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The River Cottage MEAT Book by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall [BOOK REVIEW]

Posted on 18 February 2010 by Cork Graham

Spice-rubbed wild boar ready to become Babi Guling!

Spice-rubbed wild boar ready to become Babi Guling!

No matter how you cut it, there is a reason that vegetarians suffer from a number of ailments, not the least of which is a deficiency in vitamin B12: humans have developed over thousands of years to be omnivores, not herbivores! Our diets developed over years of evolution to make sure that humans could survive in any environment, something necessary to a species that evolved as a nomadic group, a group who by necessity has had to survive on an opportunistic diet.

The only species more nomadic than humans are the world’s carnivores. Yet what are the most successful species? Always it’s the omnivores: humans, pigs and bears. These are the most successful populations of any large mammals.

But what’s an omnivore to do when disconnected societal vegetarian fads spring up during every generation, either because of religious or cultural fads inspired by powerful advertising? Get in informed…

Such is the important information I found in the masterpiece The River Cottage MEAT Book by UK food personality Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall…it was as though someone from PETA, but someone who actually did their research instead of just offering a knee-jerk emotional response to eating meat so far from reality it’s a crime, wrote a book on cooking healthy, following ecologically sound farming practices.

Meat is good, and good for you! But, as the author says, there’s good meat and there’s bad meat. Or, as Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755 -1826), “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.”

If you get meat from a meat factory that holds its cattle in boxes that prevent movement and they’ve never even had the opportunity to graze in an open field and under a sky light by sunlight and moonlight, you’re going to get an animal full of body chemicals resulting from stress, not to mention the antibiotics and other manmade materials that bring into question their residual effects in our bodies.

Instead, imagine a cow, pig, or lamb enjoying life in a beautiful pasture, feeding well on all the natural grasses and herbs and brush that bring not only incredible flavor to the animal’s meat, but also bring up a healthy offering for the table that makes you feel so sated and happy when you’re done eating. That (aside from some innovative and interesting spins on more traditional British and international recipes) is what Fearnley-Whittingstall brings to the conversation about eating meat that has long been overdue.

We live in a society in the major cities of the US and UK that is so far removed from its roots in the country, that even adults are shocked to find themselves responding strictly emotionally to become strict vegetarians, and trying to legitimize their decision through questionable science.

If you’ve ever ridden on public transportation in Thailand and India, where meat consumption is very low, and seen natives fast asleep with their heads banging against the window as the bus rattles along, you might have noticed a few of the symptoms of long-term vegetarianism: sluggishness, anemia. And, if only eating vegetables is so good for you why do vegetarians so often need vitamin supplements and why do we no longer have more than one stomach, like so many real herbivores—ever wonder what your appendix used to be?

That’s right! It is used to help us digest foliage, as true vegetarians, when we used to move across the great savannahs of prehistoric Africa.

What happened?

We advanced and learned how to make tools. And by learning to make tools we made weapons for killing to eat meat as a main part of our meals instead of just an infrequent lucky addition.

Our brain size development from what we were as a prehistoric man to what we are now resulted from our more regular consumption of meat proteins. Now, I’m not saying that every meal should have a meat protein, but mixed with a full offering of colors and varieties of vegetables, fruits and nuts and I think you’ll notice a not only a more calming, but reaffirming experience, and definitely less-stressed, daily experience.

Personally, I’ve tried a vegetarian diet. As an effort toward spiritual, mental and physiological cleansing as a form of fasting from meat, seafood and birds, it’s very effective. But any longer than that, have you also noticed how weak and sluggish you feel after the initial cleansing has occurred? That’s your body telling you something!

Meat gives you strength. And when you eat a bit much of beef, it does seem to deliver a bit of an aggressive attitude to a person’s personality. This is an observation that goes to at least as far back as Dickens and Oliver Twist:

‘It’s not Madness, ma’am,’ replied Mr. Bumble, after a few moments of deep meditation. ‘It’s Meat.’

‘What?’ exclaimed Mrs. Sowerberry.

‘Meat, ma’am, meat,’ replied Bumble, with stern emphasis.

‘You’ve over-fed him, ma’am. You’ve raised a artificial soul and spirit in him, ma’am unbecoming a person of his condition: as the board, Mrs. Sowerberry, who are practical philosophers, will tell you. What have paupers to do with soul or spirit? It’s quite enough that we let ’em have live bodies. If you had kept the boy on gruel, ma’am, this would never have happened.’

‘Dear, dear!’ ejaculated Mrs. Sowerberry, piously raising her eyes to the kitchen ceiling: ‘this comes of being liberal!’

Heaven forbid the peasants get fed meat!

I do notice that I too can get a little pointed in my comments and hot under the collar when I’ve eaten beef more than four or five days straight, and not had it as part of a well-balanced meal that includes some grains, vegetables and fruit. I must also add that I’ve never had any type of aggressive response with the other red meat: venison.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall makes a great case that there’s nothing as satisfying as a well-prepared and cooked slab of meat that came from a farm animal living a good life on a farm, instead of a prison-like slaughter yard. And yet, he doesn’t shield the reader for the realities of eating-and why should he? Cellophane-wrapped meat that makes children think that our food comes neat and clean from a machine is why we’re having the drastic disconnect problem we’re in now!

The photos of slaughtering and butchering, which reminded me of police photos I’ve seen of crime scenes and scenes in the city morgue on CSI were a bit shocking…but perhaps because even with my field experiences killing and butchering wild game, even doing something as close farm animal slaughtering as killing a farm-raised goat with .22 and butchering it in a woods glen in Alaska, I’d never done my basic butchering in a slaughter house, i.e., the animal is still whole, in an antiseptic, white-walled room.

