My experience growing up growing up, it was something that was kind of taken for granted.
I don’t think I ever considered not eating meat.
I think we had some sort of animal every night of the week.
And I was obsessed with McDonald’s when I was a kid and my mum really liked it too.
We inherit a lot of food habits from our parents.
I think our parents’ generation truly believe that humans need red meat that we have this need for animal protein seems that they’re very hard pressed to let go of
My father certainly is the type of person that stipulates a meal must contain potatoes, veg and a meat item.
You know, it’s very normal, it was on the plate at least once a day, sometimes twice a day, maybe even three times a day. Gosh.
I didn’t really start thinking about it myself until I moved out, and I was purchasing meat myself.
Dora Taylor 0:59
I never ate loads of meat growing up because my stepdad is vegetarian and my sister has been vegan from when she was really, really young. I do remember having meat as kind of like a treat, usually like a barbecue used to really enjoy that. And in fact, I still find the smell of barbecuing meat really attractive, even though I don’t eat it anymore.
Olivia Oldham 1:30
Welcome to less and better. Episode One: It’s complicated. I’m Olivia Oldham.
Katie Revell 1:40
Katie Revell. This is a series about meat.
Katie Revell 1:46
Well, sort of. It’s also about beans.
Katie Revell 1:50
It’s about the land. It’s about ecologies. And it’s about the climate.
Olivia Oldham 1:55
It’s about the health of our bodies and minds and of our rivers.
Katie Revell 2:00
It’s about rituals and culture and spirituality. It’s
Olivia Oldham 2:04
about justice and fairness, and capitalism. More
Katie Revell 2:09
than anything, it’s about trying to unpack and untangle what feels like one of the biggest questions of our time. What do we do about meat?
I think most people don’t give it a second thought. You just go to Sainsbury’s and you pick up your thing of mince, or whatever. And don’t think about the impact the meat you will be cooking has had on anything.
You don’t really want to think too much about it. And so you just don’t. And it’s really easy.
Dora Taylor 2:39
I think actually, I’ve thought about it so much more since I’ve stopped eating it.
Olivia Oldham 2:43
We only really meat that we’ve produced or that we know the producer Well,
Feelings can evolve. But at the moment I feel comfortable eating meat. But I think it should be led by what is a healthy diet for the planet.
For a long time. I thought vegetarianism was just like so strange.
So I went vegetarian when I was five years old. It was very simple. Five year old thinking of, I’ve learned that ham is pig and beef is cow. And I like cows and I like lambs and they’re cute.
We had someone come to live with us for a while. And she was vegetarian. And it’s like, oh my gosh, how are we going to survive? What are we going to cook?
There are a lot of people who said it’s very extreme to be vegan. You’re excluding yourself from situations and from community. My friend was the first one to go vegan. And it turned out it wasn’t as hard and exclusionary as everyone said it was gonna be.
It’s always the way once you get into it’s like, oh, this is absolutely no problem. What was the fuss about?
How do I feel about eating meat now, in short, ambivalent, what I do buy is free range or organic if I do buy it, and that’s quite rare. What I struggle with is if I feel I’m imposing on other people, like being hosted at other people’s houses or going to special occasions.
What’s important is that the meat is raised in a healthy way, you know, and healthy in every sense of the word in the way it affects the body, the animal, the surroundings, the planet, everything.
Katie Revell 4:25
I’m Katie Revell. I’m a Podcast producer, and I’m really interested in food and farming and land. I live in Glasgow, but I grew up on the east coast of Scotland in what used to be a fishing town and it still is to a very limited extent. It’s surrounded by the sea and by big arable farms.
Olivia Oldham 4:51
I’m Olivia Oldham. I’m from Aotearoa New Zealand but I’ve spent a lot of my life away from home. And right now I live in Europe. I’m a PHD researcher, a writer and an aspiring farmer. My thesis is about trying to understand the links between land ownership and a more sustainable, fairer food system.
