Tag Archives: organic meat

Guy’s Newsletter: ruminating on protein

“Dad, how can you call yourself an environmentalist, and still sell meat?”. First one daughter, then the other, then even my previously carnivorous sons joined in. Their epiphany was brought on by the documentary Cowspiracy; it is smug, irritating and outrageously one-sided in its selection of evidence and ends with an unjustified and ill-considered swipe at Greenpeace. However, despite my irritation, I would agree (uncomfortably for someone selling meat) that no thinking person can reasonably claim to be an environmentalist, or even a humanist, while continuing to eat more than very small amounts of animal protein; most forms of animal agriculture are simply wrecking our planet.

Climate change-wise the arguments are complex, involving ruminant methane emissions, deforestation for grazing and soya production, methane and nitrous oxide emitting manure heaps and soil, intensive versus extensive farming methods and more. As our planet is so diverse in soils, topography, ecology, diet and agricultural methods, it’s unwise to be dogmatic anyway. However, after weeks scouring scientific papers, we have reached the following initial conclusions:

  • Livestock agriculture contributes 10-12% of manmade climate change; arguably as much as every car, plane, truck and ship on the planet.
  • Livestock agriculture is grossly inefficient and requires 5-10 times more land to feed ourselves than a vegan diet; there just isn’t enough land to go round. OK it’s not that simple; there may well be a credible argument for animals grazing permanent pastures on land unsuited for growing crops for humans, to produce high quality, high welfare meat and dairy, as with most organic farming, but we will have to eat much less of it.

Alongside this are all the health, animal welfare, pollution and antibiotic resistance arguments against eating meat; hard to quantify, but very real. There will be exceptions, but the general conclusion is inescapable; for the good of us and our planet, we must collectively eat much less animal protein. Over the coming weeks we’ll be exploring the issue and suggesting ways to nudge any committed carnivores away from some of their meat. I hope you’ll feel compelled to join us.

Guy Watson

Visit www.riverford.co.uk/how-much-meat to join the debate, take our ‘drop a day’ pledge, browse meat-minimising recipes and do our survey.

Ben’s meat blog: Food fraud, regulations & halal

For once, organic British shepherds must be rubbing their hands in glee. Their reputation is definitely 100% untainted. There aren’t any organic licensed halal slaughterhouses and I shouldn’t think there ever will be. In fact it’s all a bit of a storm in a teacup. It’s hard to get a complete picture of what goes on in New Zealand abattoirs but, in all probability, the method used for halal and non-halal slaughter is identical, except for the prayer. But as usual, a little bit of digging exposes a murky world of parcels of meat without addresses or senders. In the UK some halal slaughterhouses, endorsed by purists, don’t pre-stun at all. Nor do kosher Jewish operations, and demand for certain cuts means that surplus meat is sold on to the conventional market.

Food fraud has become the buzz phrase of the year and this week’s news shows yet again how the existing system of self regulation, combined with external Food and Trading Standards, just doesn’t work. Organic standards aren’t perfect but make a difference because everybody concerned wants and needs them to.

For the vast majority of our lamb and beef, we use a local operation a couple of miles away that Riverford has been dealing with for over thirty years. They’re a family run business with three generations actively involved. It’s a s*** job but someone has to do it, and they do it with a degree of feeling that makes me happy to shout about it rather than hide it – and that’s saying something.

I was going to go on to talk about news from a couple of weeks ago that many processed lamb ready meals were anything but. I think I’ve said enough. That particular fraud won’t happen with a short, straight supply chain. Who knows what happens on a slow boat from New Zealand?

