Less and Better? Episode 8: A Compass not a Map

Less and Better? Episode 8: A Compass not a Map 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 this final episode, co-hosts Katie Revell and Olivia Oldham reflect on everything they’ve heard over the course of the series, thinking about what they personally have learned and considering what common ground has been found amongst the values and priorities of everyone they’ve spoken to.

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.

Episode Transcript:

Katie Revell 0:03
Less and better, Episode Eight, a compass, not a map. I’m Katie Revell.

Olivia Oldham 0:10
I’m Olivia Oldham.

Katie Revell 0:13
It seems like understanding less and better meat, what it could mean and what we think it should mean, It’s even more complex than we’d realised when we first set out to make this series. As we’ve said, again, and again, working out what we think the right thing to do is, it depends fundamentally on what we decide to prioritise, what we think is important.

Olivia Oldham 0:38
In this final episode, we’re reflecting on everything we’ve heard over the past seven episodes, we’ll be thinking about what we personally have learned from everyone we’ve spoken to. We’ll be sharing our unanswered questions, because, of course, we still have so many. And we’ll be looking ahead trying to describe our own visions of what a less and better future could look like.

Katie Revell 1:10
No doubt, if we put everyone we’ve spoken to in a room together, there’d be plenty of disagreements. But what might they be able to agree on?

Olivia Oldham 1:20
We do think there’s some common ground some pretty fundamental shared principles. Across our conversations, people agreed that any future of less than better meat should uplift ecological sustainability, and respect the inherent value of non human life, that it should recognise our entanglement and interdependence with each other, and with other living things, that everyone should have a say in deciding what less and better meat might mean, and that it should prioritise justice and fairness for all. Could these principles be a starting point, a way to begin to move the conversation forward.

Elise Wach 2:07
The like, aim would be that the food is produced in a way that is either, you know, maintaining ecosystems or enabling them to flourish even more.

Speaker 1 2:19
I think we need to humbly focus on studying natural cycles, and how to harness them. If you produce something in a way that is damaging to the environment, or to animals or to public health or to waterways, or whatever that should be factored into the price of what you produce.

Andrew Barber 2:40
What you’re wanting to do is have a food system that does minimum harm and maximum good, both to the world we live in, the animals and plants it and share it with us and the people who consume and who produce.

Molly Vasanthakumar 2:54
One of the key things would be kindness, when it comes to the way that we treat livestock, the way that we kind of view them, I don’t believe that it’s kind and compassionate.

Nikki Yoxall 3:05
I think care is so important, whether it’s care for animals care for people, places, plants, systems, processes, like just being intentional. And mindful.

Sara Moon 3:20
For me it’s about relationships, to just like really know where our food comes from, like, the land, and you know, the people who are farming it.

Hibba Mazhary 3:31
The consumer being connected with the different stakeholders earlier on in the food chain, animals and humans, everyone who’s been involved up until that point to produce whatever the food product is, at the end.

Samson Hart 3:49
Just remembering that we’re connected, I think feels essential.

James Yoxall 3:52
I guess it’s a certain interconnectedness. Recognising everything outside of our homes as kin.

Molly Vasanthakumar 4:00
Not viewing our natural resources as commodities, and recognising their value in itself.

Alex Saffron 4:07
Fundamentally, it would be about shifting food production from producing profits and money towards what we actually want, like what is it we need to eat? What is a healthy ecological sustainable diet?

Colin Russell 4:19
It’s too much about numbers and quantities and pounds and finances. Everything stems from the soil, absolutely everything. All life is based on it, we would die without it.

Samson Hart 4:33
We need to radically shift our food system from the capitalist extractive form of food production, that essentially it still prevails even though we know that that needs to change.

Elise Wach 4:47
Really prioritising what we need to be producing in order to feed ourselves rather than, you know what we can produce for a commercial return.

Hibba Mazhary 4:58
Different people have have different constraints, and may not be able to live up to what the ideal consumption is.

Alex Saffron 5:07
We’re all consumers. So we all have a stake in this food system. And we’re all kind of struggling to keep up with rising costs of food that needs the universality of access to food based on nutrition and ecology, not based on how much money you’ve got.

Dora Taylor 5:23
Everybody should have access to food that is good for them, and also grown or farmed in a way that is good for the environment, people shouldn’t be forced to choose food that is worse for the environment, because it’s cheaper.

Hibba Mazhary 5:40
I think that a food system should be community owned and community led.

