are needlessly slaughtered each year because it’s too expensive to rear them.

In the episode of Jimmy and the Giant Supermarket I watched last night, Jimmy took on Tesco’s best-selling own brand sausages – which sell in their millions – to see if he could produce a free -range version for the same affordable price. As part of the episode, Jimmy visited Tesco supplying farms to find out how they make their sausages, and looked for ways to use pigs reared to higher welfare standards in his own bangers. To do this he selected the cheap cuts and parts of free-range pigs (such as offal) that would otherwise go to waste or be exported abroad. In taste tests the public liked his sausages, until they were told about some of the cuts of meat that had been used. Once told about the offal, many said they would not purchase the sausages, but once also shown the way the pigs in the current Tesco sausage was reared almost all were horrified by the conditions the animals were forced to live in.

Mystery Meat

I found it interesting that Tesco did not want the meat they put in their standard sausage shown on camera. It makes me wonder about the meat quality and processing involved!

Before anyone asks, yes, I eat meat. In fact there is nothing I like more than roast pork, a bacon sandwich or a good quality sausage, but I decided a long time ago that I would only eat good quality meat from animals that have lived with a good quality of life. I want to be able to meet my meat when it is still walking around, not eat food that is produced in factories and hidden from TV cameras. Yes, organic free range meat is more expensive, but I would prefer to eat less meat of good quality that lots of poor quality produce.

If you live in the Cheltenham area I strongly recommend you join the food revolution by getting your meat from Burley Fields Lake Farm. This is where we buy almost all of the meat eaten in our home, directly from the farm’s own shop. As you drive into the farm you will see the animals walking freely in the fields, eating their natural diet, the way farms used to be before we all expected to eat meat 3 times a day.

The meat at Burley Fields has no air miles, no pesticides or chemicals and no unnecessary suffering for the animals, which is seen far too much in many commercial operations of factory farming these days. The prices are on a par with supermarkets, but bearing in mind the local, free-range and wholesome set up at Burley Fields farm, these prices are exceptional value and supporting our local farmer too.

Year Without Beer

Please support my Year Without Beer by donating to one of these fantastic causes:

  • To donate to Cancer Research UK please click here to visit my just giving page or donate by text – send AYWB66 and the amount to 70070. For example, texting “AYWB66 £5″ will donate £5.
  • To donate to the Cystic Fibrosis Trust please click here to visit my just giving page or donate by text – send AYWB55 and the amount to 70070. For example, texting “AYWB55 £5″ will donate £5.