Ben Watson

venison season: Ben’s blog – going back to my roast – whoops, roots

Occasionally, for whatever reason and in whatever way, we all feel the need to get back to our roots. Genealogists can spend hours on the internet. For organic food lovers, venison is the way to go. It’s about as natural and unadulterated as meat gets. Truly wild animals can’t, by definition, be organic, but farmed venison, whose breeding and life cycle has hardly changed in the last thousand years, can. In fact, without the likes of Bad King John and James I and their bloodthirsty chums chasing them, a deer’s life is on the up. These days they’re born in the spring, live a stress free ‘park life’ and are dispatched in the field, eighteen months later, by expert marksmen, before the stress of autumn rutting.

losing the stigma

Across the pond, venison is all the rage with followers of the Weston A Price Foundation, but you don’t have to be an earth mother to enjoy it. The season for farmed venison actually starts in August, but despite it shining on the barbecue, it’s much more suited to autumn eating. Why we don’t eat more of it is a mystery, because on health, welfare and sustainability grounds it can’t be beat. It’s taken a generation for venison to divest itself of its toff nosh/cute bambi/’no I deer’ jokes image. It’s been a tough nut to crack, but finally the health benefits (high in protein, iron and Omega-3, low in fat and cholesterol), availability and our endless quest for something new has won it its rightful place on our plate.

‘v’ is for versatile

When I think of venison, I see comforting casseroles and chunky red wines, but it doesn’t have to be like that. Firstly, it’s just like any meat: some cuts grill, some roast, others stew. Secondly, venison is worldwide and totally adaptable – it takes rogan josh and stir fries in its stride. It also lends itself beautifully to my current favourite ‘dish of the day’, Bo Kho/Vietnamese Beef Stew. My top tip is, in a casserole, once you’ve browned your meat and added the liquid, don’t even think about letting it boil. Slow cookers/crock pots are best but, failing that, the oven on minimum setting is your best bet. Lean meat always needs TLC.

To keep the venison company, we’ve got some exciting new wines coming your way in October. Nativa Cabernet Sauvignon will work with roasts and steaks and Nativa Carmenere is perfect with casseroles and stews. There will also be a rustic Rosso Piceno for ragus and an award winning Corbières, so watch this space for our new Autumn wines.

Ben Watson

Ben’s meat blog: why beef prices are going up

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The cow jumped over the moon, and organic beef prices are going in the same direction.
Horse-gate has been good news for food businesses whose core values centre on known and proven provenance. Organic certification is by far the clearest way of demonstrating this, but the problem now is that everyone is trying to muscle in on the act. Supermarkets, who for years have paid little more than lip service to organics, treating it more like a loss-making inconvenience they could do without, are all reportedly desperate to re-list as much organic produce as possible – particularly beef. However there just isn’t enough to go around.

Last year’s poor harvest and growing conditions has meant that even low input, extensive organic farmers haven’t had enough fodder (grass, silage and hay) so they’ve turned them out to wait for the sun to shine and the organic spring grass to grow and give them a rich enough diet. Poor supply is compounded by the fact that until recently, premiums for organic beef have been minuscule (as low as 5%) and many farmers have decided that the challenge of producing their herds as fully organic has been too great, so have surrendered their organic certification as a result. If the supermarkets had supported organic farmers over the last five years, rather than giving them the cold shoulder, supply wouldn’t be so tight now. Now the premium has risen to a stonking 30% with no signs of levelling off. Rearing organic beef, even on grass, does cost more money, but not that much. Most farmers would be happy with 12-15%, which I would hope you would be happy to pay. It seems like a small price to pay for the peace of mind guaranteed provenance brings and the good work organic farmers do looking after our green and pleasant land.

At Riverford we have a good relationship with our suppliers. We pay a fixed price based on an average of the last quarter and this has worked well. Obviously they want to make an honest buck, but our farmers would much rather deal with us than buyers for the multiples. Most of them have been around for long enough to have experienced first hand the fickle whims of ‘those who must be obeyed.’ They didn’t start farming, and convert to organic, to see the fruits of their labour disappear into an anonymous black hole to be blended with 25% horse meat.

However, no farmer will go on selling beef for significantly less than market price for long, so we’ve shortened the last quarter by a month to hurry up the process of bringing our prices into line, so we can still pay a competitive price for our suppliers’ organic beef.

I’m afraid the inevitable outcome will be a small rise in our prices for all things beefy, but rest assured, we will keep increases to a minimum. We want to work with, and support our farmers as much as we want to deliver the best priced, best quality food via the shortest supply chain. That’s the Riverford way.

Lamb is to Easter what turkey is to Christmas but why?