Alex Saffron 5:47
Rather than markets sort of dictating what should and shouldn’t happen, we actually have like democratic processes that start to work out what our food system should look like, based on current ecological realities.

Katie Revell 6:04
It feels like these principles could help us navigate towards our own vision of what lesson better meat could be. But we still have plenty of questions that we don’t know the answers to.

Olivia Oldham 6:18
One of the things I still feel most conflicted about is the question of killing animals. Can it really be right? Or maybe more specifically, is there really any meat available to me where the killing has been done in a way that is right?

Katie Revell 6:41
And I suppose what that means to you for that to have been done in a way? That’s right. I mean, I think this is a point that I’m still struggling with as well, I wonder whether better is really the best that we can hope for, in some ways. I don’t know if I can fully square, the idea that we’ve heard about of honouring an animal as a sentient being as a being that has, who has thoughts on relationships, maybe even imagination, I don’t know if I can ever square that idea, with the idea of killing that animal so I can eat its flesh. But certainly for me, if I if I am going to continue eating meat, then I think I’d prefer to feel a bit uncomfortable. If I didn’t feel at all uncomfortable for me, that would suggest that I’m just not thinking about it enough. And maybe that makes me a hypocrite, I think it probably does, in some ways. At this point, given everything we’ve heard, it does feel strange that I know, really quite a lot about how the animals I eat, how they’ve spent their lives. But I really know nothing about how those lives ended about how they were killed, where they were killed, what kind of a place it was what the process was. So that’s something I think I would like to know more about.

Olivia Oldham 8:14
Yeah, definitely. I agree with you that the better part is particularly relevant here. But I also think that for me, it seems to be so tangled up with the less part of all of this, because from everything we’ve heard, and everything we’ve learned, it seems difficult to imagine a good death, whatever that might be. But if such a thing exists, if if, you know, killing, in a way that honours the life of the animal in a way that is spiritually or deeply, emotionally connected to the act of killing, you know, all of those things that might make up a good death. I don’t see how they can be done at a large scale, I don’t see how they can be done you know, so frequently or so with the kind of disregard for those kinds of slow, conscious, attentive elements that seem to be required for a good death because you can’t have those elements when the scale gets too big. And so I really, more than any other aspect of the issue, I feel strongly that what might limit scale is this, is making sure that if we’re taking the lives of animals, that it’s done in a way that respects the animal.

Katie Revell 9:56
And I think in a way the other side of that is the reality of it for the people involved, what is the impact on the people doing the work on the people handling the animals on the people carrying out that killing? Is it possible for someone to do that on an industrial scale, and to be able to do it in a way that, you know, to the greatest extent possible protects their health, physical health, mental health, emotional health? And so I think there’s a direct relationship there between the experience of the animal and the experience of the person.

Olivia Oldham 10:36
Another thing that I think I’ll be thinking about a lot more, is that question of, you know, what is this land good for? And why do we think that? I think the binary that we talked about way back in episode four between sort of farmed and wild landscapes or land sparing and land sharing, I just still find that such a difficult conversation, I think about all of the places that I love most back home in New Zealand, and they’re all beautiful areas of bush, not farmed landscapes. And I feel sad thinking that there used to be beautiful bush in the UK, too. And there still are some fragments left. And it makes me sad that it feels so hard to even contemplate what it might look like, in some places to bring that landscape, those ecosystems, the different social relations to nature that they might entail. It feels so hard to even think about what bringing that back might look like. Why can’t we think about that, beyond just it being financialized into carbon credits or nature based solutions? Like why couldn’t these diverse landscapes be supported for what they are and for what they give us? And really the same question for beautiful multifunctional agro ecosystems like, you know, why can we only imagine them existing and being viable and lasting in the landscape if they can turn a profit?

Katie Revell 12:28
Something I still have questions about is the whole question of lab based approaches to meat on to protein generally, my view has changed somewhat in the sense that I’m a lot less squeamish, I would say about these technologies, I have less of that kind of knee jerk ickiness that I maybe had, before we started working on this series. And I think especially, for example, having having spoken to Illtud, I can see better now how those kinds of technologies might be able to fit into a less and better meat future. But I do still have some fundamental questions about them that are much less about the technology actually, and much more about those bigger questions of power and control, and transparency, the questions of who owns these technologies? Who owns the patents? Are they patented? Who owns the facilities? Who has access to the facilities? How much are we able to know about how they work? And yeah, is it feasible for for them to exist at a scale where the people who are eating the products can actually understand how they were produced and have some sort of relationship with them, which I think is really important. The overarching question, and all of that, for me is who ultimately is benefiting? And I think, for me, that’s really the same question that we need to apply to other approaches to production as well. And generally, to the question of how we use our limited resources, who’s benefiting you?

