Monday, 21 April 2014

You Are What You Eat

This year has very much been "the year I discovered how to live a healthy life". Aside from going to the gym, I've also been planning meals each week, rather than winging it and ending up with pizza or ready meals. I seriously recommend planning meals; ever since I started I've managed to spend less and we hardly throw any food out any more. Considering that an estimated 15 million tonnes of food is being chucked away in the UK every year, I don't understand why planning isn't being promoted more. And I love the "surprise" I get when I check what I'd planned for dinner some days - bearing in mind I make sure everything I plan to cook is food I love and I plan two to three weeks ahead.

The knock on affect of all this is I'm more and more interested in food and where it comes from. I'm over half way through reading Farmageddon: The True Cost of Cheap Meatby Philip Lymbery and having the whole horrible picture of industrialised, intensified factory farming spelled out has made me determined to buy free range and organic as much as possible. Once I finish the book I'll no doubt post a review on here but I can already highly recommend it. With my new found desire to make better purchasing choices I am now one of the "label readers". You know the ones; they stand by the aisle of food, fumbling with the packaging and staring at it like they're looking into the eyes of Cthulhu, before putting the product back in place and repeating the whole process again.

As someone who wants a balanced, meat inclusive diet, I face a moral dilemma; I want to eat meat but I want to know that the animal the meat came from had a reasonably tolerable life before being slaughtered. I'm no romantic; I know full well that most animals for the dinner plate have terribly shortened lives and will not get to live anything like the same life as an animal not bred for slaughter. But they are still due a basic level of respect and the chance to have a reasonably comfortable life until the end comes. As such, I want to choose food products that conform to my values. Turns out, this is a lot harder than it should be.

Let's take eggs as an example, with Easter still in the air. I love eggs and the chickens who lay those eggs matter to me, so I want to know that they are being treated well and get to live a reasonably normal, chickeny life. I've always bought free range eggs as they taste better and have nice orange yolks instead of that sickly yellow colour. But what about things with eggs in them? Unless it says "free range" on the ingredients, odds are the eggs came from a caged chicken, with about the space of an A4 bit of paper to live it's miserable little life in. Heinz state clearly that they use free range eggs in their products, but everyone else? Not so much.

You become so reliant on labels and symbols when you decide to care about the origins of the food you're eating and all too often they are no help what so ever. As an example of labels not being helpful, take Red Tractor. This is stamped on food to give the impression that the animal has been subject to high welfare standards. Except Red Tractor doesn't actually mean that; it just means the animal's life and slaughter comply with the bare minimum of legislation on animal treatment. Nando's make a point on their site that they only use chickens complying with Red Tractor standards. Shame that doesn't mean much. I've found meat labelling the hardest to understand, to know where and how the animal was reared, never mind under what conditions it was killed. Considering the recent fuss over stunning or not stunning animals for some religious communities, you'd think it would be easier. Apparently though it's not information seen as a priority, so the best we get is vague things like Red Tractor, that don't tell us anything.

With so many symbols on food is it any wonder most of us ignore them?

It definitely costs more, all this responsible buying, but not as much as I thought. And with the meal planning I'm not actually spending much more than I was otherwise, I'm just spending smarter and making the meat go further. If you want more information about all this I highly recommend consulting the Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) charity, as they are not anti-meat eating and instead believe (as I do) that farming does not have to result in cruelty to animals or an abundance of chemicals in our food. They have great information about what all the labels mean and it really helped me when I set out to be more conscious of my purchasing choices.

CIWF are also behind one of the biggest improvements that could be made; clearer labelling. If someone wants to buy cheap meat or dairy products they have the right to do so - but let's clearly label where the animal came from, how it lived and how it died. I think a lot of people, even on a budget, would not choose a battery hen over a free range one if it was clearly labelled. Then again, that's likely the whole reason they don't put those details on the label in the first place...

1 comment:

  1. pretty nice blog, following :)