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What to do if you don’t like offal

30 Dec

This whole journey has been about me trying to make a change in my life, to balance what I saw as something wrong with how I viewed and ate meat. I am eating offal for a year to balance out my ‘meat debt’. I’m lucky. I like offal. Some people (some friends amongst them) don’t. I thought it was about time I did a post for YOU. My valiant readers who follow what I’m doing even though you don’t like looking at the web page.

I believe there are two important parts to eating meat. The philosophy you use and the practicality behind it.

In the western world we are all  used to eating meat when we want and pretty much however much of it we want. As an undergraduate student I regularly bought the well cheap mince and chicken in the packets in the supermarket, making the excuse of “I’m poor, I can’t afford quality meat”. What I was eating was from badly looked after animals, filled with artificial drugs and probably killed in an unfriendly abattoir where their bodies filled full of fear hormones just before their death. Not very tasty. What I didn’t realise was that BEANS, LENTILS and CHICKPEAS are all much cheaper and also excellent sources of protein. If you’re using the poverty excuse, I have done too, and appreciate it. However think about how you can shop differently …

There’s the psychological factor there as well – if it doesn’t have meat in it, it’s not a meal. Going off to uni for the first time, I would have probably agreed. Now I think a meal can be whatever you want it to be.

My offal journey has been over for a while now – but the changes I made have continued on – I eat much less meat in general and have a “think twice” rule while shopping – it goes something like this (in my stream-of-consciousness). “I really fancy mince, where am I? Morrisons. I’m not buying the frozen mince.  [First though] Hmmm. The fresh mince looks dubious. Sweaty. Sweaty mince. Sweaty, unhappy mince from animals I don’t know where from and where they died. Do I really want mince? I probably just want protein. What other protein would I like? [Second thought] Tofu? Not today! Quorn? Quorn mince exists. Bolognaise is back on the menu.”

My lasting advice would be to always think twice about what you put in your body.

KFC

29 Jan

Dear Offallygood Friends,

I ate it. I had the most delicious chicken bucket EVER. It was very tasty.

IMG_0573

The wrapped packages are corn on the cobs! Obviously, the flash wasn’t on. Ooops!

Below: Obligatory GET IN FACE SHOT …

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In all seriousness, now that I’m back to eating meat. Like not feeling guilty about having lasagne with mince, or chicken thighs. I feel a bit bad. I’m pretty sure the cows that died for my Morrisons lasagne didn’t live a skippy-happy life. Don’t get me wrong – it is delicious, but the sour taste in my mouth comes from ethics. Perhaps Offfallygood has turned me vegetarian after all?

One idea I am nursing is to be vegetarian all week, then eat some well-chosen meat at the weekend. Maybe from a meat box that we freeze?

To me, I just don’t feel very happy with this carnivorous liberty I have now. I don’t want really to eat meat that I’m not confident in. I guess the legacy I have now is much more of a conscience about food. I started out to relieve my offal debt – and I have totally done that pound for pound – however I do feel much more a responsibility to make low-impact choices, to try and live increasingly respectfully and to try and offset decisions I feel are neccessary but bad.

I’m sure lots of people already live this way, but all this blog has ever been is a chronicle of journey. The offal year has closed. I’m looking forward to the future, but won’t need to share it as often. Yes I have a few drafts that I’ll be sending out and when I cook my penis, you’ll be the first to know, but for now this is a offally grateful, offally humble, AU REVOIR.

 

P.S. In case you’re worried – my vegetarian cooking is just as experimental as my offal cooking – tonight Triple* Celery and Walnut soup.

*celery, celery seeds and celeriac … I love celeriac

 

All’s quiet on the offal front …

6 Nov

I think after ten months of being offaltarian, I’ve hit the offal wall. Some may say it was inevitable, or indeed that it should have happened in March, but there, I’ve said it: my offal mojo is deflated. I’ve bought soya spread instead of lard.

So, Offal – like Ross and Rachel – we’re on a break. I am the Ross and am going to get into bed with chickpeas and lentils and hot photocopier ladies for a while; you, Offal, are the Rachel and will be cross with me when I return to you – especially when I’m honest about the roast chicken I ate at my Mum’s the other week. It was sexxxy. But I thought of you the whole time …

I’m not making a big deal of it – all relationships have their peaks and troughs – and our relationships with food are the same. Food fads, celebrity diets, Hugh F-W’s new series, we all like to suddenly embrace the novel. After this year, brassicas feel a bit novel. I’m a bit in love with my veg box.

