The truth about meat. What you need to know to improve your health and buy the best quality meat possible
Meat. A staple part of the human diet that has been eaten for millenia.
But what’s the story behind meat eating and have we always eaten meat?
As humans evolved, we developed a unique ability to use tools to hunt and catch prey, progressing from diets based on forage and scavenging to one that included nutrient rich fresh meat. The discovery of how to use fire then became a game changer for our species. Food became exponentially more nutrient dense once cooked and further technological advancements such as learning to grow crops and produce dairy products such as cheese allowed us to have an increasingly varied range of nutritious foods that could be preserved, providing vital sustenance during difficult periods.
Humans became far more efficient than any other species at nourishing themselves, spending less and less time and effort on finding food, which eventually saw the transition from being hunter gatherers into agriculture. Gradually agriculture became more efficient which paved the way for the industrial revolution and into the modern day, where the average human has little if anything to do with producing their own food, instead relying mainly on supermarkets and other companies to do it for us.
However, in recent times this has caused many people to have become disconnected with the food they eat and increasingly unaware of what happens to put food on our plates. Intensive agriculture and meat production have caused worldwide problems which if not addressed risk our health, our environment and our food security.
So, are we going to have to give up meat to save the planet?
Well, no. Unless you really want to of course, which many people choose to do.
But those who do continue eating meat are going to have to redefine their relationship with it and think more like we used to in the past, where eating meat was a less frequent event and what meat we did consume was more expensive but was produced far less intensively than today, where our appetite for cheap and abundant meat has become a problem.
Now, when it comes to meat, it is not actually all bad news. And there are even some potential benefits to meat that many people are not aware of.
There is increasing evidence that rearing animals in a way which works with nature and not against it can be a positive thing for the environment. Regenerative farming follows this principle and can use animals to help nourish the soil by grazing, helping sequester carbon whilst also providing natural fertiliser which can then improve crop yields on the same land. It’s a system which works with nature and is much kinder to animals and the environment. There are some innovative trials and schemes which are exploring regenerative farming and Britain is at the cutting edge of the idea behind it, being ideally suited to farming this way.
Britain has a unique landscape and climate that is ideally suited to grazing, with around 65% of our farmland suitable for high quality grazing rather than crop production. A naturally wet climate helps minimise additional water use when rearing animals. High quality grazing land means in many cases animals can be fed purely on grass and not on large amounts of supplementary grains, which have to be grown separately and transported to then feed animals, a common practise in many parts of the world.
As food security becomes an increasing problem, high quality meat is one thing that the UK can produce far more efficiently than many countries. Relying on foreign imports is increasingly risky in an uncertain world and using the UK’s natural capital to produce meat helps us to be almost completely self sufficient in our meat production.
Why is grass-fed meat better for you?
Not only is high quality grass-fed meat better for the environment, it’s one of the most nutrient dense foods you can eat. Nutrient density is something we need to understand more when making our food choices. However meat is produced, it is always going to be higher in its greenhouse gas emissions than many other foods. But it is also correspondingly higher in its nutrient content, with grass fed beef for example being very high in vitamins and brain boosting Omega 3 fatty acids. This nutrient density needs to be considered when looking at the overall footprint of the food we eat, but equally as important is the amount that we eat of it. If we overeat a high calorie, high nutrient food, the result is what we see far too much of in our society, increased rates of diabetes and obesity along with other health issues. So balance is the key. But there is no doubt that a balanced diet that contains some high-quality reared meat is not a bad thing and is actually good for your health. But like Granny always said, too much of anything is a bad thing!
5 Top tips for becoming a better meat buyer
- Know where your meat comes from and avoid intensively farmed supermarket meat. There are many great butchers still around and who increasingly sell online who can demonstrate the quality and provenance of the meat that they sell. Even better is finding a local farm shop or butcher who you can go and speak to and find out where they get their meat and what guarantee they can give you about its origin. Look for Heritage Breed beef such as Angus, Hereford, Belted Galloway and Dexter which is generally slower grown and contains higher levels of marbling which provide more flavour and healthy fats. It’s also ideally suited to the UK climate.
- Be prepared to pay more and eat less. Meat eating used to be fairly infrequent for most people and was a weekly treat in many cases. If you eat meat more than 2-3 times a week, consider cooking more meat free meals and buying better quality meat, particularly grass- fed beef, free range or organic meat. In many cases it is far more nutritious and also tastes much better.
- Buy British. Resist the temptation to buy cheaper foreign imported meat. In many countries, welfare standards, environmental credentials and food safety standards are not what they are in the UK. Ask yourself if it can be imported and still sold cheaper here than domestically produced meat, what is the trade off?
- Consider some alternative sustainable meats. Game and in particular Venison can be a highly sustainable and very healthy choice. Look for high quality seasonal game and see if you can find it locally sourced. Wild meat is often bursting with natural flavour and avoids the issue of intensive farming entirely.
- Buy whole animals if you can. Chickens in particular are far more cost effective when bought whole. Invest in a high quality free range and/or organic chicken. Slower reared birds not only taste better, but they are also more developed, containing less water than cheap intensive chicken. So you are actually getting more chicken for your money! Joint your chicken up for later use and then make stock with the carcass. This can be used for soups or sauces and freshly made chicken stock is packed with vitamins and nutrients. For larger animals, if you have a good relationship with a butcher or farm shop, see if you can club together with friends and family and negotiate to buy a whole animal. If you have freezer space between you, ask the butcher to joint it and supply it to you. It’s a fantastic way to reduce waste and buy more efficiently than purchasing individual joints or steaks.
Here at Yorkshire Handmade Pies, we use only Yorkshire reared Heritage breed grass-fed beef, Herb fed free range chickens and top quality seasonal vegetables. We believe wholeheartedly in using produce that is better for you and the environment and we have direct relationships with many local farmers who supply us with meat we are proud to sell in our pies. As a bonus, it is also some of the best you will taste anywhere!
If you’d like to experience the benefits of high-quality reared meat that is better for you and the environment, order some for yourself today by clicking on the link below and placing your order.