Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Squeamish shoppers and the butcher's window, vegetarians and the dairy industry

Butcher's Stall with the Flight into Egypt by Pieter Aertsen, 1551.

As an impecunious single parent in the mid-'70s, long before A Girl Called Jack wrote about her supermarket bargain diet, I did my best to provide healthy food on a small budget for myself and my small son. As omnivores, meat was part of it, though it had to be cheap. I grew vegetables, bred rabbits for the pot, and became expert at killing, skinning and disembowelling them. The surplus were sold to a butcher in Oxford Covered Market. A friend often gave me game, when her freezer was full of gifts from a local gamekeeper, mostly pigeons. I was in the middle of plucking some one day, my apron covered with feathers, when there was a knock at the door. My visitor visibly blanched at the sight of my half-plucked pigeon and bloody fingers, and took a couple of steps backwards. If he'd come back another day, when pigeon pie was on the table, he might have sniffed it appreciatively, but the makings didn't appeal to him, and he didn't accept my invitation to have a cup of tea.

I was reminded of this by a story that's been in the news this week, about a butcher's shop in Sudbury that's been forced to remove its window display of game and pig's heads. I could tell you a story about how pigs' heads make good brawn, but that's for another day. A Mr Ben Mowles of Great Cornard has written to the local paper, the Suffolk Free Press:
In reference to Daniel Cudmord’s comments in last week’s Free Press, I too have been disgusted at the needless display of multiple mutilated carcasses on display at JBS Family Butchers in the Borehamgate precinct. I used to take my 12-year-old daughter to Marimba sweet shop but now we avoid the entire precinct as we’d rather not look at bloody severed pigs’ heads when buying sweets.
Poor child! Thanks to her father's over-reaction to the sight of dead animals, she'll probably have a lifelong squeamishness problem to deal with herself.

I have no idea if Mr Mowles is a vegetarian, or if he only eats meat that's been shrink-wrapped for the supermarket. Some of my friends are vegetarian, and I know at least one novice vegan; a nutritionally difficult diet, from what I've heard. The trouble with vegetarians who are repelled by meat is that most of them rely on dairy products for part of their protein intake, and that strikes me as a bit of a cop-out. Even if they only accept organic milk, cheese, butter, cream and yoghurt, do they ever consider how the dairy industry works? Do they consider what happens to male calves, for example? The Jolly Meat Company, one of the butchers in Hadleigh, my nearest town, occasionally sells veal, but it's not popular in the UK. Most people will drink milk from cows but won't eat the calves that have to be born so that the cows will produce milk. Many have been shot at birth, leaving their mothers bellowing in distress. If Mr Mowles and his squeamish ilk are careful to avert their eyes from the reality of meat production (even game that comes from creatures that live a totally natural life), so that their delicate sensibilities shouldn't be upset, they're unlikely to want to think about the welfare of the animals in question. Seems a bit hypocritical to me.

I hope that the Sudbury butchers reinstate their window display, though they might want to leave out the pigs' heads as a compromise. I'm still an omnivore. I eat meat in moderation, including offal, which many are too squeamish to contemplate. It would be good if people in the developed world ate less meat and dairy products, for the sake of the environment and their own health. China is rapidly increasing its meat consumption, which isn't good. If you're a regular carnivore, try only eating meat as a treat - you'll probably feel better for it.

Click here to read about a more humane approach to the welfare of dairy calves.

Click here for some butchers' opinions.

27 Feb: The window display is back, due to "overwhelming public support"


Vivia Bamford said...

Hi, A few of your readers may also be interested in The Calf at Foot Dairy as a different approach to the ethical issues of Milk/Veal production. http://www.the-calf-at-foot-dairy.co.uk

Margaret Nelson said...

That's lovely Vivia, thank you. Pity I'm too far away to buy from them, but I get deliveries of organic milk.