Olivia Oldham 14:10
Yeah absolutely. There’s, for me is like another really huge area of uncertainty. That remains for me, technologies like what we’ve heard about from elected but also some of the other ones, we haven’t spoken about the various forms of cultured meat cultured protein, you know, can they be separated from existing social relations of extraction and exploitation? One – is that even possible, or are they just too deeply entangled? And if they can be separated, if if it is possible to imagine these technologies existing in a totally different social, economic, political context and in different relations, then what is their role in the future of food that’s fair and sustainable and more generally oriented towards human and non human flourishing? I think that they can have a role. But I think I need to answer for myself the question of whether they can be disentangled from existing power relations first, before I can move on to thinking about how they might fit in a different set of relations.

Katie Revell 15:41
Another really big question for me is the whole question of food justice. And I think, at this point, I feel even more strongly than I did beforehand that we have to understand access to food, and that includes meat as a right not something that you have to earn. And I think that means decommodifying food. But obviously, that feels absolutely massive. I think there are kind of existing glimmers of people trying to do that within the constraints of the existing system. And we’ve spoken to a lot of them in this series. But as we’ve discussed, we’re so so constrained by our current political, economic, and cultural reality as well. So that’s a big unanswered question for me is how do we get there? Elise Wach she was talking about past land relations on she made the point that, you know, land used to be organised to make sure that everyone had enough to eat. It seems like such a no brainer. But we’re so far away from that, so yeah, I think a big question that comes out of that, for me is if we think less and better, is the way to go. How can we pursue that without just entrenching existing inequalities and amplifying the existing situation where good meat or bad or meat, however we define that, you know, for me, that would be meat that embodies the values that we’ve talked about? So things like environmental integrity, respect for the animals and the people involved? How can we do that without making it so expensive that it’s just an accessible to everyone, but a very privileged few people? And I don’t know what the answer is to that question.

Olivia Oldham 17:35
Well, I think it comes back to something that we spoke about, back at the beginning of the series, in Episode Two about the difficulty that we feel around the urgency of acting on climate crisis on the biodiversity crisis. That, on the one hand, absolutely, it’s deeply urgent. But on the other hand, if we want to build a better world, we also have to take the time to think about these deeper questions of values and social relations and, and all the different things that we’ve spoken about throughout this series of you know, what lies beneath the surface. And so I think there’s a risk that less and better, as an idea as a vision, that that gets reduced to just a question of urgent action on environmental destruction. And I think it is that question, but I think, from my perspective, if we allow less and better to become so one dimensional, then it risks doing all of those things that you’ve described. And so I think that it’s really important to me to maintain the focus on justice, and fairness, so that less and better can be a meaningful starting point for a vision of a better food future.