For a while I blamed being SUPER BUSY – working away, doing yet more job applications – I’ve too much of a headache, Offal – it’s not you it’s me …

I love Offal long time. We will get back together. We just need a little time right now … besides there’s well loads of game at the butcher:

YUM

YUM

GET IN MY

ETHICAL

TUM

I *heart* the John Penny Abattoir

2 Sep

I went to visit an abattoir. Then I went and got a new tyre for my car and then volunteered at the museum. Then I went home and had spleen for tea and watched Clash of the Titans (original) and then went to bed. The important bit was the word ABATTOIR.

Basically, since I’m a massive celebrity now (*pinches salt and hopes that one man coming to work to say he’d heard me on the radio counts*), the lovely Kate at John Penny invited me to come and look at their processes. So lovely are John Penny Meats that they invited me long before my celebrity stardom, when I was just a lonely carnivore searching West Yorkshire for some udder.

So first of all I should say THANK YOU to them for being really kind and showing me all around the site. I should also say – if you have a feeling of trepidation about reading further – don’t because my experience was overwhelming positive.

John Penny is a family-run farm, abattoir and meat wholesaler. Not only do they raise their own animals, but all the animals they do kill spend time on their pasture around in and around the Aire valley. They are dedicated to producing ethically-sourced and expertly processed meat. They are a very open business (hence the invitation) and take pride in the fact that there is a clear transparency in what they do. In my opinion they appear to be setting an amazing benchmark – not just for other meat producers to follow – but we can all learn from their standards of quality and sourcing. They run a campaign to get people to return to shopping at a local butcher. Do, please, devote some time to their website.

I said to my boyfriend the night before “I hope it doesn’t make me vegan” – not because I am against veganism (I am definitely pro) – but because I hoped it would be a positive experience. I pulled into the car park at 7.20 am and crossed my fingers.

The tour of the abattoir took place in reverse. I was shown around by a lovely man called Clive, who was in charge of the abattoir. This means that you’ll see what I saw, which was from the packaged product through to the babes in their mangers.

The first task I had to do was to suit up – cover my hair, my clothes, get some white wellies on and remove all my jewellery. I also had to pass my own ‘health inspection’ to make sure I hadn’t suffered from any recent illnesses. I passed. All would be well.

The first area Clive took me to was the chilled storage area where the packaged meat is kept until it shipped out.

By the time I got there, most had been loaded to lorries and taken away. Open your mind’s eye and imagine just how much meat they could be in there. Lots. More than is in the offal drawer in my freezer. In here, Clive explained how the labelling system they have works: each animal has its personal passport number which is fed into the system when they go into the abattoir. Checked and double-checked, this system not only keeps track of individual animal as they are slaughtered and butchered, but reams of other information as well. This code is transferred to the meat packs, so that a butcher anywhere in the country can then access the information themselves. As we’ll see there are lots of stages, so keeping provenance attached to the animal needs a lot of care.

The next room we saw was where carcasses were being turned into the large joints that get sent to butchers (which then become our steaks and chops). Here the men wore chain-mail and had very sharp knives. The pace of work appeared incredibly fast to me.

The next few rooms were where the half carcasses wait, hanging, until the butchers are ready for them. The scale is monumental. Beef cattle are massive.

What was interesting, was that to continue to ensure that the provenance of each animal is kept, each of these sides has seven labels put on it with the same information, so each section retains the information through to the end processes. Doesn’t the meat look beautiful too?

Another interesting thing is that you can still tell whether they are male (steer) or female (heifer) long after all the reproductive organs are removed. If you look at the one above on the left, there is a bulge of fat next to the hind leg (they are hung up by their hind legs). This fat means it is a heifer. (On a personal note, having been called a fat heifer at primary school, the still-slightly-sensitive-nine-year-old prefers the much less professional term of lady-cow.)

In this picture you can use a bone in the middle of the carcass that looks a bit like an elongated and bent butternut squash. This is the *snigger* willy bone. That’s how you tell the difference. The caracass above is a steer. I’ve deliberately not used the word ‘boner’ at any point. Deliberately.

From these cathedrals of meat we headed along to the production line, where the animals are slaughtered, skinned, disembowelled and health-checked. There’s a lot of action going on. It appeared to me that each person had their role in the process and it was a well-oiled machine. I tried to stay out of the way as much as I could.

