For the good of animals and humans, butchers’ windows should look like this

A high Street butcher in Suffolk has been forced to take down its window display, as shoppers are said to be offended by the sight of bits of dead animals25 Feb 2014. Comment piece published in the Daily Mail (original here): A high Street butcher in Suffolk has been forced to take down its window display, as shoppers are said to be offended by the sight of bits of dead animals. Hanging pigs’ heads, limp rabbits and dead pheasants were upsetting the children.

The story is  ludicrous. But such silliness is indicative of something disturbingly wrong in our nation’s culture.

The senseless twits behind the hate campaign mounted against JBS Family Butchers of Sudbury say they are trying to protect their children from the ugliness of ‘mutilated carcasses’.

This seems implausibly puritanical. Any child with internet access and a stack of video games will have seen far worse.

These sentimental folk are part of an ever-growing collective ignorance about food and farming that is immensely damaging not only to the countryside, to farming and to animals — but also to ourselves.

Our lack of understanding of where food really comes from is helping to create mountains of food waste and a population of fat, unhealthy Britons.

We should not underestimate the scale of that ignorance.

Last year, a survey of 27,500 children by the British Nutrition Foundation found that almost a third of those aged five to 12 thought fish fingers came from chickens or pigs. One secondary pupil in five didn’t know where potatoes came from. Ten per cent thought spuds grow on trees.

If you’re shocked by those figures, consider this: 80 per cent of the secondary school pupils surveyed had been on a ‘farm visit’, presumably arranged to counter lack of understanding of food and its sources.

The senseless twits behind the hate campaign mounted against JBS Family Butchers of Sudbury say they are trying to protect their children from the ugliness of 'mutilated carcasses'

The senseless twits behind the hate campaign mounted against JBS Family Butchers of Sudbury say they are trying to protect their children from the ugliness of ‘mutilated carcasses’

Few of us today spend time thinking about where our food comes from. It arrives on supermarket shelves or over the fast-food counter without any traces of its origin.

There’s no mud on our salad or root vegetables. Most fruits are so perfect, glossy and uniform, they might have been made in a factory.

Butter comes wrapped in foil and a cut of steak or a chicken thigh is sold in a plastic tub covered with plastic film. Is it any wonder that some people, confronted with the visceral reality of  an old-fashioned butcher’s window, take fright? But there is a curious double standard at work. While we recoil at the sight of a pig’s cheeks or a pheasant, we are happy to put meats of much stranger origin in our mouths: ready meals full of chemicals, sugar and preservatives, even cheap ‘beef’ dishes that turn out to have been made from horses.

The consequences of our ignorance about food’s origins are far-reaching.

First, there is the waste. The average UK family loses £60 a month throwing away usable food — nearly a meal’s worth a day. And supermarkets reject huge amounts of food because it doesn’t look right. Retailers say they are only catering for our inability to tolerate anything not recipe-book perfect.

In a refreshing bout of honesty, Tesco admitted recently that nearly half its bread products, more than two-thirds of its bagged salads and 40 per cent of its apples are thrown away. Yet this food is good and healthy.

Neither Tesco nor any other store has admitted what weight of edible parts of animals are chucked out. Yet there is little of a farm animal, other than the hide and bones, that cannot pleasurably be eaten.

Hypocrisy

As the chef Fergus Henderson says: ‘If you’re going to kill an animal, it seems only polite to use the whole thing.’ But British butchers use less of an animal than their European counterparts — half a pig’s weight, whereas an Italian butcher will make meals out of 70 per cent of the carcass.

I’ve watched the Michelin-starred chef Andrew Fairlie preparing one of his most popular dishes — a ‘plate of pork’. It was a spread of delicious, old-fashioned treats: black pudding, smoked pork belly, a terrine made from the pig’s cheeks and tongue, and cuts from the head. ‘Any self-respecting chef should be using as much of the animal as possible,’ he said.

One of the window-display horrors that the good people of Sudbury complained about was a pig’s head. These are usually thrown away now, though for our ancestors they were a treat. Think of the ancient carol The Boar’s Head, which describes a great Christmas feast, and the many pubs named after it.

