Thoughts from a local butcher

Added: 30 January 2020

By Ali Haggett

As January draws to a cold, wet close, many people in the UK will have been experimenting with veganism for the month of 'Veganury'. News articles and social media feeds are inundated with posts about the environmental and health benefits of a plant-based diet. Scientific research certainly seems to suggest that a global switch away from meat might increase longevity and drastically lower greenhouse gas emissions. However, the topic is hotly debated on both sides, and opponents of veganism raise equally valid questions about the health benefits of meat, and the environmental consequences of ‘plundering the world’s basket’ to import exotic fruits, vegetables and grain.

Veganism and good health are often ‘correlated’, but the association is complex and may not account for other lifestyle factors which might simultaneously contribute to good health. It is also true that some people thrive on a plant-based diet and are not able to digest meat easily, while others (I for one!) struggle tolerating pulses and legumes. We are all individuals and react differently to different foods. Having recently trained in a complementary health practice called Kinesiology, I have seen first-hand how some foods enhance energy and promote balance – other foods drain and inhibit our energy. For some people, meat is nutritionally and energetically essential.

The debate seems to have become entrenched, moving unproductively in different directions, and the voices of those arguing for balance and moderation seem to be muffled in the noise! As a business, our ethos has always been that large-scale intensive farming is detrimental to animal and human health – and the environment. When Dave opened D J Haggett Butchers in Silverton in 1988, his commitment from the start was to source free-range meat from small, local farms. There are good arguments for humanely reared, sustainable forms of meat and dairy production based on traditional rotational systems.

We could certainly all eat less meat – but perhaps we should begin by cutting out the cheap, processed products that are most strongly correlated with poor health. There is a big difference, for example, between a mass-produced supermarket sausage full of additives and a hand-made butcher’s sausage made with local pork, herbs and seasoning. Where cost is an issue, the cheaper cuts of meat are an economical choice. For example, try: braising steak, neck of beef and shin; belly pork and hock; and neck of lamb – cooked slowly, they are simply amazing!

We cannot separate the vegan debate from the broader issue of food sustainability and the importance of buying food in-season that is produced locally. Maybe a more balanced argument is helpful if we are aiming overall to reduce mass meat consumption? For those of us who do not choose vegetarianism/veganism, perhaps we could start buying less meat, but purchase it from a local butcher or farm shop, supporting the local economy and ensuring its quality and provenance. As an article in The Conversation last year noted: ‘Sustainable, ecological and harmonious animal production really should be part of the solution of the “world food problem”, considered from both the nutritional and environmental scenarios’. 

As a butcher and caterer, D J Haggett certainly endorses these principles – but we also take dietary choice very seriously and provide excellent vegetarian and vegan options. Over recent years, we have enjoyed creating an exciting selection of vegan dishes, which currently include: Moroccan vegetable tagine, field mushroom stack with pickle and tomato, and spicy quinoa burger. The vegan chocolate torte is also amazing! Look out for more options this coming season.

Wishing you all a happy February!