Less and Better? Episode 5: Healthy Eating, Healthy Producing

Less and Better? Episode 5: Healthy Eating, Healthy Producing 150 150 Farmerama Radio

What do we do about meat? With this urgent question as its starting point, this series seeks to move beyond polarised debate and identify key questions and shared values to help us build a better meat future for all.

In episode 5, co-hosts Katie Revell and Olivia Oldham ask: does a future of ‘less and better’ meat also mean a healthier future? They speak to researchers, farmers and those who follow meat-free diets, to explore how what we eat interacts with the physical, mental, spiritual, and collective health of both consumers and food producers.

This episode featured the voices of Peter Brooks, Dr Ty Beal, Hibba Mazhary, Divya Veluguri, Dora Taylor, Samson Hart and Sara Moon.

Less and Better? was created thanks to the generous support of The Roddick Foundation and The A Team Foundation. Our series music is made by Alex Bachelor, with artwork by Jagoda Sadowska. The series was researched and produced by Katie Revell and Olivia Oldham, with support from executive producer Jo Barrat. Thanks to the rest of the Farmerama team, Abby Rose, Dora Taylor, Annie Landless, Eliza Jenkins and Lucy Fisher.

If you are interested in the ideas and questions raised in the fifth episode, we’ve linked some further resources below. You’ll also find the transcript to ‘Chicken Shit’, created by Peter Brooks.

  1. What’s the beef with red meat
  2. Friend or Foe? The Role of Animal-Source Foods in Healthy and Environmentally Sustainable Diets
  3. Estimated micronutrient shortfalls of the EAT–Lancet planetary health diet
  4. What share of people say they are vegetarian, vegan, or flexitarian?
  5. Weighing In: Obesity, Food Justice, and the Limits of Capitalism
  6. Confessions of a slaughterhouse worker

Episode Transcript:

Olivia Oldham 00:02
Less and Better, Episode Five, healthy eating, healthy producing. I’m Olivia Oldham. I’m Katie Revell.

Katie Revell 00:15
For many of the people we’ve spoken to for this series, the first thing that less than better meat brings to mind is health. Better as in healthier. But what do we mean by healthier and healthier? For whom? healthier for what? We think these questions are crucial to shaping our understanding of last and better meet. And we’re going to start with a creative exploration of those questions in the form of a piece written by researcher Peter Brooks. It’s called chickenshit or in Welsh ‘cach iar’. In the piece, Peter weaves together his original research with quotes from chicken industry documents, as well as extracts from the poem. We, Wye by Robert Minhinnick. Chickenshit is performed by Peter, along with Josh Dorrington, Danny Prale and Liz McLean. And the poetry is read by Rhys Williams. As you listen, we’d invite you to reflect on this idea of health. How do you understand it in the context of less and better meat? And how could you understand it differently.

Ty Beale 01:32
In a Tesco in Bristol, I find a package chicken breast, the label stamped with a circled 401 for the meat is covered in white lines. These are stripes of fat that have replaced failed muscle fibres triggered by an overload of protein and fat in the factory farm. The industrialization of UK chicken farming began in the 1950s. The meat was and still is marketed as a food that’s low in fat and high in protein. But since then, the fat content of chicken has more than doubled. It now supplies more energy and fat than protein, even without striping. The stamp 4014 places the slaughter butchery and packaging of this chicken in a via foods processing Centre in Hereford. Avara is CO owned by Cargill, who source protein and fat from soybeans grown on plantations in Brazil. It’s a cost effective feed made cheap by historic and ongoing practices of deforestation and dispossession. Soy is exported to Liverpool refined by cargo driven to the river why catchment processed in a virus feed mill and supplied to contracted farms. According to the National egg and poultry awards, one such farm has for sheds the 45,000 birds going Ross 308 broilers under contract for fire foods. Over the last eight crops. The averages were as follows fcr 1.50 EP e f 404 dl w g 63.75 grammes mortality 4.56% growth one Oh 1.37% average agent depletion 35.84 days photographs from inside the farm show waterlines, alternating with feed tubes and suspended yellow pans marked with three red lines. This is the logo of the supplier rocks out according to their user guide.

Unknown Speaker 03:59
The last feeder pan on the line. The control pan is the most important one, it must be emptied first because it starts the next feed supply.

Ty Beale 04:12
Feed flows constantly down the tubes. Aside from during regimented four hour nights. The feed flows because the chickens eat and lights flashed on the feeder less the chickens get distracted. While atmospheric variables are tuned to ensure an even spread of bodies along the line. There are two seasons inside the shed eating and cleaning eating last 35 days as the chicks grow to slaughter weight while still juvenile. The stocking density here is 17 birds per square metre. The maximum distance from water to feed is 4.5 metres. These chickens Ross 308 broilers are supplied by a via Jen via Jen’s breast Muscle myopathy guide describes the effects of white striping. An increase in cooking loss and marinade uptake. A lower shear force, indicating more tend to meet slightly harder and chuyia. Inside the chicken’s chest muscle fibres suffocate and die as they grow quicker than the birds blood supply. sudden movements can tear tissue. Both leave gaps that are filled by inflammation and fat. auto immune responses are triggered causing further injury to muscle. There is no compelling reason why the consumer cannot eat chicken breast with white striping although this will have to be balanced against a loss in broiler performance. This shared houses 42,000 chickens, the whole farm houses 168,012 months 1.2 million lives passed through the factory, accumulating 547 tonnes of protein per year and excreting 35 tonnes of phosphate. There are around 20 million chickens in the Y catchment at any one time. So in theory, it could have hosted 140 million chickens last year. That’s 66,000 tonnes of protein and 4000 tonnes of phosphate

