Meat: Murder or Benign Extravagance? Show us the data

Interesting article caught my eye today which takes to task the widely accepted view that eating meat is bad for the environment.

Eat meat and save the planet (Sunday Times, P18) looks at the argument put forward by author Simon Fairlie in his book Meat: A Benign Extravagance.

And it’s such a compelling argument it already prompted a high-profile revision of his viewpoint by environment writer George Monbiot who earlier this month published the CommentisFree post, “I was wrong about veganism. Let them eat meat – but farm it properly”.

This attack on the ‘meat is bad’ mantra doesn’t just fly in face of campaigning vegetarians, but also esteemed scientists such as Rajendra Pachauri, who chaired the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and who called on people to eat less meat in order to help in the fight against global warming a couple of years ago.

At that point, UN figures were used to suggest that meat production puts more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than transport.

In his book, Fairlie’s central point is to take apart some of the commonly bandied statistics in respect of the damage caused by meat production and test their validity.

For example, he claims that the widely quoted statistic around the volume of water used by cattle (drinking and pasture) of 100,000 litres of water for 1kg of beef is bunkum.

And he draws on his experience of raising a steer which produced more than 125kg of meat.

“That means he would have had to have consumed 12,500 tons of water in his 16 month life, or 25,000 litres on each day of his life.”

An interesting debate which people will have strong views on either side certainly, but it left me wondering why it’s so hard to get reliable data on these issues. Why are we left lurching between claims and counter claims about how exactly our food is produced?

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Cheap cuts on the menu. But is that a bad thing?

The idea of ‘cheap food’ doesn’t sell that well with foodies.

Cheap = fast= nasty.

Huge glutinous plates of all-you-can-gorge buffets and buckets of trans fat glow in the dark bonelessness spring to mind.

But it seems there’s a growing desire to get more out of the produce we buy and it’s interesting to start to see this currently being reflected back at us in the latest wave of TV food shows.

This week, Channel 4s new Food show kicked off. OK the ‘investigation’ into the cost of supermarket baskets was almost insultingly obvious (Waitrose pricey, Asda cheaper. Fancy that!) but it is also highlighting so called cheap cuts such as this recipe for pork cheek ragu.

It was also interesting to hear food writer Diana Henry talking about the same issue on today’s Radio 4 Woman’s Hour. She made the point that cheap cuts are often seen as less popular things such as offal but that actually many were the traditional cuts of meat which have been overlooked. During the interview she also makes the point that meat doesn’t have to be the main focus of the meal and suggested listeners find more interesting things to do with the veg.

Maybe it’s the start of a new austerity brought about by necessity.

Possibly it’s got a lot to do with commissioning editors not wanting to push content which seems extravagant or overly indulgent

Either way, rediscovering some of the dishes from our past and seeking out ingredients available close to home sounds like a good way to reconnect with food and worth some experimentation.

What’s your favourite cheap cut? Let me know how you cook it below.