By Lucy Moore
Lucy Moore endeavors to eat meat ethically and is on a year long mission to relieve her ‘meat debt’ by eating Offal.
New Year’s Eve 2011, I am eating steak, savouring its steaky goodness and waiting to begin a self-imposed meat embargo.
Earlier that year, I read an article online that talked about modern meat consumption and made the suggestion that if you eat meat, you should have enough respect for the animal to eat all of it, not just the sanitised and consumer-friendly chicken breasts, mince and chops that supermarkets provide. This struck a deep chord within me. Growing up, every night it was either chops, something with mince or a roast. We never ate offal. Stewing steak was as sustainable as it got. I felt that I had to make a change within my life to correct the imbalance that I saw between the meat I had eaten in my past and the way I wanted to carry my carnivory forward. A year of ethical offaltarianism was due to begin.
Initially, the decision to cut out regular cuts of meat (no bacon, no chops, no burgers, no mince, no chickens, no KFC, no steaks, no roasts) was a logical one: I hadn’t eaten enough offal (and unusual cuts of meat) to consider myself a respectful carnivore, so eat them I must. I’m 27, so a year seemed an appropriate amount of time to recover my ‘meat debt’ (as I see it). I had to consult my partner beforehand, to make sure they would be OK with it since I do a lot of the cooking. I was given pretty much unconditional support: “I don’t think I could eat genitals” was the only caveat.
The more I thought about it, the more conditions became apparent. What to do about eating out? What about fish? Where do I get offal from? What are people going to think? As for eating out, I try and be vegetarian in restaurants, or choose the offal on the menu. At friends’ houses, I just eat what I am given as I am not going to force anyone to cook me kidney. Fish has been a real education, because although I already avoided cod, I didn’t know very much about eating fish sustainably. Many hours of Trawlermen later, and periodic checks on the Marine Conservancy site, mean I know which fish and shellfish is safe to buy. The sourcing of offal is a trickier question, which I’ll return to, but in a nutshell – Leeds Markets. What do people think? Oddly (or instinctively) people with a vegetarian diet seem to grasp the concept the fastest. Some think it is deeply odd. Most look bemused, smile and change the subject.
An excellent side-effect of eating offal, is that in the early days (when I forgot that eating meat every day is really not what a body is designed for) I could afford to eat meat every day. Offal is cheaper (there are exceptions such as sweetbreads). Why is offal so much cheaper? If you eat meat, you will have watched the price of pork belly soar post-Gordon Ramsey. Why isn’t the demand there? Pound for pound there’s a lot more muscle meat on an animal than organ meat, so why is it declined by the majority of consumers? When and how did we become so squeamish? Several books on the subject concur that a fall in demand for offal was caused by rationing (or the lack of it) in World War 2. Offal wasn’t rationed, so a lot of households well into the 1950s would have been dependent on it as a protein source. The theory continues that once rationing ended, a societal reaction occurred where people didn’t want to be associated with wartime poverty. Cut to the present day, where interest in offal is increasing as people (like me) become more and more interested in ways of eating sustainably and inexpensively.
How sustainable is offal production?
This is obviously tied up with the much bigger question of whether we should eat meat at all. My view is quite simplistic – meat is part of everyday life in the UK and this will not change – if I can eat meat in a way that not only respects the animal, but reduces the impact that my consumption of it has, then this will at least make a contribution to a more sustainable future. This means buying locally, and trying to ensure the meat I buy hasn’t travelled far either. The majority of offal produced in the UK is exported across the world, one of the biggest markets being in China. By eating offal that’s due for export, this is a way of chipping away at an increase in food mileage from the UK. Animals will continue to be sent to slaughter, but by eating other parts alongside more regular cuts, it is insurance that the whole animals will be used (and cherished). If we can do that in a way that reduces the global impact of the meat we consume, then surely there is a case for sustainability.
At a personal level, why should you eat offal?
Ethics aside, many people argue vehemently for its nutritional value in the diet. I am not a nutritionist, nor am I undertaking some extreme Atkins-type diet; I belong in the middle ground of “everything in moderation (apart from pancakes at the appropriate time of year)”. However, here are some top dietary offal facts:
- Sweetbreads are high in vitamin C
- Kidneys contain a variety of B vitamins
- Tripe contains vitamin B12
- Brains are high in phosphorous
- Heart is high in iron and selenium.
- Liver is high in vitamin A.
I am not saying that you can only get these vitamins and minerals from offal. I am saying that I was pleasantly surprised at how high the levels of the extra ‘good stuff’ were. There is a question of cholesterol associated with offal – some sources say that you would get more than your RDA from it, whereas others argue that although liver and kidneys are high in cholesterol, it is of the same type as that in shellfish and eggs. Which, the body is good at breaking it down. From the research I have done, I’m happy to have offal a couple of times a week, from a variety of sources. However, I would encourage people to come to their own conclusions.
Where to buy offal
The hardest debate that I have tried to work out within myself is one that has run through several of my blog posts: is it better to support my local indoor market and buy a slightly lower quality of offal, or I should I look to suppliers from further afield that are organic? Kidney, liver and lungs are essentially filtration organs, which could easily build up artificial residues (so could any meat, but levels are higher in these parts). At the moment, I still do both. In fact, I’ve got a pretty full freezer drawer of offal (mostly donated it has to be said). I think the answer lies in finding a local, organic Leeds farm to supply me. Next year I am sure, will show a lot of changes to my meat-eating habits. My partner and I are considering buying a whole pig for the year. Nose to tail indeed.
This year of offal has affected me holisitically too. My love of cooking has been thoroughly re-kindled. I couldn’t live without my slow cooker. I’ve become healthier and use a lot more wholegrain foods, fruits and vegetables (soluble fibre to beat that cholesterol). Through eating meat respectfully, I feel have become more respectful myself.
If you fancy having a go at this offaltarian malarkey, please do get in touch on my blog at offallygood.wordpress.com. There are many issues I haven’t touched on, but would be delighted to discuss – veal and the dairy industry being a topical one.