BY PAUL READ & NIGEL BEAN
There was an article in The Guardian recently titled “Can Britain’s butchers survive the vegan boom?”. The headline was a little misleading, but they very often are. It did raise some interesting points though, one of which is the noticeable decline in butchers’ shops in recent times – something many people will have noticed.
In the article some put this down to the rise of vegan diets and, to a lesser extent, other diets such as vegetarian, pescatarian and flexitarian but the reality is probably down to a much wider range of influences given vegans represent a little over 1% of the population, according to the Vegan Society.
Vegans though, despite their relatively small (albeit growing) number, are considerably more vocal than many groups and their extremist elements seem to be more pronounced, more of which later.
The decline in butchers’ shops, around 23 close per month, is out of all proportion to the rise of meat-free diets and is more likely to be associated with increased competition from supermarkets, foreign imports and the costs associated with a high street presence.
In addition, the rise in so-called ready meals will undoubtedly have had an impact and, surprisingly, this is where we find the opportunities for diversification of butchers. Some now offer not just a range of pies and pasties but also other pre-prepared products such as birds ready to roast or even pre-cooked joints.
This offers significant environmental advantages in as much as food miles can be considerably reduced, as can the volume of packaging required, where a local ‘farm to plate’ model is adopted. Moreover, the quality of the meat is likely to be higher, as are welfare standards. Has anyone ever seen a ready meal marked organic/free-range/grass-fed/sustainably-farmed?
Of course, the decline in numbers of people cooking from scratch has also driven the significant rise in number and variety of ready meals.
Returning to dietary choices, it’s very easy to relate to pescatarians or vegetarians. We know quite a few and we’ve not come across any that have an extreme attitude although we have found they are often not 100% dedicated, so perhaps they are really flexitarians? Vegans, on the other hand, can be quite vocal and you won’t really need to ask if someone is vegan, they’ll usually tell you!
The avoidance of meat we do understand, the avoidance of eggs and dairy not so much and we found it quite amusing to discover Hen Nation, which sells cruelty-free eggs from its North Yorkshire hen sanctuary. To vegans! Apparently, the sales pay for the upkeep of the hens but this also destroys one or two vegan statements about why they don’t eat eggs, such as “they’re hen’s periods” (they aren’t) or “they come out of the same place they poo from” (they don’t).
It is true to say that the consumption of meat in the developed world, particularly red meat, is declining whereas in the developing world meat consumption is increasing. This decline in the developed world can be largely put down to statements from scientific studies into the carcinogenic nature of meat as published by bodies such as the WHO. However, the WHO draw a significant distinction between processed and unprocessed red meat with processed being classified as Group 1 (sufficient evidence) versus Group 2A (limited evidence) for unprocessed suggesting an increased risk of bowel cancer in the former case of 18% on consumption of 50g daily.
What does this actually mean?
According to Cancer Research UK the overall risk of getting bowel cancer is 6%, eating 50g (two rashers) of bacon (Group 2A) daily increases this to 7% but twice as many cases occur due to eating too little fibre (28% vs 13%). Vegans make much of these statistics but, expressed this way, it seems a balanced diet is more important than giving up bacon altogether, a view endorsed by Michael Joseph in his article Busting the vegan Myth. (It’s neither pro nor anti-vegan but does raise the point that a balanced diet, with as little highly processed food as possible, is healthier than one at the opposite end of the scale. In other words, quality ingredients, cooked from scratch, with a good balance of fruit and vegetables.)
How can this be achieved? Buy locally-produced food wherever possible from outlets such as farmer’s markets or direct from the farm. Ask them about other suppliers – farmers know other farmers, that’s just a fact of life. The farmer supplying your beef will more than likely know another who produces dairy products and so forth.
Support the farmers and, if they offer the option, visit to see how they operate. Extremist vegans should take note, farmers produce your food too and posting misleading information on social media is unhelpful, mainly to your own cause. Pictures like these:
Described as a ‘cow crusher’, while it is, of course, a cattle turner. This one is supplied by Glendale Engineering in the UK and it allows safe and stress-free treatment for necessities such as hoof trimming.
In the next photo the claim is that the calf is being killed with a bolt-gun. Actually, the calf is being de-horned/disbudded, a perfectly normal and harmless procedure.
Of course, there is money to be made posting false claims such as these, as sites such as Patreon collect, but the main thing all this demonstrates is the huge disconnect between consumers and those that produce their food, farmers.
In summary then, buy local, quality produce; by all means avoid meat but please respect the choices of others not to follow suit; support high-welfare production, ask the farmer, and visit where possible. Ultimately though, enjoy all the food our farmers produce, as it’s the best in the world.