I’ll be truthful from the outset, if you didn’t read this, then none of this post will make much sense to you. But for those lovely, dedicated people who did, you might find this post interesting… I make no apologies for the images that lie herein (they aren’t horrific).
I was having a conversation with a friend I’ve known for a few years (as long as I’ve known my husband), we don’t chat often so I was updating him about us getting chickens. Jokingly he asked if they were to be for dinner, and I replied that no, they were layers – nothing more. He made discouraging comments at this, which made me ask why – and we ended getting into a debate about ethical food. As everyone here knows it’s a hot topic and it gets debated often in this household. But what my friend was saying genuinely shocked me, because I hadn’t met someone for a very long time who was so bláse about the way food was treated. We got quite heated over this – as much as one can over an instant-messaging system – and it ended up with me feeling quite stunned that someone I thought I knew pretty well, held this attitude. It wasn’t an unpleasant debate – there wasn’t any aggression, and it really got me thinking.
If someone as well-educated and as genuinely nice as my friend is, feels so bláse about cruelty to animals, pesticide use and supermarket monopolys (we got into all of these topics) then how on earth are we going to change the mindset of those who are keeping themselves blissfully unaware? I see lots of different types of people in my everyday life, those who care about the environment, local food issues and the wellbeing of generations to come, and those who care soley about what they can take from the environment, people and the world at a cheap a price as possible. It is the latter half who worry me the most, the mothers who are de-sensitised to the world, they will buy a chicken at a supermarket, battery reared and fed bad foodstuffs – but won’t touch the chicken carcass itself because they can’t stand the feeling of raw meat. Or those who live on pre-processed foods, they just open a packet, heat and voilá – a whole meal, devoid of soul and substance, spoon-fed to them from a plastic tray.
My friend’s argument in all of this is that:
- He can’t make a change himself, one person isn’t enough to change the view of millions – so why bother?
- If we all worried about everything we had no control over, we’d end up becoming jibbering wrecks.
- The problem with ethics is “once you have one, you tend to collect more, until life becomes unlivable”.
- He’s apathetic.
My friend calls this his “sanity mechanism”, he openly admitted that he’d rather not think about it than have to accept it happens and do something to stop it. Contrary to popular belief I don’t lie awake at night worrying about the plight of millions of chickens, laying eggs in battery conditions. I will admit though, years before getting chickens, animal welfare in the wider-world has always been at the forefront of my mind. Getting chickens, learning about food production methods and its effects on us and the world at large, has given me the impetus to want to create change. And this is where I find fault with the argument above – we all have a choice when it comes to a rack of battery hen eggs vs. free range. We all have the choice. My family haven’t bought a non-free-range egg since there was such a thing as free-range eggs (my mother had chickens before I came along). But we see middle-aged women with plenty of money buying expensive hair products and the best toilet paper – and then they buy cheap eggs, because to them they just don’t care. I don’t think anyone nowadays can claim that they don’t know just what poor conditions these animals are kept in. Their beaks are cut off, to stop them pecking the other chickens that they are caged with – and they live their one year of life in a cage no bigger than a sheet of A4 paper.
I believe that everything has a right time, and a right place. It’s funny that this conversation came very shortly before the airing of a Channel4 documentary, by Molly Dineen called “The Lie of the Land“. It was the documentary’s aim to illustrate what farming in England had come to – farmers paid very poorly for their produce, being squeezed on all sides from the likes of supermarkets and Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs). Dineen was firstly shown accompanying a fox-hunt (when it was still legal), something that has been banned in England since February 2005, and then following the hunt back to their Cornish farm. In my ignorance about the general practices of keeping hunting hounds, it showed them being fed. And what they were being fed was a whole animal carcass, raw, from an animal that’d been killed either because it was unwell or because it was an unsuitable breed for beef production. Dineen herself was genuinely shocked by the practise of giving a whole animal to the hounds. It then moved onto the “flesh run” which is when the head of the hunt visits farms with either sickly animals or animals unsuitable for beef production, and shoots them. This is then taken back to the hunt and butchered for the use of the hounds.
Whilst unsavoury to watch, I didn’t find it “awful”, I have seen animals being killed before and I know that all meat was once an animal before it became a sausage or a burger. What unsettled me the most was that the farmers who supplied the hounds with their food were pushed to having perfectly healthy male calves shot because it wasn’t financially viable to keep them. This happens because many dairy farmers cross a Jersey cow with a Friesian to give a better-flavoured milk with high yields. The females are kept to continue the herd, whilst the males being no good for meat production per se, and are shot at a couple of days old. I must admit, it was hard to watch – but I’ve seen it before.
I learnt alot from the programme, things that I wouldn’t have seen had it not been for the documentary. What got to me was the waste. It was a waste of a cow that had been produced because the supermarkets want a lot of good-tasting milk. Usually the males are kept, castrated and fattened to be used at two years old for beef. But because of human interference (with the breeds) it has changed and we are left with a surplus of male calves that the supermarkets won’t touch. Yet that calf would produce beautiful beef, if not sirloin steaks and roasting joints – which is all the supermarkets care about.
As for the fox-hunting issue, I am against all blood sports. If foxes are a problem shoot them humanely, because no animal should be killed for fun. The vermin on farms today, noteably pheasants, pigeons and rabbits are all edible and all very tasty – but those shot for sport often aren’t eaten, and that is wasting a valuable, edible resource.
The programme wasn’t what I was expecting at all, I was thinking it’d be a more holistic documentary showing many aspects of farming, instead it seemed rather focused on one area (and a small demographic of farmers). Something I didn’t understand until the end. It has left me with alot of compassion for the farmers, who do have to live with the worry of not being able to pay bills or feed their families. I think it was a programme that will either leave you a vegetarian forever, or it’ll give you the impetus and the information to leave supermarkets behind for good. Either way, if I could make everyone watch it, I would. Because as it stands, in this country 95% of all fruit and vegetables are imported, animals are being reared abroad in horrific conditions that would not be allowed in the UK, then imported back, and many people either don’t know or don’t care. If it’s cheap, it’s good.
As for Defra, they are fast becoming a joke. A government body who doesn’t care where our food comes from, imposing useless subsidies (based on land rather than livestock) and measures which will not help farmers to survive as farmers. It doesn’t give anyone hope as to where our future food will come from. But I’m painting a rather grim picture here, I know that our farm shop stocks nothing but its own pork, beef and lamb which is all reared on a local farm under very good conditions. I’ve seen the pigs and cows myself. The onus has to be brought back to small producers, we have to learn how to go back to basics and come face-to-face with our food again. Big steps have been made in the media, from celebrity chefs wanting to be guaranteed of origin and cruelty-free status of their food, to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall himself shouting from the rooftops about the wonderful way in which food can be raised. It’s a start, but the next step is getting more people interested enough to change their ways.
After the programme last night, my husband and I did the washing up, and whilst doing so we talked about what we’d seen. He was hesitant about me watching it, stating that I already worry enough for ten people, perhaps I shouldn’t hold all of this on my shoulders. In a rather selfless act of both defiance and humanity I simply stated that, until the state of farming was in a better condition (less cruelty, locally produced), I would fight tooth and nail for a solution. He sighed and continued washing.
My next post will be about a point that everyone makes when I talk about buying locally and organically – cost. I am going to conclusively prove that you can do your shopping locally and ‘ethically’ without it costing alot.
Winston Churchill said “We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give“. I know what I’m going to do to try and make this better. How about you? If you found this article interesting, please link to it – and let others know.