Alex Saffron 06:23
wheels is the shape of an oak leaf. It’s rivers a veins in supernatural greens. The reefs in the river, it’s gravel swales were here before England and Wales

Ty Beale 06:43
turning evermore green with algae blooms and river Why is on the verge of ecological collapse caused by an overload of phosphate. These blooms stuff plants of lights and fish of oxygen, creating frequent but temporary dead zones along the river. Water crowfoot is the rivers Keystone plant species, its tissues become saturated with phosphate inhibiting growth. 95% of water crowfoot plants have disappeared in the past five years, removing shelter for some lives and food for others. The soybean holds phosphate to apply it on plantations in the form of mined and fossil fuel derived fertiliser. Like the white catchment, the rivers and soils of the Brazilian Serato are phosphate dense. While most phosphate enters the White catchments as animal feed the packets and Tesco does not contain phosphates in parts ways with protein and fat in the bodies of chickens. phosphate is not metabolised, but instead excreted. Chips and sawdust mix on the factory floor and are sold on as fertiliser for arable fields.

Alex Saffron 08:00
While while he sips from 1000 wellsprings for every time he does an incantation ceaseless from the source, Delta NIS near Seto come closer, much closer.

Ty Beale 08:17
There are technological and economic restrictions on the transport of ships preventing its export from the catchment. And so the soils of the catchment and accumulate phosphate grass could grow for 10 years on this nutrient density. It’s referred to as legacy phosphate. Phosphate moves with the weather. And as the seasons become more unpredictable, and the weather more intense, more phosphates will be released into the wind, more green more brown. A legacy analogy. The Green River indicates the confluence of supply chains with the cycles of the catchment. In the absence of official monitoring Twitter provides a record of the state of the river. Tracking Changes in colour and smell arranged according to time and space. images show the river becoming more green, more brown for longer each summer. Each year since 2019. The blooms extend further upstream.

Alex Saffron 09:19
This first drop a rice screen that soon becomes a flood. Then as the y UN’s it warns. Both countries are crossed by its courses alkie flows it’s grown Cray and caddis and kingfishers now but venomous the coming vacuum

Ty Beale 09:47
the cargo of our Tasco symbiosis does not operate despite the ecological damage, but because of it. It’s enabled by the flow of the river The metabolic continuity between lives is harnessed so that chicken ship can be disposed of legally and efficiently. It’s offloaded into the supply webs while the next crop accumulates weight in the clean shed cheapened chicken produces inflammation and fat. This is marketed as affordable protein at every body’s expense. The body of the river and the body of the chicken are force fed by nutrient flows. One risks ecological collapse, while the other has collapsed on the factory floor.

Katie Revell 10:49
Over the last three episodes, we’ve explored how the question of meat and its alternatives might be understood in the context of environmental concerns. But as Pete’s piece shows us, the health of our ecosystems, the health of our soils, and our rivers, the health of communities here in the UK, and elsewhere, the health of the animals in the system, all of these are intimately tied to the health of our own bodies when we eat or don’t eat meat.

Olivia Oldham 11:18
So does a future of less and better also mean a healthier future? To work out how we can answer that question. Maybe we first need to change the way we understand health.

Katie Revell 11:31
Yeah, I think maybe especially in this country, we seem to have a culture of being very binary about food in general, labelling food as good or labelling food as bad. And without a huge amount of room for nuance, which I don’t think is very helpful when it comes to understanding what health actually means.

Olivia Oldham 12:05
Vegetarian and vegan diets are often promoted because they’re believed to be healthier than diets containing meat. In particular, eating red meat like beef and lamb and processed meat, like ham or salami is said to increase our risk of a number of illnesses like heart disease and certain kinds of cancer. Meanwhile, replacing meat with plant proteins like lentils, and beans, as well as nuts and seeds, is said to reduce these risks while providing other unique health benefits.

Katie Revell 12:38
There’s also strong pushback on this from people who claim that humans are meant to eat meat that we’ve evolved to eat it. The most famous of these claims comes from advocates of the popular paleo diet, who argue that the healthiest diet is one that contains meat and other animal products, nuts and seeds, fruit and veg, but nothing that people only began to eat after the emergence of farming around 10,000 years ago. This is an extreme version. But the idea that we simply need meat to be healthy, and especially red meat. It’s a common one. As with every aspect of the meat question, debates about this issue often become heated and highly polarised. People’s identities can easily become tied up with the foods they eat, which makes sense, our relationships to food, in general, and to meat in particular, are often deeply emotional. And that’s something that both of us have experienced in different ways.

Olivia Oldham 13:40
I think in our culture, we have a strong association between labelling foods as good and bad, and labelling the people who eat them as good and bad correspondingly. And for me personally, like that kind of moralising is strongly tied into my experiences of really poor mental health, associated with struggling with disordered eating, where my sense of myself and whether or not I was a good person was deeply tied up with what I ate, and whether I was eating good foods or bad foods or the right amount of good foods and bad foods. I feel very strongly that it’s important when having conversations about health and how food impacts our health to, on the one hand, like recognise that talking about health and nutritional terms and talking about nutrition in moral terms, has strong impacts on people’s mental health, in their relationship to eating their relationship to food, their relationship to their own bodies and their sense of self. I guess that’s why I don’t think it’s possible to talk about The health impacts of meat purely from a nutritional perspective, obviously, that is an important part of the puzzle. But it’s really important to take into account that there are many more health implications of what we eat, and how we talk about and think about what we eat beyond just nutritional sufficiency, and our physical health, despite how important those are,

Katie Revell 15:32
Yeah, for sure, I find it really interesting, expanding out this idea of health, because when I think back to, when I switched from being vegetarian to eating meat, it was less to do with my understanding of my own physical health. And it was more to do with what I could maybe describe as my ideas of planetary health. At the time, given that I was living in Scotland, for me, that meant including a small amount of meat in my diet, my understanding was that a lot of Scotland just wasn’t suitable for producing anything but meat. Again, my view of that has changed a little bit now. But that was really the basis for starting to eat some meat, my own personal health, if anything, it’s probably become slightly more of a factor, as my understanding of the complexity of the planetary health side of things has, has changed. You know, like, a lot of women of a similar age, a lot of menstruating people around the world, I know that I tend to have low iron levels, b12, as well, I know that I’m deficient in. And red meat is a good source of both of those. So it would be disingenuous of me to say that that’s not a consideration. When I do choose to eat meat, and especially red meat. Me too. I will go very long periods without eating any meat at all. And then I’ll be like, God, I’m so tired. Maybe I just need steak. We struggled ourselves in different ways, with different health claims around meats and health claims about lentils, beans, and plant based burgers. So we’re going to start in what might seem like the obvious place nutrition.

Olivia Oldham 17:37
Can eating meat be aligned with good nutrition? If so, how much? And what about not eating meat? Can a meat free diet be just as nutritious as one with meat?

Ty Beale 17:49
I get the sort of focus on protein because we do need a certain amount of protein. And that is a key nutrient that I think is important in these foods. It’s just that it is an oversimplification in that each of these foods contains very different nutritional profiles, very different role in diets. And so I think when we’re trying to make decisions about how do we achieve healthy, sustainable diets, I think it’s important to realise that while there are many different ways.

Olivia Oldham 18:23
Ty Beal is a research advisor at the Global Alliance for improved nutrition, a nonprofit organisation that seeks to improve access to healthy, safe and nutritious diets worldwide. Together with other nutritional and environmental scientists, Ty was recently involved in a research project that brought together existing evidence on the health and environmental impacts of animal sourced foods.

Ty Beale 18:47
What we found in general is that animal source foods have a lot of unique properties that plant source foods don’t have so they contain unique essential nutrients or more bioavailable forms of certain nutrients than plant source foods. And they’re particularly important at certain critical life stages, like in early childhood pregnancy, and for older adults.

Katie Revell 19:10
Ty mentions the bioavailability of different nutrients. That means how well nutrients can be absorbed by our bodies. So a food might contain certain nutrients, but that doesn’t automatically mean that our bodies can easily digest them and access their benefits.

Ty Beale 19:26
So the nutrients that are most affected by bioavailability are iron, zinc, and vitamin A. Vitamin A is not as much of a concern worldwide anymore, but iron and zinc are pretty common deficiencies. And when you look at the bioavailability differences across foods, it’s hard to estimate but we do know there’s quite a big difference.

Olivia Oldham 19:51
When it comes to iron. Animal sourced foods contain what’s known as heme iron. Plants on the other hand, only content non-heme iron. Heme iron is much more bioavailable than non-heme iron, meaning it’s easier for our bodies to absorb and make use o f it.

Ty Beale 20:09
The iron in something like beef or ruminant meat is estimated to be about twice as bioavailable compared to a legume, like a bean or lentil.

Olivia Oldham 20:19
And,Pon top of that, plants can also contain anti nutrients. These are compounds that interfere with the absorption of nutrients. Phytates are one kind of anti nutrients that bind to minerals like iron, making it harder for our bodies to absorb and use them.

Ty Beale 20:36
But the implication there is that when you’re on a very highly plant based diet that’s very high in phytate, you actually need to consume more iron and zinc than you would if you are on a diet that contains more animal source foods.

Katie Revell 20:48
Ty and his colleagues recently did a study looking at the nutritional adequacy of the Eat Lancet Commission’s planetary health diet. This diet was presented in a famous and in some circles infamous report that was written by an independent panel of researchers. It set out to present, quote, ‘A global planetary health diet that is healthy for both people and planet.’ And it argues that on a global scale, significant reductions in meat consumption are needed, particularly red meat, and that we should more than double our consumption of foods like nuts and legumes. In their study, Ty and his colleagues found that the Eat Lancet diet would result in shortfalls of micronutrients like iron, and zinc. This was because of the high amounts of phytate and the low amounts of animal source foods that it includes.

Ty Beale 21:36
It’s something that I think we need to pay attention to, because we looked at micronutrient deficiencies around the world, and they’re pretty widespread.

Olivia Oldham 21:43
But, it’s important to point out that Ty and his colleagues also found that eating too much meat was associated with health risks. They didn’t look at all the possible health problems that might result from eating too much meat. But they did come up with some pretty simple guidelines for a healthy meat eating diet. Limit processed meat, moderate unprocessed meat, and moderate saturated fat.

Katie Revell 22:07
Thai and his colleagues certainly did not find in general that people need to be eating meat in order to be healthy. And this reflects the experience of the many people around 8% of the population both in the UK and around the world who identify as either vegan or vegetarian. They find lots of different ways to make sure they’re eating a healthy, balanced diet.

Divya Veluguri 22:31
What do I eat? Genuinely, I am conscious about incorporating more lentils, beans and protein rich foods, eating a lot of fruit and veg that would probably you know, compensate for the fact that I don’t eat meat. I think I have a very balanced diet actually.

Olivia Oldham 22:56
Divya Falcone is a PhD researcher at the University of Edinburgh.

Divya Veluguri 23:00
I’m vegetarian and so eggs and dairy are part of my diet and a significant chunk of the nutrients that that even people consume who might not be vegetarian actually comes from non-meat, animal source products like dairy and eggs. That aside it also makes my life easier that I grew up not thinking of meat as food and so I have the skills and tools in the kitchen that allow me to cook very delicious food without cooking meat. I just know how to, it’s an important skill to have and there’s a learning curve involved with making these foods

Dora Taylor 23:54
There are some kidney beans boiling in the pot. They are for a potato salad. And it’s gonna have like kidney beans and chickpeas in it and fresh herbs.

Katie Revell 24:08
Dora Taylor is a food anthropologist and a chef. She’s also part of the Farmerama team.

Dora Taylor 24:22
already happened once.

Katie Revell 24:28
Dora became a vegetarian in her late teens, and later she became a vegan. When she first stopped eating meat, there were a few reasons behind that decision.

Dora Taylor 24:37
One was that the meat that I was getting at school, I got a bit grossed out by it. It just seemed like it was a kind of mystery object that was being served to me and I kind of just stopped feeling comfortable eating it, but also it was for environmental reasons and wanting to cut down on my kind of individual carbon footprint. And I felt really good not eating meat, so I carried on. And then when I was about 22, I cut out dairy as well. And I found it really frustrating that more people weren’t doing it. And I think the longer that I have been vegan for the more I’ve understood the complexities of, there are lots of different ways that you can use your diet in a positive way. And not eating any meat is not necessarily the only way to have a positive impact. And actually, over the last few years, I’ve also seen the sort of vegan food movement, not being that aware of like the source of the ingredients that they’re using, or like how far they’ve flown, or whether they’re grown with chemicals, or being aware of food waste. So it’s become a bit more complex, I’m still very happy not eating meat and dairy. But I don’t think it’s enough to just do that, I think that all those other things need to be considered as well.

Olivia Oldham 26:17
Not everyone finds it as easy as Dora did to stop eating meat. For people who’ve grown up eating meat and who learn to cook with meat at the centre of the meal, it can be really hard to know where to start with vegetarian or vegan cooking. For those in this situation, plant based so called meat alternatives are available. And they’re often marketed, heavily marketed as direct equivalents to meat. But in terms of nutrition, how accurate is this?

Ty Beale 26:47
There are 1000s of different compounds and foods. So when you analyse those compounds, plant based alternatives compared to an animal source food, actually are more different than they are similar, which is, I think, maybe quite surprising to people because they’re promoted as sort of these are replacements or these are equivalents. Now, it’s not necessarily clear what the health differences are of those because there could be some benefits or some trade offs.

Katie Revell 27:11
These fake meats or meat alternatives tend to be highly processed and industrially manufactured. And while there’s debate about whether the degree of processing is really a useful way of understanding whether or not a food is healthy, it does seem clear that at the very least, these kinds of plant based meat alternatives shouldn’t be seen as a one to one replacement for meat. And arguably, there’s no need for them to be so highly processed.

Dora Taylor 27:38
I think that some of them are quite simple to make, something like tofu, fermenting soybeans and straining it. It’s also something which has been done for hundreds of years in specific cultures and is not something that requires very many ingredients or additives. I think things like tempeh are also relatively straightforward to make and like not that processed and kind of retain a lot of the health benefits of like the original bean, I think that it’s not difficult to get protein from vegetables and pulses and nuts. We don’t have to have these like direct meat alternatives that you swap in for meat.

Olivia Oldham 28:30
For some people like Dora and Divya, not eating meat is an active choice, a choice made for health related religious, cultural or ethical reasons. But for many people, it’s not a choice. It’s an accessibility issue. Meat’s just unavailable or unaffordable. This feels like an important distinction. There’s a big difference between a considered balanced vegetarian or vegan diet, and a diet that’s vegetarian or vegan by necessity. And that might actually benefit at least in nutritional terms from the introduction of some meat.

Katie Revell 29:08
Not everyone is able to access better food, whether it’s meat or foods other than meat, whatever better might look like for them. And these inequalities tend to be impacted by factors like class and race.

Unknown Speaker 29:21
My name is Hibba Mazhary. I’m a part time PhD at the School of Geography in the environment. At the University of Oxford. The focus of my own research is meat consumption, slaughter and identity in the British halal meat industry. And I asked questions like what makes British Muslims’ consumption practices distinctive?

Olivia Oldham 29:43
As part of this research Hibba surveyed British Muslim eaters about their meat consumption patterns.

Unknown Speaker 29:49
British Muslims make up just over 6% of the UK population. And it’s a community that’s also made up of various different ethnic minorities. It’s also a community that is quite economically deprived compared to the national average, worse health outcomes. So these specific cultural, religious and socio economic residences are really important to consider when we’re asking these questions about meat consumption. There were several correlations that I found that were relating to socio-economic status, and how that affects meat consumption decisions. So people with higher household income were willing to pay a higher premium for a free range organic chicken versus those with lower household income. Concerns about sustainability or welfare may be more accessible for those with more disposable income, and of those who had reduced their meat consumption, people with higher household income were more likely to have done so for environmental welfare reasons. Quality animal welfare and sustainability are concerns that went along class lines. The way that a lot of respondents try to reconcile this, this desire to have higher quality meat with financial inaccessibility was, they said, we just have to consume less in order to make it more financially accessible. And we already know that organic meat versus non organic meat in the UK, there’s a price premium. But that’s compounded in the halal meat industry in the UK, because it’s a smaller percentage of the market.

Katie Revell 31:44
Making sure that everyone can eat and eat well, that seems like a crucial part of a lesson better meat future.

Olivia Oldham 31:52
If we want to reorient the food system and towards this simple but surprisingly radical ideal, maybe that requires us to step beyond individual narratives of making healthy food choices. Maybe it’s possible that, as researcher Julie Guthman writes, what needs to be put on the table is not only fresh fruits and vegetables, but capitalism.

Katie Revell 32:17
So yeah, we’ve been talking a lot so far about nutrition, about physical health. That’s obviously really, really important. But that’s not necessarily everything we mean, when we talk about health, or that’s not everything we think it should mean. I think health can, and I think should also be understood, in a much, much wider context, the context of the community, the collective, not just the individual.

Olivia Oldham 32:46
Yeah, yeah, definitely. And I think something really important that a collective understanding of health can do is to help illuminate some of the trade offs that are involved in the choices that we might make around eating meat and not eating meat, there are various trade offs around the health of our ecological communities, you know, choosing to source more of my iron needs from red meat or more of my protein needs from chicken that might involve a trade off with the health of my living environment, whether that’s on a local scale, my local rivers, or a national scale, or even a global climatic scale. But also, in terms of the human communities that I’m part of thinking about health as that collective thing helps to see that there might be trade offs, between me eating more meat, within the boundaries of what’s healthy for me as an individual, and making sure that everyone else has the opportunity to eat some meat, if they want to, in amounts that allow us to remain within kind of global ecological boundaries. I mean, obviously, you know, that’s a very speculative kind of thing. There’s a lot of assumptions there. It’s assuming some kind of imaginary global meat budget, but I think it’s for me, it’s quite a useful thought experiment to help illuminate like, like what’s fair, for collective health, collective good nutrition understood, as you know, the human communities I’m part of, and not prioritising my own individual nutritional needs over everyone else’s. I think also, looking at health as purely individual nutritional issue, obscures the trade offs that might be made with other dimensions of health of other people. In the food system, particularly say workers, so my choice to eat lots of chicken breast, for example, because I think that’s a good way to get lean protein might involve a trade off with the health of workers in an industrial chicken factory.

Katie Revell 35:21
Absolutely. I think if we are going to take this more expansive approach to health, then we also need to be considering that side of things, not just the eating, but the health of the people producing our food. What are the health impacts of working on an intensive Animal Farm? You know, we know that workers in the industrial food system often find themselves in harmful conditions that might be things like being exposed to harmful chemicals or injuries from tools and machinery and lots of other potential risks as well. I think it’s also important that we ask about the health of people who work on less intensive, more extensive, what we might call agro ecological farms, they tend to be less mechanised. They need more human labour, how does how does farming in that way affect people’s health. So maybe if we think about health in more collective terms, it can help us look beyond just the nutritional quality of our diets, to the health of everyone who works to put food on our plates. Maybe less and better meat means caring for the health, not only of food eaters, but also food producers. Alex saffron is doing a PhD at Lancaster University. And he’s also a farmer. He raises cows, pigs and chickens on a small farm in west Wales.

Alex Saffron 36:46
For the last three and a half years, I’ve had long COVID I got COVID pretty early on, I got it early in the March 2020. And basically, I’ve never fully recovered since. So I went from before the pandemic farming five, six days a week playing football three days a week, to now I don’t play football anymore. And I probably can’t farm more than a couple of days a week, I do more admin work now still. But again, that still takes its toll on my energy, I just assumed that I’d have access to the way my body is forever, that I’d always be able to use it how I want that I could push it quite hard. And it just told me that that isn’t the case. So it’s kind of really opened my eyes up to disability and illness and how how that fits in within the farm, it’s often not discussed, its often invisiblized. Disability is a lot more common than I think we all realise. And certainly than I used to realise. And really the the idea of an individual farm where it’s just say you and a partner, children, whatever, that sort of like small family farm model isn’t very sustainable, as soon as someone gets ill or injured. It exposes a vulnerability that you didn’t know you had essentially.

Olivia Oldham 38:05
Very often, farmers, like the rest of us, are dealing with multiple intersecting factors that might impact their ability to keep working in a way that’s healthy and sustainable for them.

Alex Saffron 38:17
It’s not just COVID. So like 18 months ago, and myself and my wife were both diagnosed as autistic and ADHD as well. And like a lot of people who sort of come to that realisation later in life, it often comes from burnout from feeling like I just can’t do this anymore. And we’ve had to basically go through like a whole reappraisal of the farm and our relationship to it and what we need. And we basically found like, it’s not really an option for us to farm in the way we used to, I think some of the draws of farming, for me is that you’re away from the city, so you’re away from a lot of that sensory overload. There’s the routine aspect of it as well, farming really fits that well, that autistic side of wanting the repetition. There was also just the learning aspect, there was so much to learn, that was just never ending, you know, some of the difficulties then around farming and being nuerodivergent – for me anyway, love is around my tendency to burnout. And that stems from the inability to separate from the farm, you know, economic constraints push you to have to work as many hours as you can because, you know, it’s so difficult to try and make enough money farming anyway. And the flip side of that, like enjoyment of learning is like that hyper fixation can come at a cost as well of just it all consumes you and it’s just literally all we did for quite a few years. I feel like now, you know, we can have a healthy relationship to these things. But for us that means farming less and not trying to do it as a full time thing. So we can’t assume that smaller scale, less industrial, more labour intensive farming, the kind of farming that less and better future might rely on and even encourage, we can’t assume that’s necessarily better for the health of those doing the farming.

Olivia Oldham 40:17
This isn’t just an issue for farm owners like Alex either. If less and better meat means a healthier future for the workers who put food on our plates, then that has to include the health of farm workers and other workers across the food chain from slaughterhouse workers to those working in retail.

Katie Revell 40:37
As always, and it feels like this is a bit of a mantra for the whole series. There’s a wider context here. Land ownership, insecure tenure reliance on markets, tiny are often non existent profit margins, the difficulty of supporting multiple people from the income of one farm. This wider context is one reason we think that we need to expand our idea of health. A future of less and better meat surely can’t rely on the people doing the work. The people producing that meat, to exist in a constant cycle of burnout.

