Monday, April 19, 2010

Changing my view on eating meat

On a recent trip to Namibia I experienced a great shift in my ethics surrounding meat eating. Our trip to Namibia was to have a look at a world class abattoir and meat processing plant: Meatco. Meatco slaughter and process some of the finest free range meat in the world. The cows never get injected with antibiotics, they never get given hormones and live off the grazing that nature provides. They roam freely in some of the most beautiful countryside and are truly FREE RANGE.

I have always been a content meat eater. Knowing that it is probably not good to eat too much red meat but accepting that if the volume of meat I eat is managed I can enjoy a good steak without any guilt. Prior to the visit to Namibia and Meatco, I was fortunate enough to try some rib-eye steaks, rump and some mince. The meat looked fantastic, had a really great red blood colour, a good marbling of fat and was perfectly aged. I was warned that it does have a slightly different flavour and that I may not like it as much as feedlot steak. I learned that the meat I was about to eat was from cows who are allowed to live for 24 months as opposed to feedlot cows who live a mere 11 months. These cows can be slaughtered at 11 months because the cows are fed constantly on supplementary feed and fattened and grown quicker.

So with this in mind I took the steaks home to feast on, not really knowing what to expect. I have had quite a lot of naturally farmed meat in my childhood as I spent quite a bit of time in Zimbabwe and Zambia on farms and the farmers without trying to be Free Range simply farmed the old fashioned way. So I remember delicious succulent almost slightly sweet tasting meat from my youth. I am reluctant to say it has a wild taste as this could be taken negatively, but by this I mean it was "of the farm" and full of flavour.

I was instructed to do nothing to the steaks and simply to fry them to rare, add salt and eat. Well I was completely sold on the first bite. I paired it with a fine red wine and a simple side salad to keep it classic and uncomplicated.

Now the time had come to go to Namibia and to see the meat plant, the abattoir, the farms and meet the farmers.

An abattoir is never a nice place to be but the process is done as humanely as possible and the cows treated with utmost respect. The plant is so clean, no bad smells and the handling and deboning incredible to watch. The meat cuts are removed with such precision with only a knife in hand and some very strong men. The controls are world class and the product that is wrapped and boxed worthy of any of the best meat in the world.

The next day we were off to see the farms to meet the farmers and their cows. Firstly I was amazed at the beauty of the landscape and thought that if I were a cow I would like to spend my time in this countryside. The farmers were so hospitable, welcoming and very passionate about farming free range. They had a love for the land and both farmers we met were from families who had farmed the land for a few generations.  I was particularly inspired by a woman farming on her own and the love she showed for the land. The cows are their livelihood but they still see the predators who pose a threat to their stocks as part of the land with all the rights to it as they themselves have. No leopards are shot or poisoned and losing some stock to these predators is one of the risks to farming in this way. Conservation is foremost in their minds and respect for nature a priority. Meatco also take part and initiate programmes to educate and assist the farmers in becoming free rang beef farmers, but managing the wild animals and trying to protect the little wildlife that is left. Wouldn't it be wonderful to get the power of our meat industry in South Africa behind a wildlife programme?

Seeing the cows live and grow to be ready for slaughter in such an environment was a shift and one which will now limit what meat I am prepared to eat. I am quite happy to eat meat from an animal which has lived a happy life and has been treated humanly. I am not prepared to eat meat from a feedlot way of farming.

Follow the link for the difference between feedlot, organic and free range: