I’m a meat-eater facing an internal conflict. I love a bacon roll for breakfast. I’m a fan of grilled chicken on my Caesar salad for lunch, and a juicy BBQ steak for dinner will always get my vote.
But I’m also aware of the insanity of the food system. People are going hungry while we feed tonnes of grain to cattle. CO2-absorbing rainforests are being destroyed to make space for animal grazing. Not to mention, animal welfare often leaves a lot to be desired.
Do you want to continue eating meat but also do your part for a more sustainable future of food? Here are some practical tips for making more informed decisions about the meat you eat.
1. Eat Less and Enjoy More
If you’d like to change your own meat eating habits, consider reducing all animal products in your diet – not just meat.
This concept of ‘flexitarianism’ is summed up beautifully by author Michael Pollan. In his book, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, he says:
Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants
2. Choose Grass-Fed Beef
Typically, mass-produced livestock is raised on grain. The animals are kept in feedlots and fed supplements to encourage them to eat more. This results in the livestock fattening up faster and selling for a higher price.
Grass-fed cattle forage for their own food rather than being force fed grain. As a result, grass-fed beef is leaner and has a higher percentage of Omega 3s than grain-fed beef. Allowing cattle to graze naturally gives the animals a better quality of life. Not only that, it’s generally considered that grass-fed beef has a better flavour.
The higher price may be a downside. Instead, why not spend the same, but eat a smaller portion? Eating less of a higher quality product is a great way to see meat as an occasional treat, rather than as a daily habit.
Or, consider swapping beef for something else. Beef requires around eight to ten times the amount of resources to produce as chicken. Make chicken your preferred Sunday roast, instead of beef.
3. Insist on Higher Animal Welfare
When it comes to animal welfare, buying organic beef isn’t a guarantee that the animal has been well treated. Cattle that is grass-fed, rather than held in cramped conditions, isn’t either.
It takes a little more time, but understanding where your meat comes from and how it’s been looked after is key to eating meat without the guilty conscience. Look to support businesses that treat their animals in a more humane way. Look for farms that don’t expose their cattle to live transport, but rather have their own abattoir on site. Also look for meat from slaughterhouses that practise humane slaughter. Rendering an animal insensible with a stun gun before slaughter is a more humane death.
Choosing meat that has been raised in a more humane way tastes better. It contains more essential fatty acids, and feels like a no-brainer. It’s often more expensive but being a higher quality product, it should be a price worth paying.
There are plenty of small sustainable farms in the UK that will happily accept your custom.
4. Eat the Whole Animal: From Nose to Tail
Fillet, sirloin, rump and rib-eye. These are four of the most popular cuts of beef.
But there are many other parts of the animal that are just as tasty, and which are often much cheaper too.
The expression ‘nose to tail’ eating means eating the whole animal. Not just the pre-packed steaks from the supermarket shelves.
Braised beef cheeks can have a rich, melt in the mouth texture. Tongue is delicious sliced in sandwiches. Oxtail makes an amazing soup. Offal may not be your cup of tea, but with a little know-how it can be made into some delicious dishes. Roasted bones can be saved and used to make bone broth or stock for gravy or soup.
If you’re not confident at cooking more unusual cuts at home, try eating different dishes when you’re out. There are now plenty of restaurants that specialise in nose-to-tail dining. In London you’ll find Smoking Goat in Soho and Coal Rooms in Peckham.
5. Buy from Sustainable Farms
Sustainable agriculture uses farming techniques that protect animal welfare. And not only that. It helps protect the environment, public health and local human communities too.
A sustainable approach to farming might include:
- Rotational grazing to reduce stress on the land
- Recycling water and energy from farm activities for reuse elsewhere on the farm
- Reducing the use of chemicals and using alternatives that are better for the soil, for animals and for us
- Practising biodynamic agriculture, a holistic method of farming. This is farming that looks at the relationship between the soil and the plants and animals that use it. Its sustainable and regenerative farming at its best.
Eat Meat With a Clearer Conscience
Eating meat without a guilty conscience is no easy task. However being aware of the environmental and sustainability issues is an important big first step. Taking small actions to reduce your meat consumption can have a big impact.
Eat less of a higher quality product, eat more of each animal and be mindful of where your meat comes from.
And enjoy! After all, if you don’t, then maybe it’s time to ditch it altogether?