Alex Saffron 41:12
For me, it strengthens my move towards believing in more collective farming. I mean, we’ve always, we’ve always been towards that anyway because we’ve always had other people involved with the farm and doing their own things as well. But we’ve all been kind of separate at times as well. And I don’t think that is a sustainable, I don’t think it’s a very enjoyable way to farm anyway.

Olivia Oldham 41:33
So would, for example, more cooperative models make farming in this way more accessible to everyone? And particularly to people with diverse experiences and needs? Might this enable more flexibility for people with different abilities to engage in different kinds of work according to their strengths, as well as allowing space and time for recovery and decompression away from the farm? Of course, this isn’t something that would only benefit people who are neurodivergent, or experiencing long term illness or disability. But maybe by listening to those people, we can find ways to make farming a better, healthier life for everyone.

Katie Revell 42:21
There’s one more element we’d like to explore as we sketch out this more expansive understanding of health, and what that understanding might mean for a future of less and better meat. What role is raising animals, killing animals, eating animals, or indeed actively choosing not to do those things? What role can that play in what we might describe as people’s cultural and spiritual health?

Olivia Oldham 42:45
These cultural practices, they’re a part of what it means to be healthy to be well, that often only exists in community.

Sara Moon 42:53
I’m Sarah. I live in Devon. And I’m currently training to be a Hebrew priest is a practitioner of Jewish earth based spirituality and I co founded a project called Miknaf Ha’aretz. I got involved in food and farming through time spent in Israel, Palestine, and also significantly time spent on a Jewish food and farming fellowship in the States called Adamah. And since then, I’ve been working at different organic farms in the UK and tending my own allotment.

Samson Hart 43:27
I’m Samson, another part or the half of Miknnaf Ha’aretz. I’m also based in South Devon and ten land here, a small kitchen garden but I’ve also been market gardening and working on different farms over the last four or five years.

Katie Revell 43:45
Miknaf Ha’aretz is a collective who describe themselves as Jewish land lovers, land tenders and food growers dedicated to building an earth based radical diasporas Jewish community in the UK. They host retreats, run online courses and organised gatherings. Their understanding of Jewish law and justice is intersectional. And they see themselves as part of the wider land justice movement.

Sara Moon 44:10
You know, as part of my cohort, Hebrew preistess journey, you know, we’re imagining the, like earth based ways of Hebrew female ancestors, lots of which was not necessarily passed down, that we get, you know, perhaps glimpses of in the texts or through archaeology, you know, we don’t necessarily get the details or the stories but through practising the ways of ancestors, we get a glimpse into what lives were like. And over the last couple of years, as I’ve like, been on land and was spending more time you know, around sheep in particular, some things just been growing in me this curiosity of like, what is going on here? There’s some like, deep old connection that I had not even thought of, and then when I’ve like looked into texts, and you know, literally, Judaism was born out of shepherding. It’s like, that’s what our ancestors did. Lots of our rituals and festivals are connected to those ancient farmers and the cycle of their year, basically. So I’ve been really getting curious about that, and wanting to sort of take it out of the abstract or you know, it’s not a symbolic thing. It’s like, what does it actually mean to shepherd and to like tend animals.

Samson Hart 45:25
One of the central kind of ritual objects in Judaism is the shofar is this ram’s horn that you blow at the New Year, and it’s to signify that this moment of renewal, it’s just like a little whisper from the past, maybe to say, like, we’re of the land, you know, we are shepherds, we’re still shepherds, it’s somewhere in us.

Olivia Oldham 45:48
Dietary rules are an important part of many religious traditions. And many of those rules are related to whether and how it’s acceptable to eat different meats. In Judaism, rituals and rules around the slaughter of animals are enshrined in a dietary code known as kosher.

Sara Moon 46:05
Kosher to me was something that I just grew up with a kosher animal is one that you know, choose the cud and has split hooves. And if it’s a fish, it must have fins and scales, so no shellfish, and it has to be killed in a certain way. So something that is kosher would have been supervised. So you would know that, you know, the animal has been killed in that particular way by that person, and also that it obviously fits the criteria of what animal can be eaten, there’s lots more to it as well, you know, the animal mustn’t have any, you know, blemishes, or kind of like open wounds or anything like that. But a lot of the Kashrut is about like, the moment of slaughter and the animal itself.

Samson Hart 46:48
There’s a particular knife that must be used, a very sharp knife. And you know, there’s certain checks that are done, certain blessings are said, and there’s certain moments to honour.

Unknown Speaker 47:00
I think the actual act itself is quite simple. I know it’s like a sharp cut to the neck, it should be like one, one cut. And an important thing is like, for all the blood to be drained, the person who does it, there’s like a training process. So this person is, you know, qualified, trained Shochet. And they’d have, you know, a particular religious, spiritual, you know, background and they’d be trained in what animals would be kosher to kill and eat. You know, I inherited it as like, that’s the best thing. And I didn’t think so much about it until I was in my teens, and I was getting more involved in environmentalism and sort of questioning the industrialised practices of farming. I was just really starting to question, you know, animal welfare ethics, and, you know, was posing these questions a lot to the rabbis in my community who were like, it just doesn’t matter. You know, Jews are meant to eat meat. And it just doesn’t matter sort of how it gets on your plate. And, in a way, this baffled me, and I just really thought, you know, if this is really what Judaism thinks about eating animals, I just don’t want anything to do with it. And over the years, found different ways of approaching Judaism, and especially approaching like Jewish food and eating animals within Judaism.

