Location:United Kingdom

An avid tea-drinker who likes nutmeg in her coffee and warm lavender-scented quilts. She knits, crochets and partakes in random acts of craftiness (and kindness). She likes obscure works of literature, philosophy and the idea that her mind exists separately from her body. She enjoys moving furniture around, literary criticism and baking bread. She writes haiku about nettles, would like to swim with seals and become completely self-sufficient. She writes as if her life depends on it, listens to beautiful music, and loves her darling husband Mr. VP.

Find out more.


recent | random





Friday 4 May 2007

Sanity mechanisms

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:

  1. He can’t make a change himself, one person isn’t enough to change the view of millions – so why bother?
  2. If we all worried about everything we had no control over, we’d end up becoming jibbering wrecks.
  3. The problem with ethics is “once you have one, you tend to collect more, until life becomes unlivable”.
  4. 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.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

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.

Thanks to Factoryfarming.com for the above-images, and also animalfreedom.org for added information.

20 thoughts on “Sanity mechanisms

  1. Eddie says:

    He’s right, you do worry enough for 10 people ;)

    You’ll always win the argument on ethical grounds, but I wonder… can britain go back to a more environmentally friendly agricultural society that respects animals? I’m not sure myself, so let’s run some numbers (yay, numbers, my favorite!)

    The UK has around 240 people per square km – that leaves each person with a personal area of land approx 64 metres to a side (~4100 sq metres each). From that we would have to allocate space for a house, a portion of a place of work, power generation, water filtration, transport (road, trainline), and waste disposal.

    In about half a football pitch. If all the land in the UK were suitable for such, which it isn’t. I suspect we’d get about half of that space allowed for our personal maintenance.

    From what’s left, we need to get a year round crop cycle capable of feeding 1 person (we can imagine a large greenhouse and a fair sized vegetable plot) and livestock area. What I think you’ll wind up with is a maximum allocation of approx 40x40m of land (bit under half the theoretical maximum) which you can actually use for crops and livestock.

    Obviously it need not be on your doorstep, or even all in the same place, but that’s your permitted ‘footprint’ under an ethical, agricultural Britain.

    Personal belief: you’re right ethically, but to make our entire food production onshore and ethical would basically require a population reduction.

    And of course, no sane government wants to say the words “one child per family” because they’d be out of office within the month.

    2p, spend it as you will ;)

  2. admin says:

    Your points are completely valid, we are a chronically over-populated nation, with not enough land for everyone to have an acre. But then again, not everyone wants an acre – it should be farmed by farmers who have an interest in creating good food, from well-cared-for animals in a local community.

    It wouldn’t need a population reduction, it’d mean that farmers would have to stop growing useless (and environmentally detrimental) crops like oilseed rape, and start using the land for vegetable and animal use – as it had been doing for centuries before. It’s only when farmers stopped farming and tried to become businessmen, did it all turn so drastically wrong.

    As for providing housing and work etc, I’m merely talking about food production, housing stays as it is now. But farming and food production should be brought back to the UK, and we as a nation should pay a decent amount for our food. At one time 3/4 of wages went on food, now it’s practically nothing – maybe only £150 a month to feed a family, yet people are being paid better than ever. Therein major discrepancy lies.

    -To anyone else reading, this is one of my very good friends!-

  3. Lesley says:

    I couldn’t bear to watch this programme after seeing the trailer. I found it quite distressing. I completely agree with your stance on the issue. Around our area, farm shops are going from strength to strength. I hope this means that more people are shopping ethically.

  4. Lisa says:

    Wish I’d seen the programme, was out in the greenhouse I think when it was on! Totally agree with you, I wish there was more that we could do, I think slowly people are starting to change their views on where their food comes from, but sadly there will always be families that only see Tesco Value as being the affordable option.
    Whenever I’m ranting on about how I want to get pigs and sheep, so many ask why? My reply is generally “from field to plate that’s what I care about”. Some get it, some don’t. Really what it all boils down to, it’s the supermakets that have caused the problems, forcing manufacturers to produce for minimum costs. They need to be made to fix it and pronto, if only our government had the balls to do it. As you say it wasn’t like this years ago and we managed. Rant, rant, rant……I could go on forever!
    Well done for putting a very thoughtful and well put over piece together.
    L x

  5. Lesley says:

    Thanks for visiting my blog… You’re far more articulate than me – it’s a pleasure to read your blog. I found you last week I think, through another blog who’s name escapes me now. Keep up the good work! I hope you manage to change some opinions.
    P.s. I hope you do get your lino tools out. I’d love to see the something leafy you talked about!

