Saturday, March 26, 2011

How to survive a bullying on twitter - I blame the lambs

In my innocence I thought that most people knew that meat came from an animal. That it is born from a mummy animal, grows up, eats grass and is killed before it arrives on our plate as food. I guess not.

Last week I tweeted that seeing the newborn lambs in the fields around my house made me think of Spring lamb, which in turn sent me into the greenhouse to start watering my mint plants. Now this may be the behaviour of a rampant animal hater but hey, I simply like eating lamb.

Anyway, a while later someone responded to my tweet saying that I was a "sick and pathetic" individual. This sent me into paroxysms of excitement as obviously I had committed some truly awful deed in the league of Hannibal Lector. When I realised it was related to the lamb comment I (a) spent a long time laughing and (b) watched the twitter responses to the lamb issue get completely out of control and result in a lot of people taking deep offence.

The fact of the matter is that if we choose to eat meat we cannot ignore the facts of how that meat is raised and killed. And if we are grown up about it, we have to realise that burying your head in the sand doesn't change how animals are farmed and slaughtered. Farming is how food is produced and in terms of my daily life I live pretty close to the realities of it. Our house is sandwiched between two sheep farms which are currently midway in lambing a thousand lambs. Yes, a thousand. Some will be killed at twelve weeks old and sold as "spring lamb" - very young tender meat. Others will be killed at any stage up to about one year old, the rest will become replacement ewes (mothers themselves) and some quality males become breeding rams.

This is what happens to lambs. The way I reconcile eating lamb with the gorgeous little creatures gambolling around in the fields is that Irish sheep and lambs live as natural life as possible - outdoors, eating grass and in social herds. It is very different to the feedlot system often seen abroad where livestock live indoors, eat concentrate feed derived from maize and soya, with the biggest of these operations being essentially "factory farms".

Last year I bought a whole lamb killed at about 5 months old from Sweetbank Farm in Wicklow. (Some of it is pictured above) Their lamb is organic, grass fed and for me buying from farm gate from a farmer I know makes me feel what I'm eating is as ethically produced as possible. If I feel that certain meat is not produced with care towards animal welfare then I don't buy it, it's as simple as that.

I think we have to be real about food, know where it comes from and make a choice. It's interesting that if most consumers knew how their meat, especially imported chicken meat was produced they would probably not eat it. And as for twitter, you can follow my disgraceful views on food at @campbellsuz. I will atone, I promise.


  1. you will always get those that overreact.
    I do like your blog. It is always interesting and informative.

  2. Oh flip, I missed this on Twitter. I was on the receiving end of a similar reaction in real life recently when I remarked on the synchronicity of eating a ham from my uncle's first litter of Old Spots on the day the second litter was born. I think it's important to acknowledge where food - especially meat - comes from, and it really baffles me how squicked out people get by the facts.

    (love the damsons in your header, by the way!)

  3. Hi Keith and, yes it's a headwreak when people confuse the realities of their burger with animal cruelty. If you want to eat a burger then find out a little more about how the animal is raised, killed etc... then make up your mind. If you're a reader in the US and you really want to know the down and dirty detail on mainstream meat production there read Jonathon Safran Foer's book "Eating Animals". It ain't pretty, at the end of his research he became a vegan and Natalie Portman followed suit. It's a great book x

  4. My reaction when I see new lambs is exactly the same - thinking of some nice spring lamb on my plate with some lovely new potatoes. Doesn't stop me thinking that week old lambs are just about the cutest thing going, and wanting to hug them. I look out my kitchen window and they're right there, including a pure black one. Or, at least, they were - they're gone now, and I could well be eating one of them soon. But you're right - I'm not a huge meat eater, but I do eat a lot of fish and chicken, and always make sure that I'm happy with where they're sourced. Same when I do buy meat. And remember it's easy to hurl abuse on the internet - no need at all to atone (though I'm assuming that was tongue in cheek) :-)

  5. A few weeks ago a Facebook buddy posted a link to a YouTube video of scenes from factory farms and abbatoirs. Exceptionally disturbing footage and meat hasn't tasted the same since.

    Since seeing it we've been having one or two meat-free days a week and are moving to reduce our consumption of it even further.

    I do love meat and I'd be happy to halve my consumption and double what I pay for it if it meant increased welfare for the animals and as swift and stress-free a death as it is possibe to give the doomed beasts.

  6. Hi Maire and Paul - yes I've seen that footage and am working on a piece on welfare in production and slaughtering at the mo. In the US it is insane. I've learned so much about it in the past two years that I feel if I went to the US I could no longer eat meat there, unless it was from a small operation. Food regulation in the US is a mess, - no vets or inspections in slaughtering unlike Europe, but I know rules here are also broken sometimes (I've been contacted by abbatoir workers here - more anon). We do exactly the same - just eat less meat, I eat irish and local free range beef, pork and lamb and just eat less of it in general. Our systems aren't designed for a 7 day a week meat habit anyway. Btw love your blog paul, I am a wine philistine but love reading about it x

  7. Wow - I totally missed that on Tweetville, Went out to buy some baby lamb after you mentioned the first batch were gone from the fields around your house. Having it this evening for supper. It smells delicious raw - so I am thinking it will be deeeeeevine. People that bully on Twitter/FB are cowards. Do not waste your energy on them. Love your blog btw.