Despite being a relatively recent import from the Americas, at least Christmas turkey marks the culmination of a natural ‘season fitting’ yearly cycle. Paschal, Passover, ‘lamb of god’ significance is something of an anachronism and doesn’t really fit in with farming reality. However there’s nothing wrong with a bit of pagan ritual to remind us of our past – especially when it tastes so good.

Most flocks of ewes naturally lamb in late winter/spring and take four months plus to grow, meaning that eating new season lamb at Easter definitely doesn’t fit into any rationally conceived farming calendar – even less so this year with Easter in March. However, like sheep, farmers are an adaptable breed and if you want to eat lamb at the time they would normally be born, then lamb you shall have – albeit outside of the natural lambing cycle.

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Officially, a lamb becomes a sheep when it grows four teeth (after about a year). With culinary trends happily favouring slightly older, more flavoursome lamb (approx. 9 months – 1 year old), many of our farmers are able to lamb later, in mid-summer, for the Easter market. This means a lamb which is a little older, but season fitting. Carefully managed, separating slow-growing triplets from faster-growing singleton and twin lambs, means many of these older lambs are at their prime now.

Our Easter lambs are all Devonian, born and bred from Peter Howlett at Moorhuish Farm, Brixham, David Camp near Totnes and Nigel Eggins on the River Tamar. All are three of our top farmers that we have worked with ever since we started offering meatboxes at Riverford. The Camps are an old Devon farming family with fathers, uncles and cousins all over the place – their lambs grow just over the hill from Riverford in Totnes, and on a big strip of National Trust land overlooking Hope Cove on the coast.

Born in late spring/summer last year and raised traditionally, our lamb may be a little older than the 4-month old slightly forced, mainly indoor reared, ‘sucked lamb’ available. This makes for a happier, healthier lamb that is older but much, much tastier.  Chefs love their milky, sucked lambs as a vehicle for their sauces but, for a roast, older is definitely better.

Here are a few ideas for your Easter lamb:

The classic roast lamb with rosemary and garlic: Takes a lot of beating but for flavour and easy cooking, slow roasted shoulder is equally good – particularly when the lamb can share the oven with a dish of potato dauphinoise or gratin while you relax or build up an appetite.  If there is just the two of you, or you really want to push the boat, out try a rack or two. For guaranteed foodie brownie points rack of lamb can’t be beaten – half an hour in the oven, sliced into cutlets and artfully arranged and we’re all queuing up for Masterchef.

Given the seasonal scarcity of fresh greens, a flageolet bean cassoulet with a few carrots mixed in is the ideal Easter accompaniment for roast lamb. Again it can be done in advance so Easter lunch can be as easy as you want to make it.  Just leave room for a chocolate egg or two.

Thanks for reading.

Ben Watson

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Stags in the mist

Family herds, parkland ruts and the food of kings.

As the damp autumn winds pick up and leaves start a-whirling outside, the lure of warming casseroles, cosy fires and spicy red wine become all the more tantalising. However, right now you’ll be missing a trick if you reach for the diced beef or cubed lamb; autumn means venison season, and all the rich, deep flavours that come with it.

In the past, the type of venison sold was often from more mature wild deer, whose feral existence and diet of heather and bark did little to make the meat palatable to today’s tastes. A common misconception that has come out of wild venison’s tougher nature is that people often think they need to marinade the meat to make it tender enough to eat.

In contrast to this, all our venison comes from small organic herds reared on Westcountry family farms, where they graze a natural diet of clover-rich grass and wildflowers. They roam the land in natural rutting groups with a lead stag, and are managed in such a way that they have a near-wild existence, without the health issues often inherent in feral herds. The result is a tender meat with remarkable health benefits that needs only light cooking (though resting after

cooking it is really important, to make it as juicy as possible). It’s lower in fat than a skinned breast of chicken, higher in iron than any other red meat and low in cholesterol. It’s also brimming with Omega-3s, which have an absurdly long list of health benefits of their own.

If you’ve been put off by the overpoweringly gamey flavour of old fashioned venison, give ours a whirl. It’s more like a really flavourful beefy taste that even kids will get stuck into.

order organic venison from Riverford

Clucking in the clover

Watch our organic chickens getting into the free range spirit with a little help from Guy and some wiggly worms.

You can read all about animal welfare at Riverford here.