Beef About Beef

Selective carnivore Richard Cornish on why organic beef doesn't deserve to be blacklisted.

The debate about meat and the climate has been turned into a ridiculous black-and-white slinging match.

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The debate about meat and the climate has been turned into a ridiculous black-and-white slinging match. The anti-meat lobby point the global warming finger at methane-belching cattle, while the meat camp retaliate by quoting inflammatory headlines such as “Becoming vegetarian can harm the environment”. The idea of quality and moderation just gets lost in the whole debate.

I eat beef. I love it. But I am no friend of the meat industry. They have skewed a once skillful chain of artisan industries – farmer-abattoir-butcher-cook – into an ugly, bloated industry that churns out beef at lowest cost to the producer.

Most beef is not worth eating. Eighty per cent of supermarket beef will have come from cattle that have been trucked to a feedlot and spent 55 days being fed grains and agricultural detritus such as GM cotton trash.

Animal welfare aside, this beef doesn’t receive the benefit of dry-ageing: an ancient process that sees carcasses hung in cold storage for three to four weeks, during which time enzymes tenderise the texture and mellow the flavour. Instead, it’s packed into plastic bags to soften it up. Steaks on trays are cut thin, which means they dry out all too easily when cooked.

I say steer clear of those great red rows of supermarket meat.

I prefer to think of meat as precious, an expensive luxury that deserves to be rationed. It’s an approach that the Europeans have had for a long time; the idea of one person sitting down to eat a large steak, to them, is obscene. Sure, you can order a Chateaubriand in a restaurant, but it arrives at the table already sliced, ready to be shared between several diners.

Because animal protein has historically been so expensive, it is used sparingly in many traditional dishes. Think of Bolognese sauce – it’s just as much about the tomatoes as the meat and by the time the sauce goes over the pasta there’s not a lot of beef in the dish. And meat-based curry sauces tended to use flesh more as a flavouring agent to enrich the rice than as a pure protein hit.

I buy my meat from farmers who care not only about their livestock but also for the land on which the cattle graze. These farmers fence off creeks and remnant bushland and use organic or biodynamic farming practices, which focus on getting as much carbon as possible back into the soil by digging in manures and old crops. My family and I don’t eat a lot of meat and we don’t eat it often, but when we do we savour each morsel and appreciate it as a precious resource.

Richard Cornish is a freelance television producer and widely published food writer and author.

Organic Meat Links

Doorstep Organics - Sydney

Springhill Beef - NSW Southern Highlands

Sam The Organic Butcher - Bondi

Cleavers - The Organic Meat Company - Woolworths and www.greengrocer.com

Organic Direct - Melbourne

Farm Fresh Organics - Brisbane

Organic Meats - Perth