better burgers + by-product meat

For me, pottering around the kitchen, pulling together real food while listening to the radio, is one of life’s pleasures. The BBC Food Programme is often my company of choice, and being meat-obsessed, last week’s edition had me particularly absorbed. ‘Burgers and Meat’ explored how, over the last hundred years or so, the iconic burger has changed our attitude to meat. Apparently the whole ‘feed lot’ system of beef rearing (where cattle are raised in intensive, penned systems and fed a concentrated diet of grain) came about because grass-fed beef was too lean for a decent burger. I’m not sure about that, but when you read of the sheer scale of the McDonald’s operation (illustrated by that fact that the entire yearly output of a sizeable Yorkshire farm would keep one of their burger-making plants going for a whole two hours), you can’t help wondering whether there is a lower common denominator. Actually, I think they found one with broiler chickens, but back to the burger. One thing they have right is that you do need a certain proportion of fat in the mix to avoid a dry and crumbly burger. If you fancy making your own, braising steak gives you the right balance from the off – more on this later.

The message on the Food Programme was the oft quoted, ‘eat less meat but make it of better quality and provenance’, to which we here at Riverford Organic certainly adhere, as illustrated by our ongoing meat + 10 veg campaign. One contributor suggested that meat should be a by-product of mixed agriculture, which I can see working in a pre-industrial revolution village, but not in modern farming. The Food Standards Agency would have a fit at the idea of pigs and chickens turning waste into meat, and although cows and sheep will turn grass into meat, their manure, for the most part, will help grow more grass rather than vegetables as more often than not they are on land used as permanent pasture. A good strapline it might be, but the by-product tag doesn’t fit. In organic systems much of the fertility will come from animals but they certainly aren’t a by-product. South Devon Organic Producers Co-op member, Ian Samuels, grows 10 hectares of vegetables and keeps organic chickens and beef on the remaining 30 hectares. The manure helps maintain the fertility for the vegetables but the meat is very definitely not
a by-product.

Ben Watson