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Off The Shelf #10: Cold Cuts
Mixing up the format this week. In no particular order, here are a few things that have caught my attention in the world of sustainable food
Image courtesy of Consorzio del Prosciutto di Parma
I love parma ham. In fact, I love most cured meats: it’s a particular weakness of mine. So I’m disappointed to see that premium hams, including parma ham, made the news this week. An investigation by Compassion in World Farming released harrowing footage, from 16 farms across 4 EU countries, of pregnant sows being forced to live and give birth in cages only just big enough to allow them to stand upright. It’s hard to watch. It’s argued that caging animals like this enables better individual feeding and protects against aggression by other pigs, as well as provides easier access for vets. UK supermarkets are now being called on to stop selling parma ham produced in such systems.
Caged animal farming is already banned in the UK and Sweden. And the European Commission has promised to phase it out in the EU by 2027. To me, 5 more years of this doesn’t feel right. 85% of sows are currently raised this way in the EU. So just because it’s banned in the UK, that doesn’t mean the imported ‘premium’ ham you’re buying from the supermarket doesn’t come from pigs raised this way. While Tesco’s policy states that the use of cages like this is not allowed, Waitrose has only said it is working to ensure its farms end these methods by 2025. Sainsburys and Asda have been less clear, stating simply that they comply with EU and UK legislation.
This will make me think twice the next time I pick up a pack of premium ham from the supermarket, and I’ll be looking a little more closely at the provenance of such products. Given that the UK seems to be ahead of the EU on this issue, the simplest solution seems to be to buy British. But for the stuff coming from the continent, it will take a bit more homework to find out where to buy the 15% of pigs that aren’t farmed in these systems. Based on the responses by the supermarkets to the investigation this week, Tesco seems like it might be a good place to start.
FEEDING BRITAIN FROM THE GROUND UP
A few weeks ago, the Sustainable Food Trust released an extensive report about Britain’s farming system, and the actions needed to make it sustainable. This week, in their newsletter, they followed up with three shiny new videos summarising it. Let’s admit it - it’s hard to find the time to trawl through 128-page report after 128-page report. So have a look at these videos on your commute next week for a digestible summary.
THE RESULTS ARE IN…
…for the most sustainable large food companies in the UK. Tortoise Media has published its Better Food Index, which is - well, an index for better food. It has used over 100 indicators to determine which large companies are actually doing what they say they’re doing on sustainability.
The temptation is always to assume that big companies, at industrial scale, must be unsustainable, or prone to greenwashing in some way. It’s nice to see that many of them seem to be moving in the right direction. Take a look to see who comes out on top.
DISPENSE WITH DISPOSABLES
Let’s all be honest, shall we? They’re ghastly things. Foil trays filled with chemical-laden ‘charcoal’, which lasts about 5 minutes before you end up presented with charred, raw sausages covered in sand or grass because you’ve been cooking on the floor. And they’re no good for the planet, either.
Well, the good news is that disposable barbecues are starting to be banned, as seen recently in Brighton and Hove. This comes at the same time that a boy was terribly injured after he stood on hot sand which concealed a still-lit disposable barbecue. Marcus Bawdon, a prolific figure on the UK barbecue scene here in the UK, eloquently makes the case for a widespread ban.
What’s the alternative if you still want a barbecue on the beach? Well, at the high end of the range, you could go with a ‘travel’ ceramic egg - like the Kamado Joe Junior, which is a solid and dependable bit of kit. Or the Big Green Egg Mini if you like green. But, as I found out when I went to Cornwall last year, these aren’t exactly the sort of things you can throw over your shoulder as you walk from the car park to the coast. The Joe Junior weighs about 35kg.
If you’re looking for something a little more lightweight, I like this neat idea from 50 Cal BBQ, using old ammo crates to create something more permanent, but transportable.
Let me know your view - do you use disposables? Or do you know of other sustainable alternatives?
SAYING GOODBYE TO WALNUTS
It was a sad week as news spread of the death of Tony Sirico, aka Paulie Walnuts from The Sopranos. Sirico played one of the greatest characters in the greatest TV drama of all time. Rest in peace, Tony. I thought it would be fitting to end this week’s edition with some sage advice on food hygiene from the man himself.
Ignore it at your peril.
HOW CAN WE STAY IN TOUCH?
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GROWING OUR COMMUNITY
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