Olivia Oldham 5:19
Do you eat meat?
Katie Revell 5:20
I do eat meat now, which almost feels like quite a strange thing to say, because for a long time I was vegetarian. And that was quite a big part of my identity. Actually, as a young child, I made what was at the time quite straightforward, ethical decision to not eat meat, because I didn’t like the idea of animals being killed for me to eat them. And so I was vegetarian, with some breaks pretty much up to when I went to uni. And that was when I started getting interested in food, politics, and food production, and really thinking about these things in a slightly deeper way. And wondering whether or not eating meat really was the best thing for me to be doing, especially in environmental context, you know, I came to the conclusion that what I should be doing was eating as locally as possible. And given that I was living in Scotland, having the majority of my protein come from things that couldn’t be produced in Scotland, I started to question that. So I made, I guess, in a way, quite a cold, rational decision to start eating meat occasionally. And that was wrapped up in all sorts of all sorts of grand ideas about, you know, only eating meat if I knew where it was coming from and how it been raised. And it was traceable, and doing it very, very consciously. And that’s still what I tried to do, but I’m not consistent. You know, last week, I had a pizza on it had some harm on it. And I didn’t ask where it was from, and I don’t know where it was from. So I’m definitely not consistent with that.
Olivia Oldham 6:55
That’s very relatable. I’m also very inconsistent. I have yeah, a lot of, as you say, kind of grand ideals that I don’t live up to. I go to McDonald’s sometimes, although very rarely. The last time I went to McDonald’s was at a train station in Brussels, about a year ago, on my way home from a conference. And I had a McChicken, which is what I always used to get before I ever really started thinking about food in any sort of critical way when I was a teenager. And it tasted so good. So good. But then I felt so guilty, and I still feel so guilty. So yeah, it can be hard sometimes to be consistent with your ideals. And obviously, that’s a more egregious example, than yours. But yes, I do eat meat, normally, about once a month, maybe even less. And usually, that will be red meat, beef or lamb because I feel somewhat more confident living in Europe, that it won’t have had a completely terrible life. And that it probably hasn’t been fed too much feed. And also because usually the thing that triggers me to actually eat some meat is feeling tired, feeling like I’m running low on iron. But then again, I’m inconsistent. Sometimes I’ll have bacon on a burger, even if I don’t know for sure where it came from.
Katie Revell 8:40
I still have a lot of confusion and a lot of ambivalence. You know, if I’m cooking meat at home, it’s usually mince, or something that doesn’t obviously resemble the bit of the animal that it is. Even though ideally, I’d like to be eating offal, and, you know, kidneys and liver, you know, nose to tail. And I don’t, I really struggle with that. I mean, I live in Scotland, you know, sheep heid broth, not so many generations ago would have been a really common food. And the idea of being served that now is just completely, I mean, it just wouldn’t happen. So, yeah, I think it’s important to acknowledge how much of this is informed by the cultures that we’ve grown up in.
Olivia Oldham 9:34
This series is called less and better. It’s a phrase that’s become increasingly common in debates about meat. And on the face of it, it seems like a pretty simple idea. But is it really?
To me less than better meat means treating meat as a sort of special treat.
Olivia Oldham 9:58
I think yeah, the expectation that people can eat chicken breast four times a week without thinking about the rest of the chicken or thinking about where that chicken has come from, it doesn’t necessarily make sense.
For me, the idea of less than better meat means avoid buying the cheapest meat that you could potentially get in the supermarket, have it in a nice restaurant. And that’s sort of like an experience that maybe you go for, like a few times a year.
I’ve never given it any thought, apart from when I see things about mass meat farming in America, it leaves a bit of a bad taste in the mouth. But I’ve always tried not to think about it just because I like eating meat is a cost thing as well. You just want the cheapest meat, regardless of the quality. And maybe we all should start thinking about eating less, but eating better meat.
Meat itself, I think, is not the question, but rather how meat is raised and how its distributed then becomes the question right? So are we recycling nutrients, are we treating these animals right? Well, so what are the production and distribution systems associated with meat are the bigger questions.