Kind of gave me the creeps, seeing that steer’s live eyes as a pneumatic piston gun is put to its head. Then, the next frame is the dead eye as he lies on his side…but, like the vegemite-sundaes like to say, if you can’t deal with the honesty of the death of the animal, can you really condone the eating of meat?

Yes, I accept the honesty of the fact that something died so that I can live. And there’s something contrary, to that which the vegemite-sundaes like to think of selectively: they don’t respect, or really are afraid to accept, that EVERYTHING lives because something dies. Is the only reason that vegetarians condone the killing of vegetables and fruits is that they can’t hear them scream—and who are they to think that all living things don’t feel their death and scream…that it’s only that humans don’t normally speak the language of carrots?

Many aboriginal societies revered and respected that fact that all living things, and in their thinking, inanimate objects are alive, and die and scream when their killing is brought about with little respect: that includes carrots that are just ripped out of the ground without first being asked to offer themselves to the upcoming meal.

Are vegemite-sundaes only vegetarians because they can’t deal with death being a fact of life in all its forms?

I leave that up for you to decide…all I know is that when I’ve dealt with strict vegetarians their avoidance of Nature’s facts are often deplorable: they come off as seeming to think that only the furry and cute creatures on this planet deserve to live, and everything else that can’t be heard to scream, or doesn’t run away when you try to eat it, is okay to eat, in other words, kill.

I don’t have time for vegemite-sundaes because everyone of them comes off as a hypocrite when you really get to know their beliefs and understandings about what the Earth so graciously provides—to them, it’s all about avoidance of that cycle of death that Nature has put all on living creatures….and it seems…nature is the very one to remind vegemite-sundaes that their diet isn’t what we’ve evolved towards over thousands of years of eating meat, with vegetarians setting themselves up for osteoporosis and B12 deficiency, making itself known through the following symptoms: confusion or change in mental status in severe or advanced cases, decreased sense of vibration, diarrhea, fatigue, loss of appetite, numbness and tingling of hands and feet, pallor, shortness of breath, sore mouth and tongue, weakness.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall still seems to offer an olive branch to the PETA folks, though I think anyone who considers themselves a “true” vegetarian will never accept that branch other than to further their agenda, as organizations like PETA and HSUS continue to do right now, saying that they just want to improve conditions for animals, when all their directors just want more money (if you’ve ever dealt with an unscrupulous animal rights ‘non-profit’ you really know where the money and how being ‘non-profit’ doesn’t mean being poor) and to stop all hunting: they’d have all native tribes in cities living on canned vegetarian foods if they had their dithers…

…Yet again they perpetuate what the urbanization of humans has done all along: a total disconnect between humans and our origins…and no, a quick hike through the woods is really as disconnected as the average PETA true believer, stuck in an apartment with their only sense of wildlife a pet cat or their Chihuahua, heavily modified through thousands of years of breeding for Aztec and Mayan dining halls. Hikers in the woods are like sex voyeurs, titillated by what they see, but not willing, and often afraid, to get down and dirty with its realities.

We’ve gotten so far away from what enabled us to survive in a real world that I sometimes wonder if this very modern and violent cult following in PETA/HSUS-related vegetarianism isn’t just a human form of lemmings running off cliffs…

Don’t get me wrong, I respect and enjoy my greens, too—it’s just I have a problem with healthy habits that become fanatic movements trying to keep themselves aloft through unsound science and actions that actually go against their professed reasons: smaller hunter numbers have actually led to lower amounts of revenues that would have gone to the support of all animals through the Pittman-Robertson Act of 1937 (In contrast, if you want to know where PETA funds really go, READ HERE; they sure aren’t putting those millions of dollars into helping animal populations like hunters do…)

Whenever I come across an author that seems to be more on an even keel, and in the UK no less, the historic origins of the present PETA/HSUS madness, I jump up and down in joy that there might be hope. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is just such a man, who takes the reader through the different options for getting that organic success that leads to a healthy and great-tasting meal with meat as the centerpiece: whether a beef roast, roast chicken, or game collected in the field.

There are a number of game recipes that I’m looking forward to cooking, and will in the future with game he mentions, like pheasant, rabbit and hare. Taking to heart the axiom of using everything the animal offers, the Fearnley-Whittingstall also delivers a great chapter the use of offal gathered from a slaughtered animal. And I’d be remiss in not mention a great dissertation on the practice of aging meat: in his research he really pushed the limits of time! If you live in a warmer/drier climate like I do in California, remember that the variance in temperature, i.e. wamers, will shorten your aging times.

But, it was the roast pig that really got me excited!

…Instead of a traditional roasting spit, beautifully described in a photo story on page 390 and pages 392 to 394 in The River Cottage MEAT Book, I wanted to roast a true organic meat (If it’s been touched by human hands, or fed by humans hands, something that didn’t grow naturally, feeding on whatever it could find on its travels, without human direction or intention, how can you call it true organic?) a wild boar in a La Caja China that I had done a bang-up job with on a farm pig.

Not only that, I wanted to try a recipe I enjoyed as a child in Southeast Asia, on a trip to Indonesia, specifically Bali, called babi guling. Click on the photo of Babi Guling below to watch how we prepared him!

 RELATED LINKS

  1. La Caja China

  2. Blackhawk!

  3. Winchester

  4. Remington

  5. Native Hunt

 

COMING UP

  1. Surmounting the Cultural Conflict of Tactical Clothing and Equipment in the Outdoors

  2. Wild Lifers vs. Game Farmers

 

Click on the Roast Babi Guling to watch how to make it!

Click on the Roast Babi Guling to watch how to make it!

 

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