Anchor image: Eating meat doesn’t have to be a sin. Ethical producers take the guilt out and make it pretty tasty to boot.
(Image: Borrowdale Free Range Pork)
If you’re a diehard carnivore, you might be feeling a little heat from the glare of the Impossible Meat movement that’s parading all over town these days. But the solution isn’t to swear off meat and resign yourself to sad legume patties for the days to come — it’s to eat meat in a better way. And ethical meat is the way to go.
Yes, we hear you groan, who really gives a toss about the animals? Why should we be forking out extra money just so Daisy can live a little cushier before heading to the inevitable meat grinder?
But it’s not such a far-fetched thought. Japanese farmers are famous for pampering their prized Kobe cows, who receive massages with rice wine, listen to classical music, and get to sip on as much beer as they like. (Beer stimulates their appetite, and thus, improves the odds of how fat the heifer will eventually get.)
And if you’ve ever had the displeasure of tasting bad meat, it’s probably for several reasons, mostly related to both the physical and mental health of said meat while it still had blood in its veins.
There’s even different categories of meat quality that correlate to how poorly an animal was treated before slaughter. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations states that if a cut of meat is pale, soft, and exudative, that means that the animal was subject to extreme stress right before they were killed; being stunned repeatedly before being herded into the slaughterhouse tends to do that to an animal. Factory-farmed pigs are also often fully conscious when they hit the scalding tank.
And if the meat is dark, firm and dry, it means that the animal was subject to long-term stress, which happens when an animal is packed into stalls that barely give them space to stand or turn. (Such stress also tends to make them lose their appetite, resulting in a sad, skinny porker.)
The meat you see in the grocer might not look that terrible, but poor quality meat is often artificially enhanced with unhealthy additives just to look better.
PETA estimates that factory farmed pigs are sent to slaughter after just six months of life. And since being slammed with growth hormones isn’t the best way to produce tender meat (the resulting cut is usually tough and dry), it’s usually injected with brine to give the meat an appearance of juiciness. This brine adds anywhere between 200 and 400mgs of sodium per serving — almost half of the Ministry of Health’s recommended daily sodium intake.
Research from as far back as 1980 proves it: Stressed animals lead to bad meat. What it goes to show is that ethically-produced meat isn’t just good for the animals, it’s good for the humans eating them as well.
Investing in the welfare of livestock might be costly, but some producers know the benefits are worth it.
(Image: Five Founders Natural Australian Beef)
In Australia, piggeries like Borrowdale Free Range Pork have cottoned on. They know that producing good quality meat isn’t just a fad, and that investing in the wellbeing of their prized piglets translates to better quality meat that’s both cleaner-tasting and healthier.
For one, the animals are given space. They’re let out to roam and do whatever pigs are wont to do — which usually involves wallowing, truffling, and whatever makes a pig happy. When it’s time, they retreat back to their provided shelters, grab some hay, and bed down for the night. Rinse and repeat.
And then comes the inevitable trip to the abattoir. There’s no real way to glaze over the process, so farmers try to make it as humane as possible.
First, the pigs are lured into a truck by tinkling bells and rattlers, so they board it of their own free will rather than being prodded on. Once they’re at the abattoir, the pigs are brought individually onto a gondola. They descend into a basement where they are gassed with carbon dioxide, falling deeply unconscious. (I am told by Paul de Silva, Arcadian’s marketing director, that if a pig were to be left alone it would simply wake up many hours later with nothing more than a slight headache).
And because they’re brought down individually, the rest of the herd don’t get distressed by the sight of one of their own being gassed. Once the pig is properly unconscious, it is hung upside down by its hoof onto an overhead conveyor belt. Slaughterers then make a deep and precise cut to its neck, and the pig quickly bleeds out. They don’t feel a thing.
Unsurprisingly, the Japanese have a similar concept. Ikejime is a method of slaughtering fish that’s both humane and leads to better quality meat: By spearing the fish quickly through its hindbrain, this kills the fish immediately, so it doesn’t flop about in pain. That flopping often produces lactic acid in their muscles, which in turn leads to fish that’s soggy, sour, and has less flavour. That it’s also the most humane method of slaughtering fish is incidental.
The ‘humane’ method does take more time. It’s also more expensive, given the long process. But all the coddling does result in a more delicious cut of meat, precisely because the animal is kept reasonably relaxed and happy for the duration of its life.
At Alternative Selection — the speciality food front of Ryan’s Grocery — they know how important a quality cut of meat can be. Founders Sebastian and Wendy Chia have a son that’s intolerant to a laundry list of common ingredients, such as gluten, dairy, soy, and yeast. And they know how unhealthy traditional factory-farmed foods, with their additives and subtle ‘enhancers’, can be.
That’s why they’ve made it their mission to source out as many producers of organic, free-range and additive-free meats as possible and introduce them to Singaporeans. Borrowdale Free Range Pork is one of them — other brands include Five Founders Natural Australian Beef and Blackwood Valley Beef.
It’s important to know that the meat industry is still a commercial one; They only carry on with inhumane practices because it makes good business sense to do so, because there’s a high demand for cheap meat that hits the spot.
For more farmers to choose to want to farm sustainably, consumers have to vote with their dollar to prove that there is a demand, that it is worthwhile to keep doing it that way.
And really, if you’re a meat-eater who wants to carry on with a little less guilt — or have a talking point to counter the next overeager vegan you find — you can take comfort in the knowledge that the fat tomahawk on your plate lived a good and happy life before reaching you.