Yes, we do need to eat less meat, but it should be led by how they fit within a whole farming system.
Olivia Oldham 11:12
We have this much land and there’s many people how are we going to feed ourselves? You know, and generally, I think that is with less meat in the Global North. And meat that is produced better for me is yeah, more ecologically sound. And that’s not based on exploiting animals or people.
I’m aware that, you know, George Monbiot will tell you that there’s a much bigger environmental impact there because the resources used to give those animals a good life, you know, sort of carbon intensive in themselves. So there’s an argument to be made, I don’t know if I would make it that kind of factory red meat is more sustainable, you know, but to me, I think the animal welfare side of things weighs too strongly.
Well it is quite dystopian of these big sort of technical food solutions. It feels dystopian, because of how far away from traditional farming, it feels. But then we’re actually quite far away from traditional farming anyway,
I would like to see meat consumption go down to the point where you can actually produce it using regenerative agriculture methods that have a high animal welfare, and that rely on pastures without external inputs, that greatly reduces the livestock production capacity. But that also greatly reduces things like the industrial chicken based pollution of the river Wye.
When you look at the eat less, eat better, there are a lot of members in there who actually aren’t interested in meeting less, they want to eat no meat. So they see it as a stepping stone, not eat less, eat better, eat less then eat nothing.
Olivia Oldham 12:48
I’m personally not totally in agreement with the idea that we need less but better meat, I think we just need more better food. And we need to recognise food for the life giving force that it really is, rather than something that should be traded by people who view it as no different to other kinds of stocks and shares.
Katie Revell 13:12
So the question is partly about whether raising animals for food makes ecological sense. But it’s also about whether it makes sense in terms of our health to eat so much meat
Olivia Oldham 13:27
It’s a tricky one, because nutrition is really hotly contested as that. But in general, my sense is that nutritional consensus is that we should be eating less meat as a society, and particularly less bad to meat.
Flavian Obiero 13:41
Mum would tell me that growing up, you’d slaughter a goat if you’ve got a function or a guest but you wouldn’t just slaughter willy nilly because that chicken gives you eggs to get your protein from the eggs. Why do you need to eat the chicken?
Half the Indian cricket team? They’re vegetarians look at them, they are sprinters.
Katie Revell 13:57
And it’s also a question of whether or not we think it’s right to kill animals for food? And if so, how? And how many? And what kind of lives should we enable farmed animals to have? If we should even farm them at all?
For me, yes, the environment comes into it. But my main priority will always be being vegan for the animals. And so whilst we’re still producing animals, we’re still slaughtering them, to me that we’re not doing enough.
And we can cultivate plant proteins that can act as complete proteins. And so that is the better meat alternative. Really, you can cut out the animal from the whole of the supply chain.
As a people with a sort of nostalgic view of the countryside. Do they want to see a countryside, entirely free of carrots or just with like, a couple of pet cows?
On a personal level I subscribe to like yeah, eating mostly plants. If I’m eating meat, it’s relatively rare and ideally sacred and there’s some kind of honouring of that life and gratitude for that life, I think the closer people get to feeling really that relationship with animals and what goes into killing animals like it will be much easier for them to want to subscribe to less and better meat.
My friend’s nephew, once asked, Does it hurt the animals when they take the meat off? Which is deeply upsetting? But you know, makes your face up to things.
Yeah, I suppose there’s a certain amount of suspension of disbelief or suspension of your ethics. Arguably, the most ethical meat is wild meat like venison, where the animal has lived out his entire life in a natural environment. You know, that’s the least human intervention in the process whatsoever.
Katie Revell 15:50
Another part of lesson better is about fairness. One person’s less might be another person’s more. How do we make sure that everyone has enough good food to eat food that they’ve genuinely chosen?
