I think if I asked most people where their meat comes from they’d say ‘the supermarket’. That’s fair enough and when people lead such busy lives with so many demands on them, sourcing food any other way can feel like a huge hurdle. But raising our own meat has driven home something that we already ‘knew’ but didn’t know, deep down. Our meat comes from a living animal.
When we eat that meat we eat what has been a living being, a creature who walked the earth. For some that realisation leads to a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, for others it means sourcing ethically raised meat from their local area; for us it meant creating a farm and raising animals to feed ourselves and others.
These days when I cook or preserve our meat I’m aware of a very different feeling within myself. I no longer see this simply as ‘food’, I approach it with a much greater sense of reverence and thrift. When I rub in the curing mix that turns our pork magically into bacon I feel almost meditative. I’m reminded of the animals we cared for and loved over the spring and summer months, I look forward to raising pigs again and bask in the memories of green pastures and hot summer days.
When I cook a chicken I am committed to using the animal fully, wasting as little as is possible. If we roast the bird (giving us 2 days of meat for 4 people) we then strip the darker meat and use it for a stew or a stir fry/curry (another 2/3 meals for adults or more for children). Then I use the carcass to make a stock, this is something of a 2-3 day event as I aim to draw as much goodness out of the bones as possible making the broth deep in nourishment.
When the stock is suitably thick and rich I often then cook it down again to make a thick jelly that can be used as a concentrate and has the added advantage of taking up less space in the fridge! This can be added to green beans, rice, stews, soups, gravy…anywhere that you’d use a stock cube really. Then the bones are stripped again (including bits we don’t eat like the neck and wings) and Winnie benefits from a good dose of meat and bone in her diet.
This kind of thrift used to be taken for granted and not just on farms or in rural settings. All kitchens, big and small, were units of production and economy. What we now throw in our recycling bin would once have been sold to the rag and bone man generating income for the family, nothing would have been wasted.
While I can never lay claim to producing no waste (we still buy things from the store and they come in packages) we have dramatically reduced our food waste since we moved onto the farm. Our animals take up quite a lot of the slack, with veggies going to the chickens and grateful dogs receiving meat scraps and bones! But we also endeavour to create a menu that uses all of the meat thriftily and with as much respect as we can give it.
It may seem cruel or heartless to some people that we raise up animals, know and care for them, then send them to slaughter. And I admit it is not always an easy process, I’ve shed a few tears as we’ve sent animals to be ‘finished’ at the slaughter house. But the truth is I’d rather have it this way, I’d rather know the life my animals, and my family lead. I’d rather know where each piece of meat has come from, what’s gone into the processing and know that there has been as little waste as possible, honouring the life that created our food.
Each meal, each piece of an animal that we consume has a life attached to it, has a story. That’s the bare truth that many ignore or would simply rather not think about. But it is crucial for the health of our food chain, our children and for the animals themselves that we don’t turn a blind eye to the conditions most animals are raised and slaughtered in. When we make a conscious choice buy as ethically as we can, use the meat as thriftily as we can and treat the meat with the respect and care it deserves we are active participants in making our homes, our diets and our nation’s farms better, healthier and more nourishing than ever before. That is the story I want to be a part of.