Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Season's meatings

Health-wise, I’m allowed to drink as much as I like, because I didn’t eat red meat for almost 20 years. Oh, but then I did smoke quite heavily for about ten years. And I don’t exercise very much. So maybe I shouldn’t drink as much as I like, but I probably will anyway, because it feels good, and if you’re born after 1970 that’s the only test that really matters.
But yeah, no red meat for 20 years. That’s a lot of cows and sheep and pigs that didn’t get eaten thanks to me, and at night sometimes I dream of them all standing at the end of the bed, affectionately licking my toes with gratitude. Not really – actually the animal I most often dream of is cats; cats I’m in charge of but have forgotten to feed. What is that about?

Anyway when I took up meat again, I promised myself I’d try and exclusively eat animals who’d had happy lives. There’s a strong argument to suggest that by eating well-treated New Zealand animals, you’re doing more good than being vegetarian: after all, by creating demand you’ll probably cause animals to be born that wouldn’t otherwise exist; they’ll have happy, farmed lives safe from predators, disease and starvation; and you’ll be contributing to a sustainable use of land – you need a bit of meat production to optimize an otherwise vegetarian farm, and do you know which country has the perfect ratio of meat to produce? New Zealand. We’re like a model for how the world’s countryside should look.

So yes, eat meat, but do your best to eat good meat. Here are some things I’ve learnt:

1. Neat Meat in Parnell do absolutely beautiful beef and lamb. They supply most of Auckland’s best restaurants, but they’re also open to people like you and me, and they’ll happily sell you the same steak as they’re selling to Euro (check out the Wagyu scotch in my sandwich, above). Prices are comparable to supermarkets, but the meat is so much better: bred for maximum flavour and hung to optimise that flavour before it’s all cut up. The only bitch is the location, on a busy Parnell road – so I’m delighted to announce they’re opening a retail store in Ponsonby very soon, in that old brick building which currently houses a Lee Jeans outlet store. What do you mean, where will you get your jeans from? Is this website called Auckland Clothes Blog?

2. ‘Free range’ in New Zealand sadly means nothing – as long as you have a small door in your giant chicken shed, you’re allowed to put ‘free range’ on your packaging, never mind that the chickens are all too scared or shell-shocked (ha!) to go outside. The best thing to look for is an SPCA ‘Blue Tick’, which lets you know that they comply with higher standards of animal welfare. I’m not usually into certification – Fairtrade, for example, which does weird things to developing countries like discouraging diversification and means a lot of buyers’ cash goes to support a pretty flabby administrative body instead of the growers themselves – but in an area like meat production, where it’s so hard to get good honest answers, it’s useful to know someone decent like the SPCA is doing the hard yards for us.

3. Another point on ‘free range’. Would you feel good about buying free range eggs if the same farmer also had a massive battery hen operation, which he used to subsidise his free range operation through things like bulk feed and other economies of scale? That happens a lot. I know, so complicated isn’t it? So just look for the blue tick. Same goes for pork – best is Harmony Farms who supplied my Christmas ham via Neat Meat. For chooks, google Sunset Farms who generously agreed to drop me in some top notch birds just before the big day. (p.s. I cooked the meat at the same time as the pavlova thanks to the divider in my Samsung oven which allows you to cook two different things at two different temperatures at the exact same time. Just saying.)

4. Everyone loves talking about Westmere and West Lynn butchers, but you know who gets no press at all? Grey Lynn butchers. They’re in a pretty hideous group of shops on the corner of Williamson and Great North, but hopefully they’ll benefit from a better class of clientele when the new Kokako café goes into the post office next door. Anyway, they work really hard, have lots of meats you won’t find anywhere else – goat, hare, pheasant! – and have their own specialty products, like very good sausages apparently and probably the best bacon I’ve eaten, pictured in the BLAT, above. And they’re lovely people, so give them a go.

Ah, don’t you love this time of year? The days are longer, the pohutukawas are in bloom and, with no TV work on, there’s so much more time for self-righteous blogging about what you should be buying and where. Just count yourself lucky I’m not your flatmate.