If it’s left up to money, and what people can afford, how would you achieve that less meat for people without money and, you know, organic food for those with lots of money, like I can easily see how that happens. You could say that’s the path we’re going down, potentially,
I think the cost of living crisis especially has kind of made it quite obvious to me how access to food and quality foods, the disparity is just unbelievable. So it’s easy for me to talk about from a point of privilege.
I would prefer a term of like, we need to moderate meat intake, which means for populations consuming too little, they could increase it and others who are consuming too much could decrease it.
I think it’s absolutely the place to start. Because I think often the conversation is about, we need to stop eating meat to try and save the planet. But then that is responded to with a lot of hate and anger and history of people who are farmers and people who have a culture where eating meat is really important to that food culture. So I think it’s a place to start where it’s accepting that you don’t need to have all or nothing.
It’s recognising different people’s starting points. So it’s from wherever you’re starting. It’s less and better. Yeah, so it makes me feel hopeful. It’s a bit more neutral than saying cut down meat altogether.
I think it’s almost that if you are putting yourself up on a pedestal and saying, I’m perfect, I’m this and this is what’s good, then you will always have people who, for whatever reason are trying to undermine you. The end of the day, it’s not about who’s better. It’s about everyone, hopefully, sharing values of trying to have less harm in the world.
Katie Revell 17:49
Clearly, less and better meat can mean quite different things depending on who you ask. People have different priorities and different motivations. And they’re speaking from dramatically different contexts. So why are we making this series? What are we trying to do with it? Well, we’re confused, and we’re conflicted. And we know a lot of other people are as well. The first thing to say is, we won’t be coming up with any clear cut answers, we won’t be giving you a set of instructions to follow in your own life. Really, this series is about coming up with questions. And in some ways, that might be a bit frustrating. But we also think it’s the most honest, and hopefully the most productive way to move the conversation forward.
Olivia Oldham 18:36
A lot of existing discourse on the meat issue that we see in the press, on social media and in political debates, a lot of it tries to boil the question down to a simple, straightforward, yes or no right or wrong. In the process, it ignores the inherent uncertainties involved. This simplification is often based on the idea that if we allow for all the nuance and complexity, it’s just too confusing and time consuming. The argument is that something needs to change now. So let’s stop mucking around with the details and get on with the radical changes we need to make to reduce methane emissions or eliminate animal suffering. And on one level, we agree these problems are really urgent. But we also have some reservations.
Katie Revell 19:30
The thing about that approach is that it ignores the fact that our ideas of what’s right and wrong are not neutral, objective facts. They’re deeply emotional. They’re value laden, and they’re fundamentally subjective.
Katie Revell 19:42
For a start, less is necessarily relative. In the United States, for example, a recent study showed that around 12% of people eat half of all the beef that’s consumed there. So less than better for people in that top 12% is going to look really different to what it means for everyone else? And how much less is less? It also depends on what goals are most important to you. Not to mention how you quantify them. How much less would be optimal from a climate perspective? What about from the point of view of biodiversity? And what if what you’re most concerned about farmers livelihoods, or the ability of everyone to access nutritious, culturally appropriate food? Even then, things aren’t straightforward. For example, there are lots of different ways of understanding climate impacts, and prioritising biodiversity isn’t simple either. It almost always involves difficult decisions about which non human lives matter most and where.
Katie Revell 20:51
And the same goes for better. For some people, better might mean better tasting. For other people, it might bring to mind images of happy cows and green fields, or gleaming laboratories with no animals in sight. But again, different goals or priorities might come into conflict, what’s better for the climate might be worse for animal welfare. And even when we are clear about what we want to achieve with better meat, there is no silver bullet. There are always complexities and nuances that muddy any idea we might have of a simple solution.