Samson Hart 48:28
Very young, you know, one of my siblings became vegetarian, and then we all kind of followed suit in a way that often happens with siblings. So we were definitely asking questions about, you know, what feels right. And then I think, for me, you know, there was a lot of questioning in my being a teenager rejecting a lot of Judaism and finding my own way to my own path and spirituality. And on a personal level, I don’t necessarily trust kosher as enough. In the US, yeah, there are companies, they kind of work with farmers who raise animals on pasture and have them slaughtered in a kosher way. That kind of thing needs to happen, I think. So people who want to have both of those pieces together can.

Katie Revell 49:20
This seems like a really important point. And it brings us back to this whole idea of an expansive, multifaceted understanding of health. As Samson suggests, if we focus on for example, the method of slaughter without considering the wider context, like how the animal was raised, the conditions for the people who raised it on killed it, the environmental impacts of the meat that ends up on the plate, and so on. Then this also risks giving us a really incomplete picture of the true health implications of what we’re eating.

Olivia Oldham 49:53
This notion of cultural and spiritual health, we think this can be relevant even to those of us Those who don’t identify with any particular religious tradition, maybe a better term here might be emotional health. But ultimately, it seems like it’s all about reconnecting with a sense of community around land and food, about reconnecting with the land itself, and with the reality of what it means to tinned animals, and perhaps to eat them.

Katie Revell 50:27
So what does all of this mean for our understanding of how producing an eating meat or not producing and not eating meat? how that relates to health? And how does that inform our developing ideas of what lesson better might mean? Maybe it means looking beyond trying to simplistically label food, whether it’s beef, or beings, pork, or peas as either good or bad. And instead recognising once again, the inevitability of trade offs. The question of what’s healthy can never have a single easy answer on an individual or on a collective level.

Olivia Oldham 51:04
Health isn’t just about our physical well being. It’s also about our emotions, our culture, and our sense of spirituality. If we’re gonna honour health in the way that we produce and eat meat, it’s important that we make room for these cultural and emotional dimensions. And health is also about equity and justice, about making sure we all have enough good food to eat, and that those of us who work to produce that food feel safe, and are well.

Katie Revell 51:36
We’d argue that health also has to be about recognising, honouring, and strengthening our interconnectedness with each other with the animals in our food system, and with the other lives impacted by the system.

Olivia Oldham 51:56
I think this idea of health as so much more expansive, is is really deeply freeing. For me, even just the acknowledgement that like it’s complicated, and that there are no simple answers is incredibly liberating, because then that sort of points me away from feelings of individual guilt, that I still sometimes associate with eating different foods with eating meat. And for me, you know, that feeling of guilt around food is just so, so strongly associated with disordered eating patterns and struggling with mental illness that it really takes me away from the ability to engage with more collective action, or political actions around this stuff. So I think it liberates me to really honour the emotional enjoyment I get from the rare occasions that I do eat meat and, and really helps me to centre and tend to other dimensions of my health. And for me, a really important dimension there is is my health as part of a collective, what I might even call my political health to make up a term.

Katie Revell 53:41
In the next episode, we’ll be grappling with the central but incredibly complicated issue of food justice in relation to less and better meat. Thanks for listening. You can find a transcript of this episode and links to relevant resources on the farmer on the website.

Olivia Oldham 54:02
If you value what we do at Farmerama, please consider supporting us on Patreon.

Katie Revell 54:08
Visit the Farmerama website for a transcript of chickenshit by Peter Brooks, along with images and references. Thanks again to Peter and also to poet Robert Minhinnick, who’s poem features in the

Olivia Oldham 54:23
Thanks also to Josh, Liz and Danny for lending their voices to this piece.

Katie Revell 54:29
Less and better is researched, produced and edited by me, Katie Revell, and me Olivia Oldham with the support of executive producer Jo Barrett. Our series music is by Alex Bachelor, and our artwork is by Yagoda Sadowska.

Olivia Oldham 54:45
Thanks to the rest of the Farmerama team, Dora Taylor, Annie Landless Eliza Jenkins and Lucy Fisher.

Katie Revell 54:52
Less and better was made possible thanks to generous funding from the Roddick Foundation, and the A Team foundation.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

‘Chicken Shit’ Transcript 

Peter 01:31 In a Tesco in Bristol, I find a packaged chicken breast. The label is stamped with a circled “4014”. The meat is covered in white lines. These are stripes of fat that have replaced failed muscle fibres, triggered by an overload of protein and fat in the factory farm.

Peter 01:54 The industrialisation of UK chicken farming began in the 1950s. The meat was, and still is, marketed as a food that’s low in fat and high in protein. But since then, the fat content of chicken has more than doubled. It now supplies more energy and fat than protein, even without striping.

Peter 02:18 The stamp “4014” places the slaughter, butchery, and packaging of this chicken in Avara Foods’ processing centre in Hereford. Avara is co-owned by Cargill, who source protein and fat from soybeans grown on plantations in Brazil. It’s a cost-effective feed made cheap by historic and ongoing practices of deforestation and dispossession. Soy is exported to Liverpool, refined by Cargill, driven to the River Wye catchment, processed in Avara’s feed mill, and supplied to contracted farms.

According to the National Egg and Poultry Awards, one such farm…

Josh 03:01 Has four sheds of 45,000 birds, growing Ross 308 broilers under contract for Avara Foods. Over the last eight crops, the averages were as follows. FCR, 1.50. EPEF, 404. DLWG, 63.75 grams. Mortality, 4.56%. Growth, 101.37%. Average age at depletion, 35.84 days. (National Egg and Poultry Awards 2020)

Peter 03:44 Photographs from inside the farm show water lines alternating with feed tubes and suspended yellow pans marked with three red lines. This is the logo of the supplier, Roxell. According to their user guide…

Liz 03:59 The last feeder pan on the line, the control pan, is the most important one. It must be emptied first because it starts the next feed supply. (Roxell 2013)

Peter 04:13 Feed flows constantly down the tubes, aside from during regimented four-hour nights. The feed flows because the chickens eat, and lights flash on the feeder lest the chickens get distracted, while atmospheric variables are tuned to ensure an even spread of bodies along the line.