The second consequence of our ignorance concerns animal welfare. Those animal-lovers who object to seeing carcasses of birds and occasional pig parts in butchers’ windows are guilty of a grim sort of hypocrisy. Anyone who truly cared about animals would support any butcher who used whole animals.

Our squeamishness is a  driving factor in two evils: cruelty to animals and damage to the environment.

Choosy consumers who will eat only the lean meat from animals at the bargain prices we demand have driven livestock farming into a crisis. It is not possible for modern farming to keep animals in a traditional and kind way while supplying a narrow range of cheap cuts.

Ninety-five per cent of the chickens and almost all  the pigs we eat are raised in factory farms, where conditions would appal anyone with any feeling for animals.

The image of Daisy the Dairy Cow, happy in a green meadow, is becoming a myth. The new milk-factory super-farms, common in the U.S., and arriving here, house cows that never see daylight and die after just four years of production. All so we can have a cheap pint of milk.  A third of British pig farms have gone out of business in the past ten years and we now import 60 per cent of our pork from Europe, where pig welfare standards are  much lower.

The third point is that eating like this is bad for us. Rather than cooking from scratch with cuts of meat from a local, trusted butcher, we buy cheap meat from unknown sources, sold to us with added salt, preservatives, flavourings, colourings and fatty, sugary sauces. This does none of us any good at all and has helped to fuel our obesity crisis.

What’s the solution?

Sign: JBS Family Butchers has reluctantly had to remove the display after it become the target of a campaign including anonymous hate mail and people hurling abuse in the shop

Sign: JBS Family Butchers has reluctantly had to remove the display after it become the target of a campaign including anonymous hate mail and people hurling abuse in the shop

As we know, British children are toured around farms on school outings but many remain uncertain of the link between an egg and a chicken. More needs to be done.

A few years ago, concerned that our own urban children were growing up just as ignorant, my wife and I decided to keep a ‘remote pig’. So with the help of a friendly farmer just outside Edinburgh, where we live, we adopted a piglet.

We visited him fortnightly, often bringing chocolate. It was a bit like having a child at boarding school – in slightly more friendly conditions.

Fond as we were of the pig, there was no sentimentality. The kids called him Crispy Bacon. And a year later the family assembled in the butchering shed as we turned the grown-up piglet into a freezer-full of delicious roasts — and sausages and bacon.

We had worried about the emotional effect this might have on the children. But on the trip home, my five-year-old saw a field full of ewes and their young. ‘Can we get a lamb?’ she asked. ‘We could eat him!’

We were pleased — and so was the farm. It now has a wider adoption programme to help other city families be remote meat-producers. It’s fun, the meat is a bargain and we have learnt a new respect for farmers and animals.

Getting back in touch with the land and the origins of our food is good for us, for the economy and for Britain. Ignorance, of the sort shown by the silly shoppers of Sudbury, is causing untold damage to our farming traditions and the animals those shoppers purport to love.

Alex Renton is author of Planet Carnivore: Why Cheap Meat Costs The Earth (Kindle and iBook, £1.99).

Original here, with 100+ comments : http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2567186/Why-sake-animals-humans-I-wish-butchers-windows-looked-like-this.html#ixzz2uKneIDHE

Tesco vs Sherborne – can the big guy afford to blink?

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Extended version of my story  “Tesco, not in our backyard”,  published in the Times 19 March 2013.  Comments below.

The lady from Tesco is having a horrible day. She’s driven from Bristol – leaving a sick toddler behind – to the little Dorset town of Sherborne where, frankly, almost everybody hates her. Her job is to sell the idea of a new Tesco store to a community that doesn’t want it, at a time when Tesco – according to a recent Which? magazine-  is by far the most unpopular supermarket in Britain. And the survey was done was before horseburgergate.

They don’t look aggressive, the townsfolk who’ve marched up the famously charming high street to Digby Hall, where Tesco is staging a presentation, “Investing in Sherborne”. There’s a preponderance of tweed and country jacket green; some dreadlocks but more trim hair-dos. The protest posters are decorous against the honey-coloured stone – there’s a “No Thanks Tesco” made of buttons and embroidery in Tesco colours. The rudest slogan asks the supermarket chain to “burger off”. “It’s just like Les Miserables,” someone laughs – but it is actually a very English affair.

