This is a follow on from the last blog post and very much in keeping with the theme of ethics. But hopefully I won’t bore you with the ramblings of a meat-crazed carnivore deprived of iron. Instead I’m proposing an idea for the future, an Orwellian utopia or dystopia, whatever the difference is, anyway it’s all gonna be desolate farmland and we’ll be living in a world that resembles something like an episode of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror.
The year is 2046 and Mr Blade Runner wants to head down to Mad Max’s, which the best mother fucking steak house this side of Elysium. The only problem is he’s lost his licence and without it, the restaurant will only serve him a bowl of chips.
A ridiculous scenario I know, as in the future it’ll all be face, retina, fingerprint, voice recognition and we won’t need to carry any licence, money or anything. In fact we probably wont go out for dinner anymore, we’ll all have robot chefs to cook up whatever the fuck we want or get it delivered from some drone. Actually we’ll have virtual restaurants where we can control who’s eating there, what music is playing, how sexy the waitress and waiters are. You’ll want to eat with virtual Hollywood A-listers, who will laugh at all your jokes, and be served by your work colleagues, who you don’t like, so you can treat them like dirt and they’re naked, everybody is naked. Ok, Ok, enough fantasising, lets get back on point. But realistically there won’t be any steak houses as meat production will be deemed illegal or I guess it’ll fall out of popularity to the point the whole industry collapses.
Back to the idea of a meat licence. I recently went to an interesting event at Coombeshead Farm called Burning Ham. It’s an annual event where the farm slaughter their Magalitza pigs, with the help of two expert pig farmers, who are flown in from Austria especially for the event. The occasion was attended by most of the young, up and coming chefs in the UK with a handful of Michelin Stars in tow.
The 3 days involved witnessing the execution and slaughter of the pig, with hands on help from the 40 strong chefs, to move the carcass into a bath of near boiling water and rip the hair off the beast, then witness a detailed breakdown of how to butcher the animal and finally a big cook up in the kitchen under the watchful eye of Isabell Wiesner (One of the Austrian farmers), who has probably cooked more Mangalitza than I’ve had hot dinners. Admittedly I was out of my depth, I’ve cut up a bit of pig and cooked some offal, but these chefs do it everyday, and they were here to learn from the Jedi Masters of pig anatomy. But the main purpose of my attendance was to witness the killing of the animal and understand exactly the process involved, feel the emotion and hear the squeals, smell the blood. For if I am to eat pork, I need to respect that an animal has died for my needs. I’ve killed and eaten a few animals in my lifetime from insects, molluscs and fish, to more serious, fluffy, cutesy ones, like rabbits and game birds. But to kill a large mammal with a large capacity of intellect, who’s eyes can stare into yours with acknowledgement and emotion; it’s a different kettle of fish or rather, a different bath tub of pigs.
Our detachment from where meat comes from has become more and more. The sentient being gets lost in translation, when a bit of Mechanically Recovered Meat (MRM) in the shape of a dinosaur is covered in breadcrumbs; you don’t think it’s from a chicken. But even the wonderful fish finger, is a form of sterilising the aesthetic. Turning Cod into an orange rectangle has turned many people away from eating a whole cooked fish. However they will happily wolf down a fried bit of cod fillet in batter, but woe betide having the milky eyes of a dead fish staring up from your plate.
There is certainly a spectrum of what animals we consider sentient and their level of consciousness. Our own stupid government just voted against farming livestock being classified as sentient, which is crazy, but maybe I don’t understand the exact law they were voting for. Growing up in Totnes, there’s certainly a bit of hippy Buddhist inside me and I believe that most animals have the ability of self-consciousness, but I’d rather kill small things without brains or eyes, which I’ve never seen before, than large, intelligent beast who I’ve looked after and become emotionally attached to. I’d hung out and fed the pigs at Coombeshead a handful of times, but I’d had no real emotion to them, I was more upset watching the reactions of the staff on the farm, who’d been feeding these animals for months. These emotions soon passed when I saw the respect being paid to the animal. From the ceremonial toasting to the pigs life, where everyone drinks a shot of schnapps before the slaughter commences, to the nose-to-tail philosophy where nothing is wasted. Even the gallbladder liquid is used to break up any pig fat that may end up in your drainage and the blood used to make chocolate brownies (watch this space, a new blood cake brownie might be on the horizon!). During the anatomy lesson by Isobel’s husband, Christoph Wiesner, arguably the world authority on Mangalitza butchery, he’d offer tasters of warm freshly dissected liver and fat, this was an icebreaker before going the whole hog. After tasting some raw bits of pig, I’d been won over. Flavour had prevailed and after a long day with a lot of unrest towards eating dead animals, it was now time to get in the kitchen along with the team of pig assassins and prep some pig. The moment I stepped up to the workbench and was thrown a bowl of offal and asked to coat it in breadcrumbs, there was no looking back. However frying some unsavoury parts coated in breadcrumbs is somewhat reminiscent of frozen packets of dinosaur shaped meat. This could be as cowardly as eating MRM, but without the greedy motives of a meat production company flogging pink slime and squeezing a carcass to within an inch of its life. But I needed to remind myself MRM is hardcore nose to tail with shady motives, as making some offal appetising is just common sense.
I’d say I’d earned a provisional licence to eat pig after this experience. Magnus Nilsson touches on the subject in his book Fäviken, when he tells the story of how he kills he favourite sheep. He proposes people earn a meat eating licence, similar to a driving license and the true test is to raise an animal, kill, butcher and eat it, so you know the true cost of the life you have taken. I fell short of this, but certainly believe I’m on the way. Maybe I should witness a bad killing, where the animal has had a poor life and an inhumane slaughter? That would put a stop to me eating bad pork. The Guardian touch on this subject when reviewing the programme Kill It, Cook It, Eat It, from about 10 years ago, where it criticised the standard of the abattoir used, as being “too good”. We need to see the ass end of meat industry for some real change and I feel it’s time for Channel 4 to resurrect that show and let our nation see the guts, rather than the glory of a perfectly roasted fillet.
Ultimately we’re a bunch of fucking cowards in this country; we can’t even call our food by its real name, Beef, Pork, Venison, rather than Cow, Pig and Deer. This is almost a violation of The Trade Descriptions Act 1968. PETA should get on the campaign trail to change the future, rather than dwelling on the past and whingeing about some vintage fur coats. Now where is my fucking harpoon? I have a hankering for Whale en Croute.