Living on the Sunshine Coast, writing about our food industries, I spend a lot of time visiting farmers and seeking out food producers. I love the industry and everything that comes with it.
The Sunshine Coast in particular is blessed with a number of producers that are focused on ethical farming practices, and wherever possible, it is something I like to highlight and showcase.
There has been much talk about ‘ethically produced’, and ‘ethical farming practices’. It is something I write about frequently, and something I am quite passionate about. It is also something there is a lot of confusion about.
Ethically produced… what does that actually mean?
I guess everyone has a different definition based upon their own personal beliefs and circumstances.
When I talk about ‘ethical’ farming practices, I am usually focused on the livestock industry, as I personally believe it is where ‘ethical’ is the most relevant with the greatest consequence, especially upon the livestock in question.
When I look at the livestock industry (aka the meat industry), for me, ethically produced is how the livestock is treated during the course of its life, the process in which it goes through which ends its life and how the end product is treated and processed to ensure that the life of that animal is valued and respected all the way through… right onto the dinner plate.
Now I know a lot of people struggle with this and would prefer not to think about their meat as a living breathing… dare I say it… cute animal… but it is what it is.
If you are a vegan, then you might not want to read on – it is unlikely that you are going to agree with anything I write and find much of it unpalatable, and that is ok, but before you do hit the close button, think of this…
I, along with something between 90-95% of the Australian population, eat meat, and in fact, statistics show that the average Australian will consume 111.5kg of meat annually (http://chartsbin.com/view/bhy ) That is a staggering amount of meat. So I am definitely not alone.
For this reason it is even more important about knowing about where our meat is coming from and that it is ‘ethically’ produced. Ethically produced, usually goes hand in hand with ‘organic’, ‘free range’, ‘nomadic’ or ‘pasture raised’, but is not exclusive to these terms.
Personally I think even vegans should be jumping on board this thinking process. I know vegans predominantly, are fundamentally opposed to the killing of animals. Full stop. And that is great – I respect both your mindset and your resolve. But you are not going to change the mindset of the masses – around 90-95% remember – that is a lot of meat eaters. Sure, we can maybe reduce the number of people that eat meat over time, but realistically, that is not ever going to happen in voluminous numbers anytime soon.
Make consumers stop and think about where their meat is coming from, how it was raised and cared for, the diet it was provided with, and let’s offer the most humane way possible to put this beautiful creature to death… let us at least remove cruelty, neglect and disrespect from the meat eating equation. And then let us not waste an ounce and rule wastage out of the equation too.
Lets try and find a happy medium and make a grand effort to change the type of meat that the masses are eating and make sure that ethical farming practices are embraced, and people understand what ethical farming practices are – because at the moment, most people would rather not think about it, especially while they are eating.
This is something I am very passionate about, and let me share with you why. I LOVE animals. I grew up on a farm surrounded by farm animals. I had the most fantastic childhood ever. Ever spring we would hand rear a dozen or so baby calves, lambs, and even once a piglet and a gosling we hatched from an egg.
My mum was liked the Pied Piper of Hamlin, farm animals following her everywhere. But they had a purpose. Our lambs, calves, ducks, geese and chickens were for the purpose of food – there is no sugar coating that fact.
There was however a hierarchy… thankfully, we never consumed a pet – I tried my hardest to name them all – unfortunately, this is not what constitutes a ‘pet’ in the eyes of my father! If they were one of the lambs we hand reared, then their spot in the eternal flock was usually secured. Calves, well it depended if they were potty calves or not. Maxy, an awkward calf was rejected by his mum when he was born. As a bull calf he was useless, as a steer even more so. He was a male dairy cow. Dairy cows do not make great meat, and well, the boys, they do not produce milk. Normally the likes of Maxy would end up on the dog food lorry or something similar, but he became a permanent fixture on the farm. He was cute. No one could bear to part with him, and no one was prepared to eat him! So instead the misfortune of being rejected at birth resulted in his longevity. That story at least had a happy ending.
