The ethics of Australia’s food production
The new book by Matthew Evans, former restaurant critic and the centre of the SBS documentary series Gourmet Farmer, has something to challenge everyone.
On Eating Meat is a careful examination of meat production in Australia and, for the large part, it’s horrifying reading for both omnivores and vegans.
From the worrying opacity of some of Australia’s biggest industrial meat producers, to the frankly terrifying use of antibiotics as growth promotants, to the dirty secret of fruit and vegetable growers (the slaughter of many, many animals, both native and feral), this is an excellent book for anyone who thinks deeply about what they’re putting on their plate.
“Animal welfare isn’t a fringe issue,” Evans writes. “It isn’t a vegan issue. It isn’t even an omnivore’s issue. It’s a discussion that the whole community should be involved in, because how we rear, house and dispatch other living creatures is a barometer of how civilised a society we really want to be.”
His documentary series that sparked the book – For the Love of Meat – is still available for streaming on SBS.
If you want a broader, elegantly written take on the ethics of food production, you should still be able to find copies of Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle in book stores or online.
Although first published in 2007, a 10-year “anniversary” edition was published of this entertaining and intelligent account of Kingsolver and her family attempting to eat only locally-sourced, ethically-produced food for a year.
Like Evans, she confronts head-on the issue of eating meat: “You can leave the killing to others and pretend it never happened, or you can look it in the eye and know it.”
However, the book is much more than that – it challenges current modes of industrial agriculture and offers some ideas for the way forward.
If you really want to look at the culture of meat-eating in an unflinching fashion (and I understand fully that many will not want to), try Steven Rinella’s Meat Eater on Netflix.
American Rinella is a life-long unapologetic hunter and the short episodes of this long-running series each document an individual hunt. With rare exceptions, it ends with Rinella or one of his hunting companions shooting, butchering and then eating a wild animal.
While that may sound like it’s firmly in redneck territory, the show is much more complex than that. The scenes of beautiful animals being shot are uncomfortable, to say the least. But it is telling that a hunter is prepared to do this in full view, while the industrial meat-producers detailed in Evans’ book are far less up-front about the methods they use to despatch millions of animals a year, and which most of us are happy to eat.
Rinella’s lifestyle, as he sees it, offers an antidote to industrial agriculture, which causes untold misery to animals, especially as practised in the giant American feedlots, as well as wastage.
If you’re going to eat an animal, better to manage the process yourself in a sustainable way, he reasons.
If the show sounds a bit too much, get an insight into Rinella’s thinking in this discussion on American chef Dave Chang’s podcast: https://www.theringer.com/2019/4/18/18484642/the-ethics-of-meat-eating-with-steven-rinella
You may not agree with him, but it will make you think about the meat that sits on our plates and how it got there.
America’s Test Kitchen
This is a YouTube channel, with a cheesy voiceover, but stay with me: this is seriously good content on technique for home cooks.
Watch these videos for a few hours and you will become a better cook.
The name is the key – the videos are the result of rigorous testing by a team of chefs. In my experience, if they recommend a recipe, you can be sure that it’s going to work because they’ve tested it dozens of times.
While the team behind the show clearly respects food cultures and traditions, the underpinning principle is science. If they tell you to sprinkle bicarb on your dish while it cooks, they will explain exactly why (it aids browning).
And a lot of the tips are ingenious.
Want to poach perfect eggs for a crowd? They have you covered.
Crisp-bottomed pizza in a skillet? Do-able.
The ultimate veggie burger (much better than the Frankenstein foods in the supermarket freezer)? Here’s how to put it together.
The channel is compulsive watching for a serious home cook, along with its companion channels Cooks’ Country and Gear Heads (the latter putting kitchen equipment through rigorous testing and making clear recommendations of brands, many of which are available in Australia).
Closer to home
Former Adelaidean and Masterchef finalist Adam Liaw also has a brilliant YouTube channel, focusing on mostly Japanese and Chinese dishes.
Liaw is a very clear communicator with a passion for authentic cuisine.
He makes traditional techniques easily comprehensible – and do-able – for the home cook.
Also, his broader tips on cooking Japanese and Chinese dishes are very wise (such as avoiding the western pitfall of including too many ingredients in your stir-fried dishes).
Yes, it’s a bit cheeky beating our own drum, but we have produced a four-part food podcast, which looks at food culture closer to home.
The subjects include gardener and writer Lolo Houbein, Simon Bugeja from Central Market institution Lucia’s, Nigel Hopkins and Cath Kerry discussing the golden era of Adelaide restaurants, and Kevin Gregg, the man behind Adelaide’s most loved pub, the Exeter.
Each episode goes for under an hour – perfect listening for a rainy afternoon in the kitchen.
Go here to listen.