  6. I was sent over here by Lisa at Primrose Hill and have now read both of your posts on this subject. I called Molly’s agent today to try and follow up on this topic by perhaps visiting some organisations that she may know of. In order to continue where she left off if you like. I was told that Molly simply goes there with her camera and then leaves when the job is done. This is a shame but to be expected in a way. I like your righteous anger. I think it is a good thing and I found myself weeping through the program last night out of sheer frustration and fear that this situation has been left to get so out of control. The scary thing is that Molly’s film was made TWO YEARS ago. What must it be like now.
    I’m rambling and I have not yet got my thoughts or next step clear in my head. I just wanted to say that I will be discussing this topic again on both of my blogs and have asked members of the UK food bloggers association what they think. British food and British farming are inextricably linked and should never be separated again in my own, humble opinion.

    It’s great to have found you.

    Thanks Lisa.

    Cherry x

  7. Hi, Got to your site via Cherry’s. What an amazing article and the previous one, very eloquently put! I’m from the North East originally now living in the South East. It’s a cause which I could also rant about knowing a few farmers and the hardships they’ve had to go through. I touched on this about a week ago and would like to add a link to your post if that’s okay. Good to find you. Great blog! Amanda

  8. says:

    hello there, wandered over here from bird ahoy. hooray for finding like minded people! don’t give up on these great ideas of yours, and do tell your friend that the dalai lama once said something like “if you think that you’re too small to make a difference then try sleeping with a mosquito!”. am living out in italy and here we have our allotment, no supermarket when possible, seasonal veg, local products, real organic, i understand where you’re coming from and appreciate your wise words! nà

  9. Rose Vintage says:

    Eloquently put! I despair though when I hear people like your friend who won’t change because basically what is the point? When I read blogs like yours and read the comments made by other people I realise that there are people out there who in some small way are trying to make a difference. Thank goodness..


  10. Amy says:

    I guess from here I can see both sides of the fence and I can see where and why your friend gets his opinions in today’s world but I have to say that I’m with you Tash. I saw a small footage of news on tv a few years ago about how battery hen farmers were prosecuted for cruelty by the SPCA and since then I’ve been only for free range eggs AND my views on how food is grown and harvested have been gradually expanded and changing, thank goodness. I think wanting to feed my family healthy food has alot to do with it and anything containing pesticides etc isn’t welcome in our household which is why we grow alot of our own fruit trees and veges.

  11. Hi, I found your blog through Lisa. I have been a vegetarian, free range egg buyer for over 14 years now and I have never been able to understand why people just don’t get it! Of course we need to produce good quality food on a small scale, of course we need to buy free-range eggs, and of course (if we choose to eat meat), we eat meat that has been reared properly, with care. These are the only ways that we can be sure what we are eating is good and natural. We also need to move away from pre-packaged food, it is a terrible waste of packaging and just tastes awful!
    Thankyou for writing such a great post.

    We are hoping to become more reliant on produce from our own garden and local suppliers too, so I shall add your blog to my list now, so that I can keep up with all your goings on.
    Victoria xx

  12. tea says:

    This makes me so sick at heart. I know it happens and worse. I`m afraid I`m one of those that tries not to think about it because I work in a food packing place and without my job I`d be screwed :( It`s all about money and no big business gives a damn how animals are treated, or even people for that matter. The world of humans is a cruel and greedy place. I`m glad there are people making this known though. I just hope and pray that some day it makes a difference.


  13. willow says:

    A great post. I intended to watch the programm but missed it. Like you I find it very sad that not enough importance is placed on food and as you say people just don’t want to know. I was talking to a colleage about fair trade coffee recently and she told me that it was not worth buying being too expensive at 50p more a jar than her usual brand. I couldn’t believe it, that must work out at about 1p a cup. I’m sure if she thought about it she would think that 1p a cup was worth it to ensure that growers were paid more but as you say she just didn’t want to know.

  14. Rowan says:

    What a well written article Tash, it’s such an emotive subject. For years now I’ve bought only organic free range eggs, meat from either an organic farm in Derbyshire or my local butcher who has his own farm nearby. I try also to look at the source of fruit and veg and buy UK produce as much as possible. Farmers in this country are treated disgracefully – and here I’m talking about small farmers not the big agri-business men who have destroyed so much of our countryside and put the smaller mixed farms out of business.
    I’m also quite sure that a lot of the bad behaviour and high incidence of things like ADD in children nowadays is down to the fact that they are fed almost entirely on prepackaged shop bought food instead of fresh meat, vegetables and fruit, the food they are given must be full of all kinds of chemicals and preservatives that do immense harm.
    I’ve wandered a bit off the point here I’m afraid but it’s all connected really.

  15. weirdbunny says:

    My sister in law has a stall on the various farmer markets in our area. The stalls are £25.00 each, they tried to put it up to £30.00 but the stall holders could’t pay that much. Its fine if your selling hot food or meat them you can make money, but not for everything else. My sister in law has to charge a lot to just cover the cost of her stall often like many other of the stall holders making no profit.

    I would rather buy local over organic, it’s a rule of them in our house.

    Personally I’m more into swapping produe than purchasing it. We ofter swap eggs, chicken with a neighbour for fish when he goes out on his fishing boat. People often will come and do a favour for us, with the payment of eggs or vegtables from our garden.

    This week we had to put our free range chickens in a run for the week, whilst our vegatable plants and seed establish themselves, as the chickens kept making dust baths and ruining all sucess of the plants grwing. For us whether it be an animal of vegtable they are our food source, so therefore now and again the chicken have to go in a run or our veg crop would be ruined.

    WE also eat our chickens. My children have plucked feathers from the killed chickens from a young age. Their nimble little fingers pluck quickly and don’t tear the chickens skin. My brother in law also did this as a child, and now as a grown up in a strict vegeterian.

    What my childrens veiw on food will be intresting to see when they grow up.

    Of course the best thing about small holding is being outside so much and getting a lovely tan !

  16. The programme has not been aired in Australia so I can’t comment on that but I have been reading about England during WWII and how as a country you had been so reliant on importing goods from your colonies rather than growing your own. The hostilities prevented this from continuing and you were thrown back largely on your own resources.I realise the population has increased since then but it seems that by attacking the problem locally,ie, getting everyone to grow as much of their own as possible and maximizing land use for FOOD production the people were fed.
    Every country should be concerned first with making certain that it can feed its own people from its own resources, that it can cloth its own people from its own resources. If food production is more localised and produced for the local community then people might become more aware and more involved in its production and the ethics of its production.

    If people are squeamish about handling fresh meat and demand it is prepared at the supermarket or butcher for them so that any connection with the original life force that was in the creature is lost then they are never going to associate the “easy-carve” leg of lamb with the cute fluffy creature and won’t give a thought to the ethical treatment of livestock. Somehow people have to regain that connection with the animals whose lives are taken so that we can eat them and demand that these creatures are given a decent and respectful life and death.

  17. Val says:

    Well written post – thanks for airing the various topics. Although I appreciate that only eating local seasonal food makes sense (the Japanese enjoy the seasons via food) I should miss all the wonderful year round fruit and veg we import. And rather than make a huge unsustainable step like that, I do the small things like trying to buy local organic produce(or as near as possible to organic, for some smallholders cannot display the label)We persuaded Waitrose to continue selling our local suppliers organic milk, even though they had dropped it in favour of a national brand. Tell your friend, he CAN make a difference. A small difference is still a difference!

  18. Hi Tash, Following your great post. I’ve put you on my blogroll. I’ve been tagged for 7 things about me and would like to ask if I can tag you? Can you e-mail me back. Many thanks, Amanda

  19. Kate says:

    battery farming is such a nasty and disgusting thing!! I love the row of trees, it’s such a stunning photograph.

  20. Sarah says:

    You are brilliant lady. They should put you on the Telly! Whenever I read your blog, I’m always struck by your passion regarding what you do and how articulate you are when you write about it. I’m so glad to have found your blog.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.