Tag Archives: livestock

guy’s newsletter: kebabs, cars & agricultural shame

In the fields, it is half a million down and half a million to go; leeks that is. It’s very muddy but not much else to say there, so here are some other thoughts.

My very foodie, and previously highly carnivorous, eldest son returned from Berlin for Christmas and announced that he was becoming a vegetarian; “If I can’t afford good meat, I would rather not eat it at all”. I glowed with pride before he went on to say that after a heavy night out he always ended up eating a kebab, and didn’t think his guts could take any more. Nice. Meanwhile, my gas guzzling old banger finally died and I took the plunge and bought an electric car, but then promptly flew to Sicily for New Year to look at vegetables that we intermittently truck 2000 miles to supplement the homegrown crops in your vegboxes. Before I left, my vegetarian father-in-law (possibly the most reasonable and thoughtful person on the planet) pointed out that, according to Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, head of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, livestock production contributes up to 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions – more than every single car, train, and plane on the planet.

All this serves to illustrate that managing our environmental impact is a minefield of personal and collective culpability; sadly I have almost no hope for leadership from the Government, so it lies with individuals and businesses. Comparing cars and farming I find myself hugely impressed with how, within one generation, the automotive industry has embraced technology to produce cars which are massively cleaner and more efficient. I wish the same could be said for farming; in an industry that should essentially be about capturing and harnessing sunlight, environmental impact has spiralled out of control. It is thought that we consume ten calories of fossil fuel energy for every calorie of food produced, while mercilessly raping the planet’s soil and wildlife. Don’t blame population increase; modern agriculture should hang its head in shame. This month’s Oxford Farming Conference, the industry’s annual right-wing, land owners’ bonanza, should have been a two day plea for forgiveness. Meanwhile, I had intended to suggest what individuals can do to reduce the environmental impact of their food but having rambled, this will follow next week.

Guy Watson

The question of meat

My father gave me a pig for my eighth birthday. He didn’t believe in pocket money; the idea was that the pig would be the first of many and an introduction to farming and business. My pig faithfully produced thirteen healthy piglets twice a year but I didn’t share my father’s passion for pig-keeping (for forty years, as so many farmers moved towards factory farming, his enthusiasm was trying to develop an ethically acceptable way of keeping them), so I moved onto sheep, then milking cows before finding my vocation with vegetables.

That cabbage epiphany came nearly twenty five years ago and to this day, though not a vegetarian, my enthusiasm remains for vegetables: in the field, in the kitchen and on the plate. Meanwhile my brother Ben used those pigs to teach himself charcuterie and set up a farm shop in our garage, which thirty years later has developed into three shops and the meat boxes that we offer alongside the vegetables. Our siblings Oliver and Louise developed the cows and the dairy and raise some of the bull calves for beef. Our soils at Wash Farm in Devon are not inherently very fertile and we would really struggle to grow veg without the manure from the cows. On top of that, at least a third of the farm is too steep, or the soil too thin, to be suitable for anything other than grazing livestock.

We have many vegetarian customers and get the occasional letter questioning our position on meat, so the point of these ramblings is to give an agricultural and historical perspective to Riverford and meat. As a nation we undoubtedly eat more meat than is good for our health or the environment. Indeed, if we are to have any chance of feeding our burgeoning population whilst retaining any balance and beauty on our planet we must radically reduce our collective appetite for meat, dairy and poultry. So our position is to encourage the meat eaters among us to eat less and better. This means feeding sheep and cows their natural diet (ie. grass and clover, not grain), hanging meat properly and always using the whole carcass to best effect. Think thrifty pies, hashes and making stock with every last scrap. If we are going to eat meat, we should be smarter about it.
Guy Watson