Peter 04:31 There are two seasons inside the shed: eating and cleaning. Eating lasts 35 days, as the chicks grow to slaughter weight while still juvenile. The stocking density here is 17 birds per square metre. The maximum distance from water to feed is 4.5 metres. These chickens, Ross 308 broilers, are supplied by Aviagen. Aviagen’s Breast Muscle Myopathy Guide describes the effects of white striping…

Danny 05:04 An increase in cooking loss and marinade uptake. A lower shear force, indicating more tender meat. Slightly harder and chewier. (Aviagen 2019)

Peter 05:15 Inside the chicken’s chest, muscle fibres suffocate and die as they grow quicker than the bird’s blood supply. Sudden movements can tear tissue. Both leave gaps that are filled by inflammation and fat. Autoimmune responses are triggered, causing further injury to muscle. 

Danny 05:33 There is no compelling reason why the consumer cannot eat chicken breast with white striping, although this will have to be balanced against a loss in broiler performance. (Aviagen 2019)

Peter 05:45 This shed houses 42,000 chickens. The whole farm houses 168,000. In 12 months, 1.2 million lives pass through the factory, accumulating 547 tonnes of protein per year, and excreting 35 tonnes of phosphate. There are around 20 million chickens in the Wye catchment at any one time, so in theory it could have hosted 140 million chickens last year. That’s 66,000 tonnes of protein and 4,000 tonnes of phosphate.

Rhys 06:24

Wales is the shape

of an oak leaf,

its rivers are veins,

in supernatural greens 

The reefs in the river, its gravel swales

were here before England and Wales.

(Minhinnick 2023)

Peter 06:44 Turning ever more green with algae blooms, the river Wye is on the verge of ecological collapse. Caused by an overload of phosphate, these blooms starve plants of light and fish of oxygen, creating frequent but temporary dead zones along the river.

Peter 07:01 Water crowfoot is the river’s keystone plant species. Its tissues become saturated with phosphate, inhibiting growth. 95 percent of water crowfoot plants have disappeared in the past five years, removing shelter for some lives and food for others.

Peter 07:24 The soybean holds phosphate too, applied on plantations in the form of mined and fossil fuel-derived fertiliser. Like the Wye catchment, the rivers and soils of the Brazilian Cerrado are phosphate dense.

Peter 07:38 While most phosphate enters the Wye catchment as animal feed, the packet in Tesco does not contain phosphate. It parts ways with protein and fat in the bodies of chickens. Phosphate is not metabolised, but instead excreted. Shit and sawdust mix on the factory floor and are sold on as fertiliser for arable fields. 

Rhys 08:00

while Wye sips

from a thousand wellsprings

for every tide is an incantation

ceaseless from the source…. 

Dewch yn nes…

Nes eto.

Come closer. Much closer.

(Minhinnick 2023)

Peter 08:17 There are technological and economic restrictions on the transport of shit, preventing its export from the catchment. And so the soils of the catchment accumulate phosphate. Grass could grow for ten years on this nutrient density. It’s referred to as legacy phosphate. Phosphate moves with the weather, and as the seasons become more unpredictable, and the weather more intense, more phosphate will be released into the Wye.

Peter 08:45 More green, more brown: a legacy in algae. The green river indicates the confluence of supply chains with the cycles of the catchment. In the absence of official monitoring, Twitter provides a record of the state of the river, tracking changes in colour and smell. Arranged according to time and space, images show the river becoming more green, more brown, for longer, each summer. Each year since 2019, the blooms extend further upstream.

Rhys 09:19 

This first drop

a rice grain that soon becomes a flood.

Then as the Wye wends

it warns.

Both countries are crossed

by its courses,

algae floes its crown,

cray and caddis and kingfishers now

but venomous

the coming vacuum.

(Minhinnick 2023)

Peter 09:47 The Cargill, Avara, Tesco symbiosis does not operate despite the ecological damage, but because of it. It’s enabled by the flow of the river.

Peter 10:03 The metabolic continuity between lives is harnessed so that chicken shit can be disposed of legally and efficiently. It’s offloaded into the supply webs while the next crop accumulates weight in the cleaned shed. Cheapened chicken produces inflammation and fat. This is marketed as affordable protein at every body’s expense.

Peter 10:27 The body of the river and the body of the chicken are force-fed by nutrient flows. One risks ecological collapse, while the other has collapsed on the factory floor.

My thanks to Robert Minhinnick for his permission to use Gwy and for the generosity to allow us to edit the text to suit our audio piece. Gwy has been published in ‘Menhenet’ from Clutag Press, and the poem can be found in full via the Friends of the River Wye.
https://friendsoftheriverwye.org.uk/lift-the-river

Aviagen. 2019. ‘Breast Muscle Myopathies (BMM)’. Handbook. https://eu.aviagen.com/tech-center/.

Minhinnick, Robert. 2023. Menhenet. Clutag Poetry New Series 4. Clutag Press. https://www.clutagpress.com/product/no-4-menhenet-robert-minhinnick/.

National Egg and Poultry Awards. 2020. ‘Grower of the Year’. https://www.nationaleggandpoultryawards.co.uk/2020-winners/grower-of-the-year/.

Roxell. 2013. ‘Minimax Line Use and Assembly Guide’. Instruction Manual.