…Don’t get me wrong, I love my job and always have. I love working with food, I really enjoy working with my hands, and coming up with creative solutions. I love working with creative people, and passionate people, people with ideas, and people who love to contribute and challenge themselves, and most of the people who work in food are like that. They have a passion and a real commitment to producing a good product.
So today, we went to see my sister, she keeps pigs. Or rather her husband now keeps pigs. He left the army last year, after a very commendable career, he wanted to leave while he still had the passion to do other things. He now does several other things, and one of them is farm pigs. He has leased a field in the beautiful Northampton coutryside, the kind of place where it is a pleasure to spend a blowy morning, or even a fairly warm afternoon, and has purposefully and determinedly erected some very nice and comfortable pig pens, with wooden arks for shelter, in a place where it is not too hot, and not too cold. He tends them morning and evening, and feeds them a wide and varied diet. They are very beautiful and colourful, and extrmely well looked after. He even considered marketing them as “wagyu’ pigs after so much loving care. He will feed them a balanced diet, and keep them healthy, and they will spend 95% of their lives outdoors, on lush pasture. When they eventually go to the slaughterhouse, they will be carefully butchered according to the needs of whoever has bought them – either roasting loin, braising shoulder, sausages or bacon. Or in the case of his main clients, the very culinary particular Ghurka regiment of the Army, into several large pieces so that they can butcher the pigs themselves, to their own, very specific requirements. They will never reach the shelf or fridge of any supermarket, needless to say, but nor will they reach the window display of any high street butcher. It is not that they are too expensive, it is just that he is outside of the loop of any supply chain, and therefore free to care as much as he wants. And as he says, “I just want to be able to look myself in the eye when I am shaving in the morning and know that I have done the right thing”.
This is how we would like to think that tmost food producers operate in this country, but of course we know that they don’t. Or more importantly, they find themselves in a position where they can’t. The price of feed, and land, and fuel has spiralled, and the price that consumers are willing to pay has come down so much, that it is unrealistic to expect outdoor reared pork to have spent any more than 20% of it’s life outdoors! And this where my job is hard – I know that there are people out there producing good food, with a passion and a care, but it never gets to the mainstream market, and what does get to the mainstream market does not live up to it’s promise, and often is commanding a higher price.
There must be a middle way – sustainable farming, decently produced food, that still has flavour and provenance. If all food was reared with care and passion, would we waste so much of it? If food was a little bit more expensive would we put more value on it? Would we treasure it just a little more? Enough to appreciate our luck and abundance? Enough to use every part of the animal? Enough to really keep tabs of what is in our fridge, rather than let produce fade away in the salad drawer? Maybe we would. It’s worth a try.