Katie Revell 19:20
Even though there’s still a lot we’re unsure about making this series has helped both of us in different ways to build a clearer vision of what lesson better meat means to us. So what might the future look like? I know that some of the people we’ve spoken to aren’t necessarily on board with the less part of it. Personally, I do think less meat is necessary. Certainly, if we’re understanding that on a national scale or global scale, if we apply the values that we’ve talked about, I don’t think industrialised animal agriculture can be justified. That’s the conclusion I’ve come to, I don’t think it can be justified on environmental grounds on animal welfare grounds worker welfare grounds, health grounds, ethical grounds. And if that is the case, then I think what has to follow from that is that we have to eat less meat. But I think a really important point for me there is that less has to mean rebalancing. So in this less and better meat future, I think there probably could, and there probably should be some people, if they want to, there should be some people eating more meat than they do at the moment, there should be some people eating a lot less, I think it’s really tricky, if less than better is framed only as an imperative for consumers, for eaters, because if, if you’re already in a position where you’re just struggling to afford food, you’re certainly not gonna be able to afford better food. And the idea of cutting down the idea of eating less is not going to make sense. So I think, I think in my, my vision of less and better, it would require us to reframe it. So it’s really clear that the burden of responsibility to make better individual choices that that isn’t equally shared between all members of society. I think it means that those of us who are in a position to choose to eat less and better that we are encouraged and were empowered, and maybe we’re pressured as well to make that choice. But crucially, that that doesn’t become a reason to judge those people who aren’t able to make that choice. I think the better part of less and better, is really tricky. But I do think focusing on values, as we’ve tried to do, I do think that might be really helpful. There was an analogy you mentioned, I think way back in episode one, about a compass. So rather than trying to draw a map to show us the way, it’s about building a compass, that can guide us, at least having some means of finding a sense of direction, in our thoughts and in our options. And, again, to come back to one of the questions I had about who’s benefiting here. I think in all of this, it’s so so important to keep asking, whose interests is this serving? And I think that question should be applied to any proposed solution. And again, it’s about getting beyond that surface level, it’s about getting beyond the specifics of a technology or approach to the underlying economic logic. And I think there’s a lot of dishonesty and a lot of cynicism in the market in both of meats, and of so called meat alternatives. A lot of these alternative products are produced by exactly the same companies that also produce industrial meat products. So there’s really not anything radical or anything truly alternative about them. So yeah, I think as part of that compass, or maybe our to extend the metaphor, maybe our, you know, north star has to be whose interests is the serving, I think, I think that’s something that is core, certainly, to my vision of how we might work towards lesson better. I think I also really want to highlight how much respect I have for the people that we’ve spoken to for this series. Whatever their view, and whatever their approach to their work, I don’t think cynical is a word that would apply to any of them. I think the producers that we’ve spoken to the ones that are producing meat, and the ones who aren’t, my impression certainly is that they’re all driven, first and foremost by values other than nonprofit. And it’s really, really frustrating. It’s infuriating that it’s not easier for them to make a living doing what they do, and that they’re not celebrated and supported more. I think in my vision of less than better, they would be celebrated, they would be recognised and supported more.

Olivia Oldham 24:14
Yeah I think you have a much more maybe coherent vision of of what a lesson better meet future might look like. In every episode, I think what I come out of it, thinking is that I am resoundingly in favour of needing to eat less meat for all those reasons you mentioned. And of course, that takes into account all of the caveats that you mentioned, and some people already do eat very little or none. But I think we need to be eating much less meat. And instead, our diets would rely much more heavily on pulses and legumes and all the wonderful plants that Pete either told us about. And my vision of a lesson better meat future, I would most love to see, the food system transformed so that it’s no longer based around commodities. And that’s not necessarily a comment about scale, I think we can have lots of different scales of production depending on what’s needed and what our values require. But I don’t think it’s right for people only to access good meat, or good food, if they can afford it. I don’t think it’s right for farmers to only be able to produce in ways that are good for the planet, and for their own well being and for the well being of the animals, if they can make enough money out of it. I don’t think it’s right, that land is almost always a speculative private asset, that it’s used and abused, in the name of enriching its owner. So my vision really is for a future where food and meat or non meat proteins is treated like something that as human beings who are alive, we are entitled to continue living and to live a good life and a dignified life and a healthy life and a happy life. My vision, is of a future where we’ve moved beyond the idea that land is a private commodity, that its purpose is to benefit and enrich its singular owner. And I really think I really truly believe that both less and better can flow from there.

What’s your vision?

Speaker 2 27:09
I can see a future where maybe most people eating plant based meat alternatives on a day to day basis or lab grown meat. But then there are cheeses or like milks and then meat as well, that come from smallholdings. The animals are extremely well looked after they’re sustainable, and it is a luxury product.

Speaker 3 27:31
People would have more of an understanding where their food came from. Because I think with that type of understanding, you appreciate that it’s finite, and you appreciate how much energy and effort goes into every single bit of food that you consume. And I think you would end up being more mindful in your consumption as a result, and people wouldn’t eat meat, at all.

Molly Vasanthakumar 27:57
The way I would love our food system to look would be to have the United Kingdom as an area where we’re growing large amounts of plants on relatively small areas, that we wouldn’t have livestock, and that we’d be leaving our kind of upland and marginal areas for biodiversity, we’d have you know, reintroduction of a lot of the species that we’ve lost, and that we would really be concentrating food for us on a small area, and then trying to let nature take its course.

Raymond Pierre Humbert 28:24
I would actually get rid of deforestation to produce pasture and try to roll back pasture in places where it could revert to peat land, or forest. And then with whatever remaining pasture we just have happy cows and happy chickens regeneratively produced.

Nikki Yoxall 28:47
Our statement of purpose is to facilitate abundance and diversity to nourish our community. And so the values there are diversity, abundance, nourishment, and community. If we could have a food system that ticks off those four, that’d be great. That’d be a good starting place.