There is a TV crew and local celebrities: Valerie Singleton, journalist, once of Blue Peter, and Canon Eric Woods, vicar of Sherborne Abbey. He is impressive in red-buttoned, ankle-length black robes. He says that Tesco is just wrong for a town like Sherborne, and won’t do any good. “You’d be amazed at this stereotype of supermarkets being cheaper. It’s just not true. Our local butcher is cheaper: I should know, on a parson’s stipend you have got to be canny.” Most of the attention goes to the anti-Tesco pony, a live one, led by a former BBC journalist.

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The Truth about Tesco’s not-so-big price drop

The Truth about Tesco 2011, graphic, The Times

The Truth about Tesco 2011: graphic from The Times

17th October 2011, The Times

Dozens of the savings offered by Tesco in its “Big Price Drop” — the £500 million campaign that started a supermarket price war three weeks ago — are on foods that were sold only briefly at the higher price, research by The Times has shown.

Huge advertising promotions this month have promised discounts on 3,000 items. “Sometimes you have to put aside just the pursuit of profit in order to get back in tune with the nation,” said Tesco chief executive Phil Clarke as Big Price Drop launched. But Tesco appears to have raised the price of hundreds of items in the weeks before the promotion, perhaps to make the subsequent offers look more attractive.

You can read the full article on Times Online

British farmers and the supermarket price wars

British farmers forced to pay the cost of the supermarket price wars

The Guardian, Saturday 2nd July2011.

As profits soar at the supermarkets, food producers say they are being forced out of business by unfair buying practices.

You can pick up a punnet of British raspberries – at their best this weekend – on a two-for-one offer in most supermarkets. But as shoppers reach for that quintessential summer treat, they should perhaps ponder the fact that it is the farmer, not the supermarket, who is paying for the generous discount.

The farmer may well be making no profit at all, with no choice in the pricing and little or no idea, when he picked and shipped the raspberries, how much he would get for them. Or that the packaging would be paid for by the farm, but done by a company chosen by the supermarket – at up to twice the cost of it being packaged independently.

Read the full article at The Guardian.

Can you feed your family on £50 a week?

Alex Renton feeding his daughter and family for £50

May 19th 2011, The Times

Sainsbury’s believes you can, but when Alex Renton took up the challenge, he found his household of foodies and fussy eaters had serious misgivings.

Eighty-four meals, £50, one happy family, say the new Sainsbury’s adverts. They promise to feed a family of four for seven days for less than the price of a tank of petrol: “No really, it’s possible — we know because we’ve done the maths.” If they’d done that, I thought, we really should do the experiment. My happy family of four is very bad at doing the maths — we don’t have much of a clue what we spend on food even though we suffer the usual shrinking-income fears of the times. Feed each of us for £1.79 a day? I went straight down to Sainsbury’s.

Find the full article here on Times Online (in front of the paywall).

Word of Mouth: Tesco Is No Champion of The Poor

Tesco's not a champion for the poor

Tesco's no champion for the poor: Reuters

10th June 2010, Observer Food Monthly

Forget the eulogies to Sir Terry Leahy. The legacy of Leahyism has been damage to our towns, countryside and environment, and the promotion of a much poorer diet that we’ll all pay for

Sir Terry Leahy is retiring as head of Tesco after 14 years, “to spend more time with his private investments”, according to yesterday’s Guardian. He got the sort of press that’ll make a nice decorative feature in his downstairs loo. He is one of the “10 people who have most helped the poor in recent decades,” said the Tory blogger Tim Montgomerie in a Times piece, straplined ‘champion of the poor’. “Every little he did helped us,” said The Sun. “The outstanding businessman of the decade,” said the Mail.

Do these people get out at all? They could visit one of the towns in Britain, such as Inverness, where three in every £4 is spent in a Tesco store; take a walk down the high streets reduced to a pathetic straggle of charity shops and tanning parlours. Then Leahy’s fans might begin to see why another part of the population – among them farmers, small business people and independent shop owners – don’t think Sir Terry helped at all.