The rest of the livestock however, did not fare the same. But I take comfort in the fact that ALL of our livestock had EXCEPTIONAL lives. They roamed free across ample land. They were moved to fresh paddocks every few weeks, all of which dad had pasture improved. Their feed was supplemented with hay and grain, and all sorts of goodies. They had molasses blocks to lick, the apple orchard excess apples as treats, and an incredibly peaceful and loving existence.
This is where I learned about ethical farming.
Having experienced this style of farming for the entirety of my childhood years, I see no excuse for there being any other type of farming.
That was some 35 years ago. So much has changed. Greed, speed, consumer demand, niche marketing, and an affluent society that insists on choosing only the best cuts for consumption has resulted in industry filled with waste and short cut farming practices and an utter disconnection with the ‘live’ product for fear we lose our appetite. That is without even considering the nutritional and health aspects of it all – which incidentally, are many.
I spend a lot of time thinking about farming practices, especially in connection with livestock farming, and I always come back to my first real experience with the food chain… it is an odd story but here is just the same…
While I was surrounded by a wonderful farm life, I was generally just a quiet observer until about the age of nine when I first killed a rabbit. Sounds like a horrible thing to do at the age of nine, but it was for a reason.
A domesticated, once feral, cat that we had adopted (Tommy), brought home a baby rabbit. We had hundreds, if not thousand of rabbits roaming wild in the back paddock, and this is how Tommy had survived until we moved to the farm. Obviously the dried cat crackers that we were feeding him were not satisfactory, and he felt the need to supplement his diet with rabbits. Only on this day, when he brought the baby rabbit home, it was still alive.
Almost hysterical, I prised the bunny from the jaws of Tommy, and then spent the next hour or so trying to nurse this little bunny back to life only to have it die in my arms – probably from the collective trauma of an hysterical human fussing over it and a cat having caught it in the first place, rather than the injuries sustained. This happened a few times more. The result was always the same… the little bunny eventually died.
I remember my mum trying to explain to me, that Tommy was just doing as nature intended, and that we too do the same and that it was probably much kinder to leave things alone. Even at that young age, I recognised that all I was probably doing was creating more trauma for the little bunny, and prolonging the inevitable… had I just left the bunny with Tommy, he would have ended it much quicker.
It was my first real introduction to the food chain, albeit the one of our cat. The next time Tommy brought home a live rabbit, rather than try and save it, I helped to very quickly end its life and then in my own attempt at butchery, carefully hitched the rabbit on a ‘skinning post’ in the shed, where I went on to skin and gut the rabbit in the same way I had seen my dad and brother do after hunting. Then presented it back to Tommy for ‘dining’. I would even carefully cut the bitter bile sac out of the liver! Those familiar with butchering will understand why this is important. Unfortunately Tommy loved this new idea and from then on after would bring the baby rabbits home purposely, and drop them at my feet for skinning. I was disgusted with Tommy but I always obliged.
When I retell this story, people are quite often horrified, but I have spoken to many others who have grown up on farms, and this story is not uncommon amongst us. It was an important lesson for me. It is life. It is what we eat (or in this case what the cat ate) – but that is what meat is, regardless of who or what it is for. It is laying importance to the life – at the time, the rabbit’s – and making sure that it wasn’t wasted. Tommy certainly wasn’t wasting anything… It was also the humanity of death – quick – not long, traumatising and drawn out.
While some might not see the connection, for me it solidified what ethical farming means to me; kindness and caring shown to the livestock throughout their lives, humanity in the process through which it is ended, and divine respect in the utilization of every element of their carcass to ensure there is no waste of that precious life.
I have written many time about the ‘nose to tail’ concept, and ethical meat, so rather than repeat myself, please visit the ‘Nose to Tail’ section of this website to see my articles about ‘Nose to Tail’ as well as some fabulous recipes. It is so important that we all have a greater understanding of ethical farming practices and our choices as a consumer.
From here I would like to go on and make people aware of the fabulous ‘ethical’ livestock farmers we have here on the Sunshine Coast. We are actually blessed to have so many. The best part of it is that many also now have facilities that allow you to purchase/preorder the meat directly from them, or the meat is ‘branded’ so to speak, so that you can actually ask for meat from a specific farm, from s