Speaker 4 29:03
It should be transparent in livestock farming, and growing vegetables from start to finish. A person could go to a supermarket and buy a slab of meat, they’re not even thinking how that whole process went through the eating that but when you talk to them about it, how they’re reared, how they go for slaughter, how they’re killed. If general public can understand that and see that then they can make a decision whether to eat plant based diet or still sit and eat meat.

Sara Moon 29:32
Think we live in like a deeply like death phobic culture, we’re afraid of death, we push it away. And I think that’s very true in our food system as well. I think to like enhance the like awareness and understanding of like, how food is grown, how animals are like, you know, tended what it means to care for animals and then you know, kill them for me having proximity to the life and death processes that are so part of life that really I think To transform the ways that we relate to food and farming, but also just to each other, and our communities and the lives that we lead.

Elise Wach 30:09
I think it’s just important to acknowledge that we’re so far away from the food systems that we need that it will take some time to transition. And that can’t be an overnight transition. How you get those in other question, but things like you know, having more equitable access to land, and more skill development in ecological land management and ecological food production.

Pietro Ianetta 30:35
I’d like to see more community growing in urban areas that will just increase awareness of pulses, and legumes, community kitchens, where people can reinvigorate food culture, because food culture is being eroded. I’m also given a lot of hope by farmers that are starting with, you know, short value chains, connecting with consumers. It’s a bottom up approach, if you like, to the to the problem. We’ve been waiting for the topdowfix for quite a while. So let’s try the bottom up, please. I don’t think there’s there’s one quick fix, I think multifunctional approach is needed and throwing everything at it from all angles.

Samson Hart 31:16
We need to have a system that looks at land, beyond ownership beyond the private property, like we need to really imagine a way in which people do want to be living in relationship with land can do that. And that land isn’t some kind of tax haven is all of our collective birthright. Anyone who lives at all deserves to have a deep relationship with land.

Divya Veluguri 31:36
A food system that values the natural resources that are fundamental to how we produce food, be it soil, the water, but also human labour, the welfare of the farmers that produce this food. But then recognising that valuing all of these things at whatever the market price might be, might make food inaccessible to a lot of consumers, I think, if we’ve learned anything in the last 50, 60 years, is that just producing more food is not solving issues of food security, and that it’s a distribution problem. That being said, solving the problem of access to healthy, nutritious food is also the problem of solving global inequality and poverty. But I think specifically for the food system, if we think of food as a social good, that everyone should have access to, then I think the answer is also that producing a lot of cheap food that is not nutritious is not solving anyone’s problem either on the producer and the consumer. And, and so I think like a food system that is built on the principles of food sovereignty is the only answer in ensuring justice at both ends of the spectrum.

Sara Moon 32:57
Passover is this time when we are remembering the Exodus and like liberation from slavery in Egypt, you know, the leaders of that revolution, of that liberation movement, were shepherds, you know, and we were asking, why would people who are close to animals and close to the land, be the ones to like lead people in revolution, it feels like an important memory to muster. This is in all of our ancestral memories like this is what is possible through farming, like stirring the possibilities of liberatory struggle and deep connection. There’s so many incredible farmers and farm workers who are doing that already. And I think you know, more and more of us can get there.

We have the food system of our dreams, it just needs to be allowed to flourish.

Katie Revell 33:59
Thanks for listening. You can find a transcript of this episode and links to relevant resources on Farmerama website.

Olivia Oldham 34:05
If you value what we do at Farmerama, please consider supporting us on Patreon.

Katie Revell 34:12
Less and better, is researched, produced and edited by me Katie Revell, and me Olivia Oldham with the support of executive producer Jo Barrett.

Olivia Oldham 34:23
In this episode, we heard the voices of Chris, Elise, Andrew, Molly, Nikki, Sara,

Katie Revell 34:31
Hibba, Samson, James, Alex, Colin, Dora, Edwin Raymond, TJ, Ellie, Kumar, Pete and Divya.

Olivia Oldham 34:43
Our series music is by Alex Batchelor.

Katie Revell 34:46
And our artwork is by Yagoda Sadowska.

Olivia Oldham 34:49
Thanks to the rest of the Farmerama team, Dora Taylor, Annie Landless, Eliza Jenkins and Lucy Fisher.

Katie Revell 34:56
Less and better was made possible thanks to generous funding for The Roddick foundation and the A Team Foundation.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai