One of the biggest reasons that we moved out of Melbourne and onto our own land at White Stone Farm was to be able to produce our own food. Where food comes from is important to us. What chemicals have been used in the production of fruit and vegetables, what sort of conditions were supposedly ‘cage free/barn laid/free range’ chickens kept in (you’d be surprised just how little area is allowed for commercial ‘free range’ egg production) and how long has that leafy green been in cold storage and trucked across the nation to get to our plate?? When you buy your produce from a supermarket, you can never be really sure of the answers to all of these questions. And that just wasn’t good enough for us.
The same goes for meat. Top of our concerns is the treatment of animals, the conditions they are kept in and very importantly, how much stress they had to endure as they meet their maker to become made into meat. In today’s mass consumerism for meat products on a huge scale, it requires a huge need for thousands of animals to supply the demand. And conditions are not always so favourable.
In today’s society, meat is no longer a luxury – it’s a daily expectation. That special Sunday roast of chicken or rack of new season lamb is not a huge treat like it used to be, it’s now yet another meal amongst others throughout the week that is centred on meat. Our meat now comes neatly packaged, vacuum sealed and not in the slightest resembling the animal from which it came. We can switch off the thought process about where it came from while we decide skin on or skin off…oyster blade or chops…breast meat or thighs…and forget the great amount of resources that went into producing, rearing and finishing such a beast to become our vacuum sealed package of protein goodness.
This disconnection and lack of appreciation for the huge amounts of water, feed, time, energy and effort…and the ultimate sacrifice of life that went into producing that package of meat can also lead to easy wastage or poor cooking that doesn’t do the animal justice for the great sacrifice it made for your dinner.
Aware of all this, but also not wishing to become vegetarian (and if you are, my hat’s off to you…but we like eating meat), we have made the decision to be choosy about where our meat comes from and to be involved in rearing it and preparing it for the table as much as possible. On our small acreage, this is possible with ducks and chickens – and a little more difficult with larger animals. And no, the llamas are not on the menu! (Apparently they taste good…but they’re too damn expensive to eat!!).
Most of our protein comes from our young roosters, who are impossible to keep after a certain age as they fight with the head rooster (Henry II rules the roost in our house flock). The lucky hens go on to live out their days foraging, clucking and laying eggs. The roosters that we don’t or can’t breed from end up in the freezer.
With such a high percentage of male chickens, this has been an intensive process at times. I’ve shed tears, I’ll admit. It’s really hard to raise these gorgeous birds, get to know their personalities, care for them and then decide on the end. But that’s what every meat eater should experience. The girl from the ‘burbs, whose meat has always come from the supermarket, is now front and centre of who lives and who dies for her meal – and actively involved in dispatching, plucking, preparing, cooking and savouring. From Cradle to Plate.
It’s not easy, but at the end of the day I can safely say that I was involved in every step. I know that the chicken or duck on my plate had the most amazing life, wanted for nothing, was safe, warm and happy until the last day and that the end was quick, humane and very respectful. It’s much more than millions of other meat birds get in exchange for their life.
Once the delicious culinary creation has been loving prepared and set on the table, we’ll drink a toast to the bird that died for our meal, remember them, reminisce perhaps if they were particularly charismatic and appreciate their sacrifice for our plate and bellies.
And that’s what meat consumption should be about. Every time.
So have a think about where your meat has come from. If you don’t have the luxury of raising your own, check out local producers and free range meat growers in your area. And most importantly, stop and reflect on where and how your food gets to your plate. Then, and only then, will our humane standards and ideals be enforced and better reflected in the commercialism of meat production.