Rediscover your local butcher and ask where your food comes from
In the wake of the horse meat scandal, shoppers want food they can trust. The Derby Telegraph’s deputy news editor Jade Beecroft has challenged herself to spend a year shopping local. In the third of a series of features, she dips a vegetarian toe into the great meat debate.
AS a vegetarian and horse owner, I'm sure you can imagine what my feelings have been as the horse-meat scandal hit the news. But having spent years supporting an equine charity that works to halt the cruel transportation of horses and ponies for slaughter abroad, I can't say I've been surprised.
The Food Standards Agency is investigating and the headlines are full of speculation over which countries are involved and where the meat has come from.
It's pretty frightening if you're a consumer – and no doubt even more so if you've got a stock of lasagne or cottage pie ready meals sitting in your freezer.
Business Cards From Only £10.95 Delivered www.myprint-247.co.ukView details
Our heavyweight cards have FREE UV silk coating, FREE next day delivery & VAT included. Choose from 1000's of pre-designed templates or upload your own artwork. Orders dispatched within 24hrs.
Terms: Visit our site for more products: Business Cards, Compliment Slips, Letterheads, Leaflets, Postcards, Posters & much more. All items are free next day delivery. www.myprint-247.co.uk
Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Sunday, May 26 2013
As my carnivorous newsroom colleagues try to tot up how many gee-gees they've unwittingly eaten in those readymade spag bols and budget burgers, I'm safe in the knowledge that my meat-free diet protects me from such errors.
But with a meat-eating partner at home I do buy beef, pork and chicken regularly. Rather than being one of those veggies who refuses to get involved, I'm determined to use our household shopping budget to support those farmers who put animal welfare and quality at the heart of what they do.
And of course, the best place to go if you want to know where your meat comes from is the butcher or farm shop.
Minds may be boggling at the idea of a veggie in a butchers' shop and I must admit that, with all the slabs of raw flesh and that lingering smell, it's not the most pleasant experience for me. Sometimes I still half-expect to be collared and turfed out (perhaps I smell of Quorn or lentils?) but instead I always find myself warmly welcomed by staff who are passionate about their produce and keen to tell me all about it.
The horse-meat headlines have meant that many butchers are enjoying a boom in trade, with some shops even displaying tongue-in-cheek posters stating "no horse meat here". So if you're not used to visiting the butcher then now is the perfect time to try it.
I think a lot of people are nervous of butchers' shops. We're simply not used to them any more. We have grown accustomed to having our food neatly packaged and presented. The key is not to be put off by the look or smell of the meat counter and to ask lots of questions. Any reputable butcher will be only too happy to tell you where their meat comes from down to the smallest details – including where the animals were born, raised and slaughtered.
If animal welfare is important to you, then this accountability is reassuring – not to mention the fact that many butchers tend to source much of their meat from nearby farms so you know you're helping to support the local rural economy, too.
You'll enjoy your bangers and mash a lot more when you know your sausages contain 100% pork products made from pigs that have led a good life at a local farm.
And if you're not sure what something is (and let's face it – all those slabs of meat do look pretty similar to the uninitiated) don't be afraid to ask. Most butchers are really happy to help educate their customers and they should even be able to help you out with the best cuts for different dishes or the best way of preparing something.
When I began my challenge to shop local, my 93-year-old grandma took great pleasure in regaling my with tales from her childhood about how, in those days, there were butchers, bakers and greengrocers in every district. She spoke about building friendships with these shopkeepers so that they would set aside a choice cut.
If you're lucky enough to have a butcher nearby then these friendships can still be built and you'll reap the rewards of knowing exactly where the meat on your table comes from.
I think my own shopping habits perfectly illustrate the relationship you can build with your butcher, seeing as I regularly buy my meat from a family-run farm shop and equestrian centre where I also stable my horse. So while many consumers are worrying about equine meat turning up in their ready-made lasagnes, I'm trusting my butcher not to put my horse anywhere near his mincer!
If a vegetarian can get to grips with shopping in the butchers' then anyone can. So if the horse-meat scandal is alarming you, make friends with your local butcher.
To find out more about Jade's quest to shop local, follower her online on Twitter @JournoJadeB