In a time where many people are choosing to opt for a vegetarian or vegan diet for both ethical and health reasons and we are all able to share our opinions easily in various ways, one question seems to be popping up quite frequently: how can you claim to love animals and still eat meat? I can see how this would be difficult to understand but the two things have honestly never been altogether separated in that way for me. I grew up in the countryside, in an area with lots of farms and have always understood where meat came from. It was never hidden from me and I can never remember being surprised or confused that my steak used to be a cow.
I know that many people like to ignore this fact but, in all honesty, I don’t think you can do that and still claim to be an animal lover. Eating meat means that animals have to be raised in some way for the purpose of eventually being killed for meat. If you ignore this then you are also ignoring their welfare. If you constantly reach for the cheapest packet of meat on the shelves because you like the taste and never once think about how that perfectly plastic-wrapped chicken breast got there, then should you really be eating it?
As someone who really does love animals, this is something that has weighed on my mind for a while now. I have always eaten British meat and local where possible. I do this because it supports British farmers and also because different countries have different rules and standards for raising meat. I have always believed that the British standards are fairly high. However, the more I look into it, the less convinced I become. I, like many others, have been duped by clever labelling. For example, I love pigs and whenever I see pictures or footage of them being raised in barns it makes me so sad for them. That cannot be an enjoyable life. So I would reach for the packets of meat that had the word “outdoor” on them. However, it turns out this can be misleading: “outdoor Bred” on packaging seems to mean that as soon as a piglet is weaned it is put inside and “outdoor reared” still means that much of the pig’s life will be spent in a barn. As nice as these barns may be on some farms, surely this is an animal that should be allowed to wander onto pasture whenever it pleases – we shouldn’t force it to stay in a barn because it makes it fatter quicker and cheaper to buy. It isn’t just the pigs either – we need to be more mindful of how all of our animals are being raised for meat: cows, chickens, lambs, the lot.
I am fully aware that the reason many people do not pick up the free-range packet in the supermarket is because it is so much more expensive – because the animals aren’t farmed intensively, it costs more to produce the meat. I’d be lying if I said this hadn’t swayed my decision making before. So my new commitment is this: from now on, I will eat free-range meat and if this means I cannot afford to buy as much meat as before, then I will eat less of it and have more meat-free meals.
I am keen to learn more about how we can make free-range and higher-welfare meat more attainable and how we can educate people on how to choose meat options with higher animal welfare because I don’t think many people realise what intensive farming is or that it even exists. The labels on packaging don’t help either and often leave us all the more confused. So I will keep you updated on how I get on and if it is much more expensive or difficult to get what you want when going free-range. I’m hoping to learn more about animal welfare too so I hope to share my findings with you soon. In the mean-time, I’m off to the farm shop!
NOTE: If you want to look into these issues further you might find Compassion in World Farming's website an interesting read and I found this site which seems to make the labelling of pork a bit clearer amongst much more information.