This is just part of the line of slaughtermen that do all the things to the animals. The gentleman in the middle is Glen. He was very deft at getting the intestines out of these lambs. He also gave me a lovely smile.

I shouldn’t have been surprised at how well-organised and defined all the roles were, but I was a little. I think that’s because a lot of the information that is popularly received puts the word ‘slaughter’ in a very negative way and depicts abattoirs as chaotic places. To be honest, all the premises were far, far cleaner than my house, people were constantly sweeping, tidying and sharpening knives.

Two vets are at work at the abattoir all the time as well. One inspects the chest organs of every animal, whilst the other ensure the animals are looked after to the highest standards.

Here, the vet is inspecting the organs for disease. John Penny require such high standards in the stock that they buy, that finding any sign of disease in one of their animals is extremely rare. Apparently, the farmers that do sell stock animals to them work very hard to make sure the animals are to a standard that John Penny will accept.

When I tried to take the picture, the vet stepped backwards. Photography has never been my strong point. However I do like the disembodied blue gloves feeling some lights up in a bit of carcass steam. Atmospheric.

Clive was at pains to stress to me that certainly at John Penny, nothing is wasted from the carcasses. Someone buys the hides to make shoes with. The bovine penises are shipped to the Far East. A lot of offal goes to the other side of the Pennines (apparently Lancashire is an offal hotspot). Everything, from every animal goes somewhere.

And then we get to the killing.

I’m not squeamish, so I hoped I wouldn’t be squeamish about this. I wasn’t. The anatomist in me found it fascinating. The carnivore in me wasn’t bothered (I’ve known all my life where meat comes from). The animal-lover (who once owned 16 animals at one time in a bizarre post-heartbreak petting zoo) thought that the respect shown to each animal was really very beautiful.

First I saw some sheep die. A few at a time are led into a pen and then they are stunned individually, hung up by a back leg and then their throat is cut. It’s a very calm process. So concerned was Clive that I might upset and stress the sheep that I had to stand behind a plastic curtain, peering through. (I’m not that alarming surely?) In spite of the fact, other sheep were being stunned in front of them, the others really didn’t seem concerned. (I imagine they were too busy puzzling over the peeping Tom in the corner.) The kill happens so fast that it is seconds between the stun and the throat-cutting and death. I can think of far worse ways to go. (I am not advocating cannibalism.)

The scale of the deaths of the cattle is greater. Cattle are huge. Again, all I saw was respect, a swift death for each animal and an extremely efficient butchering process. The slaughtermen are raised up on platforms to work, because cows are so big. It was amazing to see. Then Clive and I journeyed round to see the living animals.

Stress makes animals unhappy. Pre-death stress makes meat taste sour due to hormone releases. For both of these reasons, great pains have been taken to ensure that the animals are kept as calm as possible before they die. I saw the guys checking ear-tags as gently as they could to minimise upset. It is also the reason that stock animals have months if not years in the Penny fields before being slaughtered, so that they can recover from quite long journeys from the farms they were born on. I also saw the cattle truck John Penny has. It is plush. I wouldn’t mind a ride in it.

I choose to eat meat. I choose not to shy away from where it comes from. To me, it is a case of being honest with myself and thinking about the factors behind what I eat that I find it important. I think sustainability is important and animal welfare. The journey of this year has been about trying to renege my ‘offal debt’ and make up for a lifetime of not eating animals in a holistic manner. If you asked yourself the honest question of ‘do you trust where your meat comes from?’ can you say yes?

I’m not perfect, so my answer would be No. Sometimes I eat sausages from the ‘Spoon at the end of the road. They probably contain more mechanically recovered meat than anything else. I am trying though. What is great to see is that at the other end of the food chain, much greater efforts are being made to look after animals to a high standard and deliver a quality product.

I said to Kate (slightly dazed at the end of a long morning): “That was really beautiful”. It is. From the rhythms of the slaughtermen amongst the machinery to the cows chewing cud in the fields behind, there is a lot to be said for visiting where food you eat is produced and seeing that other people put as much care and respect into it, as you would  like to imagine.

So I’m the Sun today …

1 Aug

Only the coolest people get to be in the Sun. Obvs!

Here’s a link to the article in the Sun about what I’ve been up to this year

Venison Liver a la Hermes Diaktoros …

20 Jun

Have you ever done this thing where you read in a novel what somebody is eating and you immediately want to have that for yourself? That you were licking lips while you heard the descriptions, and your stomach started to rumble.

I did.

Hermes Diaktoros is a Greek detective, written by Anne Zouroudi*, who solves crimes in a variety of settings around the Aegean. If you’ve not read them, DO. They are really good. I’m saving at the moment to get the newest one on my kindle. But, this is not a book reviewing place.

The description I’m talking about comes from The Whispers of Nemesis, where Hermes and a taxi-driver called Hassan are sharing a plate of goat liver:

It was, as Hassan had said, a fresh, well-flavoured mouthful: a touch of pink at the centre, the onions soft and flavoursome, the whole made interesting with a scattering of thyme.

Not only is it interesting to me as it shows a Greek take on liver and onions. It also talks about liver cooked in a sensitive way. And thyme is my favourite herb.

I didn’t have any goat liver, but I did get some venison liver a while ago, and was inspired to try and feel a bit Greek (but without the murders) in Beeston.

I floured the liver, pan fried it for a couple of minutes each side and served it on top of two potato farls (a lot of my family is Irish too), a bit of Greek salad and LOADS of fresh thyme. It was super tasty.

Have cooked something from a novel? What are your favourite food novels?

I’ve not read any James Joyce (the shame) but I know he’s all over the offal. I know this because my very supportive godmother posted this:

“Mr. Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls”

Then there was an interessting discussion about how offal because part of national cuisine, when a country has a high level of meat export. In this case, beef and lamb cuts exported to the British Army from Ireland. Just leaving the trotters and chitterlings behind.

Who says offal isn’t political?

*she is a second cousin of the Barnsdale branch of our family. That’s by the by.

Lamb’s Liver and Orange?

6 Jun

This is a recipe I stole off of Nigel Slater. You can find it here. The title there is Lamb’s Liver with onion and Seville orange relish. Or as I realise now Marmalade Liver. Paddington would like that?

I was staying at my lovely Mum’s and she ever-so-thoughtfully bought us some lamb liver (which is the only offal me, Mum and my brother like). I could have just dusted it in flour and cooked it simply, but to be honest I’ve had quite a lot of floured offal in the past few months, so wanted to fancy it up a bit.

Unlike the modest beginning of this post. It is actually a pretty delicious recipe. So if you’re cooking liver, give it a go.

You will need:

Lamb’s liver for 3. Also salt and pepper, fresh sage leaves and 1 tsp mustard seeds.

4 onions, 25g butter, 2 tbsp olive oil, 1 orange (preferably Seville) zested and juiced (you add the zest and jucie, not the whole fruit), 1tbsp cider vinegar, 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar, 6 prunes chopped

  1. Cut the onions into quarters or rings and cook slowly for half an hours in the butter and oil so they go lovely and soft and gooey.

    You can see I mixed it with using red and white. Danger!

  2. While that’s going on put some salt, your mustard seeds, some peppercorns and your lovely fresh sage in your pestle and give it a bash.
  3. When the onions are as soft as you want, basically add the rest of the ingredients. Originally I used prunes and honey, but that was a bit too sweet. So don’t use honey. this is the voice of experience. This will be a sauce to go on top of your liver. So keep it warm while you cook your liver.
  4. Season each side of liver with your sage/pestle mix of seasoning. Fry/grill your liver on boths sides on a high heat for 2 minutes each side. I like my liver pink, longer if you don’t.

    Frying one side …

    … frying the other

  5. Serve with some nice vegetables and enjoy. I dry-fried some extra sage leaves to use as a garnish. Posh!

    our lovely Emma Birdgewater strewn table!

    My plate

    Mr Pink Liver!

    Fakenham Flollop for Pudding?

I would definitely recommend broadening your offal horizons. Get some liver down you! This Jimmy’s Farm or whatever programme (I’ve not seen it, just followed the resulting twitter threads) seems to have got people talking about offal and whether you should eat it. My biased answer is that yes, you should. It’s lovely if you cook it well. There reasons over ethics and sustainability that I shouldn’t have to say. Mostly I think it’s a matter of respect. If you eat meat, you should respect the animal. That includes eating its organs. Get over your squeamish selves.

The excuse of “It’s societal” is often rolled out. ‘Societal’ gets changed by being PERSONAL and endeavoring to live your life by the ethical standards that you choose. And that stands if you’re vegan, or meatatarian, or offaltarian, or only eat balloons. Once you consider what your own standards actually are, your own choices become much clearer. Just give it some thought …