Sunday, 25 March 2012

The meat of the issue

This blog post has taken me ages to write. I've found the subject of eating meat a really difficult one to talk about without sounding judgemental over other people, which isn't my intention at all. The last couple of weeks especially have been a real learning experience for me regarding meat production, and it's shaped my thoughts on the matter. But it's shaped my thoughts on where I BUY meat from, not where I EAT meat from - if someone else has cooked dinner with meat that I didn't buy, I value the social importance of eating together above needing to know where the meat has come from.

Now in explanation, I've just finished reading Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, most of which I read whilst staying with my friend Alexa who recently raised her own pigs (which she's now eating). I would say it was one of the most important/difficult/interesting/horrifying/thought provoking books I've ever read, and I would encourage others to read it too. It's not easy reading, but it is important reading. As he says in the book " is an argument for vegetarianism, but it's also an argument for another wiser animal agriculture and more honourable omnivory."

This means I've been thinking a lot about meat, and whether it's ok to eat it. I'm a meat eater and always have been. I was raised in a family where my dad doesn't think it's a meal if there isn't a chunk of meat on the plate somewhere. As a result, it was normal for me to eat meat once, maybe twice a day.

Over the last year, I've been making a concious effort to eat less meat, but I still eat more than I think I do. If you asked me, I'd say I eat meat 3 times a week, but I'd say by the time you count an occasional lunchtime sandwich, or bacon buttie at the weekend, it's probably closer to 7. And that's definitely too much in my opinion.

Since starting the project, I've made an effort to switch to only eating free range chicken and pork. I was feeling pretty good about things - there was a mental "tick" in the box for the area of meat eating. But right at the start of Eating Animals, he talks a lot about what the terms Free Range and Organic mean. Or don't mean.   Turns out, that free range don't necessarily roam around outdoors, and neither do organic chickens. "Access to the outdoors" can mean a window, or a door at one end of a very large shed.

At this point in reading the book, my heart sunk. Everything I thought I knew went out of the window.

The rest of the book re-iterated things that I already kind of knew, added in a lot more information, and put it all in the cold light of day. I'm not the most well off person in the road, but it's within my budget to buy better sourced meat. So while I could previously have claimed to be ignorant about the issue or too poor to make changes, I now felt that if I didn't change my purchasing habits, it could only come down to indifference on my part.

And indifferent I am not.

Before this year, I don't think I'd ever used the word provenance. But now it's one that frequently leaves my lips, especially when talking about food. It refers to the place or source of origin of something (in this case, the food item in question). And that I've realised is the most important thing. If you buy an organic chicken from the supermarket, you have no real idea where the chicken comes from. But if you buy it from a butcher, they should be able to tell you where the chicken comes from and what the welfare standards it was raised under were (well, if they're a decent butcher they should)...

So what does this mean?

Well, supermarkets were already out, so that's not a problem. But it means I now want to go above and beyond just buying free range or organic meat, and actually bother to check whether it has access to the outdoors as well. I suffer from what I call "polite British syndrome", so I'm going to have to get over that sharpish if I'm going to start doing it.

Two places recently have impressed me though with their provenance information.

The first is Sheepdrove Organic Farm, who have a shop up in Redland. The information on their website is incredibly detailed, and their commitment to animal welfare should be applauded. I'm hoping to get up to the shop to chat to them more in the next few weeks.

The second is Better Food Company, an organic food shop in St Werburghs. Now, I do complain about BFC from time to time, due to a lot of the produce being pretty darn pricey. But their dedication to detailing their suppliers and the provenance of their produce is amazing for a shop of their size. So while I would prefer to go to the butchers for my meat, it's useful to know I can buy from BFC knowing that the meat there meets my standards.

This goes alongside my other commitments to eating less meat, and trying to eat the less desirable cuts (the pate making in Lincolnshire was a success, so I'm hoping to replicate it here soon), hopefully leading me to "more honourable omnivory"!

Friday, 16 March 2012

Slippers and sausages

I'm up in Lincolnshire at the moment visiting my friend Alexa who I studied with at CAT. Two things about this visit have been especially inspiring.

Firstly, last year Alexa and Gavin got pigs. This was mainly because the garden of the house they bought was full of the wild version of comfrey, and pretty much the only way to get rid of it (without resorting to nasty chemicals) is with pigs. The problem with trying to dig it up, is that if you split the root, two plants grow in its place. However, pigs dig up and eat the roots, solving the problem.

So two little piglets were purchased, an area was fenced off, and the pigs started digging. Apart from a few minor mishaps and some escaping piglets, the pigs were a resounding success. The comfrey was eradicated, and the pigs had a completely free-range and happy upbringing. The pigs went to the butchers in January, with one pigs worth of meat going to Gavin's family, and the other pig being kept by Alexa and Gavin. Now, Gavin is a vegetarian, and hasn't eaten meat in 15 years, but decided that he couldn't possibly disagree with eating the pigs on environmental or animal welfare grounds. And so, he's been eating the pork. 

Best of all, they got given all the offal too, so Alexa and I are going to have a bash at making pork liver pate this weekend - I shall report back on the outcome...

Secondly, and perhaps more interestingly, Alexa makes slippers for a living. She made a pair for Gavin for his birthday a few years ago, and they worked out so well that the idea for Motties slippers was born. Alexa now makes slippers full time, making them out of a little  workshop in her house.

What's really inspiring about Motties is what they're made out of and how they're made. The leather for the slippers is rescued waste from the upholstery industry, where it would otherwise be thrown out. Likewise for the wool and the rest of the fabric that goes into a pair of the slippers, often made from unwanted blankets or jumpers. Material that is unusable or unsuitable for other parts of the slippers is used inside the inner sole, then layered with a suede sole and fabric inner. A top is crafted from a leather outer and wool inside, and then the slipper is stitched together. Each pair is unique as the stock of leather and material that Alexa has to work with changes week to week, and so the colours vary all the time. 

And there's some inspiring details behind the scene. She's currently experimenting with composting the wool, leather and cotton scraps that are too small to use, making sure any waste is recycled as much as possible. Added to that, the packaging that the slippers come in is minimal and reusable - simple brown paper envelopes that protect the slippers, but can be reused by the recipient or easily recycled. She's also currently experimenting with making removable inner soles for the slippers that can be bought to allow old Motties to be given a second lease of life, or be washed to keep your slippers smelling fresh. 

I love the fact that they're upcycled from reclaimed materials, and Alexa works with what she has available at the time. Plus they're super comfy and mine have lasted brilliantly. 

So, as well as catching up with a friend, I've had a lesson in ethical and happy meat, and upcycling and sustainable product design. 

Thoughts about clothes....

Whilst doing some completely unrelated research today, I came across the website Slow Fashioned and fell in love with their pledge. The same way that Tom's Feast summed up my thoughts on sustainable food, they've summed up the values I want to aspire to regarding clothes.

In their words:
"To practice concious consumption by:
- learning more about where my clothing comes from
- making decisions based on quality rather than quantity
- supporting handmade, local, sustainable, or secondhand fashion
- caring for my clothes to make them last"
And to live life better by living slower."


Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Still here, just internetless....

So it's been a bit quiet on the blogging side over the last month. It's a combination of packing to move house, and then not yet having internet at my new house. Here's a whistle stop tour of what's been going on...

- Money moving - I'm preparing to move my bank account to a more ethical bank account as part of Move Your Money Month...
- Energy supplier - In my new house, we've decided to pay a bit extra to go with Ecotricity as our gas and electricity supplier - this makes me very happy
- Furniture reuse - I furnished the rest of my bedroom from second hand furniture or stuff that was being thrown out. We also rescued two things for our kitchen from skips/the side of the road, and managed to hand on a few bits and pieces we didn't need to other people.
- Forage o'clock - I went foraging at the weekend and picked a load of wild garlic just off the cycle path to Portishead. Talk about zero food miles :)
- Happy pigs - I've just been reading the rough guide to ethical living, and as a result, pork is joining chicken on my list of things that I'll only eat if it's free range/organic.
- Smelling green - Over the last couple of months I've slowly been switching to natural based toiletries. Gone are aerosols and chemical things - I've now switched shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, face wash, moisturiser and perfume. Generally I'm really pleased with how my skin/hair is feeling. Still a few things I need to address - I tried switching deodorant and turned out to be allergic to the one I switched to. Hmmmm. And I still can't find a hair product that prevents my hair from going frizzy without it making it greasy... The hunt continues...

Longer posts to come when the internet is back next week :)

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Slipping up, almost slipping up, and missing out

All's been a bit quiet on the blogging front, mostly because I'm moving house today, and so the last few weeks have been a bit focused on that. There's been a lot of conversations and thoughts going on though - mostly around waste and our need for stuff.

A few quick updates though....

I bought a sandwich last week from the cafe across the road. Mmmmmmm coronation chicken. It didn't hit me for a few days that their chicken is not free range (I didn't ask, but given the price and the type of cafe, it would be pretty surprising). So whoops.

I almost accidently went to a supermarket yesterday too. I was in a restaurant/bar with some friends, eating tasty pizza and drinking some lovely red wine, and when I left realised I was in need of some milk. Oh look, there's a Coop across the road - excellent. It wasn't until I got to the til that I realised what I was doing. I blame the several glasses of wine for dulling my memory, but it shows how easy it is to fall into a habit, especially when you're somewhere unknown or different.

And then we move on to the missing out. I was in London last weekend and went to Camden with some friends on the Sunday. Firstly I found it a bit overwhelming - the sheer amount of shops and people trying to get you to buy things is incredible. I came across a lovely scarf that I fell in love with, and I was about to part with my money for it, when my friend Sian pointed out that it was made in China. To me, the scarf was a bargain, but at that price it couldn't pay the workers a fair amount. I realised then that each transaction is not just about me. Clothes and accessories is something I haven't really looked at in detail yet - I think it's going to be a hard one, as I'm not the skinniest girl around, and I'm yet to find somewhere that stocks ethical fashion above a size 14/16. But things like scarves etc are things that I do have control about, and therefore it's even more important that I make the right decisions with these items. I'm still thinking about that scarf though....