Eating for Pleasure, People & Planet
Today, Tom Hunt, award-winning eco-chef, writer and climate change campaigner, is my guest blogger. His Bristol restaurant Poco, has won numerous awards including Best Ethical Restaurant at the Observer Food Monthly Awards. He writes for many newspapers and magazines, including a weekly zero waste column in The Guardian Feast magazine. Tom also manages the famous Chef’s Manifesto podcast
He is an experienced speaker and cook, campaigner and ambassador for Action Against Hunger, the Soil Association, Slow Food International and The Fairtrade Association. His is also a dear friend of us here at Compassion in World Farming.
His latest book is Eating for Pleasure, People & Planet (2020)
Here, using extracts taken from his latest book, Tom shares his thoughts on meat and explains how we all have the power to make a difference.
When I was 14, I worked on a pig farm in a small village called Winsham. It was a conventional farm housing 1,000 or so baby pigs in concrete pens. Other than feeding the pigs sacks of an unidentifiable pellet, my main job was mucking them out. I worked on the farm for two years.
The irony is that for the majority of the time, I was vegetarian. My favourite day on the farm was whenever the new pigs arrived. A transporter would turn up in the morning and open its doors, releasing hundreds of piglets that would run free, literally skipping and jumping around the yard for 30 minutes whilst we penned them up. I remember hinting to the farmer that free-range might be a good way to go, but he mumbled something about cost. Being vegetarian at the time was a conscious decision, but working on the farm wasn’t really a problem, as I didn’t think of pigs as food. I’d disconnected myself from the idea that they were part of the food chain, as I’m sure many people do when they eat intensively reared meat every day. Although I didn’t enjoy the time I spent at the farm, in retrospect it was a brilliant education in hard work and an insight into the truths of conventional farming.
Choosing how we eat is a very personal decision and one I believe should be entirely up to our own volition.
However, certain foods and food systems (most importantly, intensive meat, dairy and even vegetable farms) have a greater impact on the planet than others. This knowledge about planetary health needs to become part of our decision-making process, as individuals and organisations, if we are going to live within our planetary boundaries.
The evidence is clear, we all need to eat less, but better meat. However, what doesn’t come through strongly enough in this simple statement is that we need to better support farms using agroecological methods, where animals often play an important role.
Agroecology is a type of farming that works in harmony with nature, growing bioregional suited crops, using non-intrusive farming techniques that are appropriate to the climate and region. Animal fertilisers displace the need for carbon-heavy, fossil-fuel based synthetic fertilisers, and the system it proliferates. Proper land use is particularly important when rearing animals. The best tasting, healthiest and most environmentally-friendly meat is reared either in very small quantities on integrated farms – which keep both plants and livestock – or is pasture-reared on non-arable land, where crops can’t easily grow, using mob-grazing techniques that simulates the animals’ natural migratory behaviour.
Knowing your farm and farmer, in person at a farmers’ market or through a website or box scheme, will help you understand their farming methods. You can also practice the Root to Fruit philosophy of the meat world: ‘Nose to Tail Eating’. By using the whole animal, you save money and create a budget for buying high-quality, pasture-fed meat.
In summary, whether you eat meat or not, eat your food with pleasure in the knowledge that it has come from the best possible source. Every time you eat you have an incredible opportunity to support a regenerative system made up of a global network of peoples, farms and whole eco-systems, each interconnected and home to a biodiversity of flora and fauna that we depend on for Earth’s survival.