Happy New Year from the tops of Nidderdale – the most easterly of the Yorkshire Dales. As stunning as the landscape is up here, it’s a tough place to be in deep winter with the wind whipping the remote, exposed hillsides. Of course, the breeds that graze these pastures were bred to withstand such weather over hundreds of years. Shaggy Galloway cattle are perfectly all right in such conditions, as is the hardy Swaledale sheep.
I’ve come up here to see the Galloways’ winter feeding; when the farmer tops up the grazing to make sure the cattle are getting enough nutrients to keep them healthy. The happy cows crowd around and jostle for a few mouthfuls of feed. It’s a welcome alternative to the slim pickings on the frozen ground.
Apart from if an animal falls ill, it’s often the only intervention the farmer will make. As husbandry goes, it’s about as non-intensive as can be up here and you can taste the full-bodied results in the kitchen. The presence of these creatures is a simple fact of life in these parts. The cows and sheep are part of the landscape, just like the iconic dry-stone walls which were built to contain them.
It’s ironic that the reality of our domestic food production is often left out of the picture when it comes to diet regimens many undertake in January; perhaps a symptom of the societal disconnect with how food is produced. I am always wary of black and white thinking and the simplistic narratives on offer regarding diet are no exception.
‘Veganuary’ is a chief culprit and its narrative that meat is irredeemably bad obscures holistic and critical thinking. As I sit here, at the top of Nidderdale, the truth is that this rocky landscape is perfect for livestock and not good for much else. The grass is rich (in the warmer months) and lush thanks to the plentiful rainfall (and the generous manure supply). Moreover, statistics that are often bandied about at this time rely on global statistics. Yes, beef does require a lot of water if you keep cattle in an arid climate like Texas and rely on grains to feed your herd. That’s simply not the case here. Meanwhile crucial factors such as the carbon that livestock put into healthy (and carbon sequestering) soils in the Yorkshire Dales are ignored.
At the same time, the perseverance of the narrative that a plant-based diet is a magic bullet for the climate crisis is worrying. Vegan cookbooks full of almond and avocado recipes are a case in point and to me are far removed from the chilly landscape of Yorkshire. The idea of consuming foods grown thousands of miles away, often in a chemically intensive and water-intensive manner, in the name of sustainability is beyond satire and undermines the very concept of our seasons.
The water table is under severe pressure in the avocado-producing regions of the world to feed our demand. Eating out of season should come at a cost. The addition of an Unseasonal Food Levy (UFL) would be an effective way to reduce imports of this produce – and the export of environmental damage for a fuller fruit and vegetable aisle. Buying asparagus at this time of year from South America should be expensive – far more so than it is now.
No animal or plant is intrinsically damaging to the environment – it all depends on the conditions it is produced in. We are fortunate in this country to have the freedom to choose our food and to ask questions about its origin, and it is worth saying of course that not every livestock farm in this country is a shining light of sustainability.
The key is eating less but better, alongside eating seasonal and preferably British produce with minimal food miles. This year, I will be eating natural ingredients that are grown seasonally in this country and from high-welfare systems.
I invite you to join me.
If you follow the link below to our Save Our Seasons campaign, you’ll find a seasonality chart of when fruit and vegetables are in season in this country, as well as when meat is at its best. Throughout the year, we will be supplying seasonal recipes for you to follow and top tips. Keep an eye on our social media accounts this month too as we seek to show you how meat can be better.
In the meantime, I wish you all the best for the New Year. We’ll be keeping you in the loop as to the progress with our rare breeds mission and our product range. If you have any thoughts or comments, please contact me via [email protected] I always make time to read your comments.
Happy New Year,
CEO & Founder