Olivia Oldham 21:33
The idea that there isn’t kind of an obvious right, or wrong answer is not something that I have always been very good at recognising. Back, when I really started to first get interested in food and farming and food politics and animal farming. I had a friend who at a similar time had decided that she was going to become vegan for environmental reasons. At the same time, as I was learning all about how cows and well managed grazing can be, in some circumstances environmentally beneficial. And I remember that we used to get into quite heated discussions about you know, whether or not animal agriculture was good or bad for the environment, at least on my part to being quite Yeah, I guess quite dogmatic about it. Why couldn’t she understand my point, and believe me, which now I look back on as, as you know, exactly the kind of, of discourse that I absolutely hate to see. So you know why I hate going on on social media, because everyone’s just so frustrated at one another, and so angry and talking past one another in so many different ways. So having had that kind of journey, myself, I really wanted to make a different kind of contribution, not one where I can sort of sit safely on the fence and not really pick a side, that’s not what this is about at all. But instead one where I can step away from a kind of battle orientation that seems so pervasive, one where I could kind of take a step back and try to make those kinds of hidden nuances visible.
Katie Revell 23:34
Yeah. Back when I made that kind of conscious decision that yes, I was going to become a meat eater, there would be raised eyebrows and confused looks. And I quite enjoyed being contrarian. And yeah, over time, similarly, I think my views have become less clear. I think, in between the black and the white, there is a whole lot of grey. And I think the trouble with grey is that, on the face of it, it doesn’t seem very exciting. And grey doesn’t translate easily into catchy headlines or Twitter posts. It often seems like debates about the future of meat are really debates about a specific technology or a specific approach to farming, it sort of this technology pitted against this other technology. And I think those conversations are important, but it sometimes seems like they happen to the exclusion of bigger questions, you know, bigger questions about what lies behind those technologies. And I think something we want to try to do this series is get to those bigger questions
Olivia Oldham 24:50
Like climate crisis is a crisis, biodiversity loss is, you know, not waiting around for us to figure out all the details, but at the same time, I do think that focusing too much on the urgency really closes down space to have those kinds of conversations about what’s important. What kind of social relations and economic ideas and politics are behind, you know, solution x or technology y. Not because they’re philosophically interesting. But because they fundamentally shape what world will create with our choices. And if they have embedded in them injustice and exploitation and extraction, then that’s the world we’ll get. And so I think these questions of what lies behind the technologies and approaches is really crucial to have despite the urgency because of how fast the consequences are for the world that we will grow old in and the children of today will grow up in.
Katie Revell 26:17
So yes, when it comes to this big question, the question of whether or not or to what extent we think meat should be part of our diets. On one level, we can think about that by drawing on the facts and figures available to us. Science is a really important part of helping to inform our decisions. But at the end of the day, we can’t just rely on the evidence that science provides us with all the scientific evidence in the world can’t tell us what’s right. What is can’t tell us what should be.
Olivia Oldham 26:51
So how do we navigate through these uncertain waters? Instead of trying to draw a new map to lay out with certainty a new way of viewing the world, we see this series as trying to build a new sort of compass. As we’ve journeyed through making the following seven episodes, we wanted to see if we could find some principles or values that might help us to orientate ourselves when it comes to working out what less and better meat means for us. We know that this compass might not always pointing us in the right direction. It might not always help us to find the right answer. But we hope that it might help us to at least find some of the right questions to ask.
Katie Revell 27:36
This is partly about the choices that we and you make as individuals in our day to day lives, what to eat, where to get it from, if you’re a farmer, how you and what to produce, how to distribute what you produce, how do you decide?
Olivia Oldham 27:52
But it’s also about bigger questions. How can you understand and untangle all the competing stories of meat? What visions of the future of farming animals or not farming them do you think are worth fighting for? Or fighting against?
Katie Revell 28:09
Of course, Olivia and I have got our own opinions. And inevitably, those will be part of the narrative. But we want to leave you with questions that might help you make your own decisions, and to orientate yourself towards your own vision of the future of meat, and what less and better might mean to you?
Olivia Oldham 28:30
Over the rest of the series, we’ll be coming at that question of less and better meat from several different angles. We should point out that this is, of course, a huge subject, there’ll be a lot that we miss out. For one, our focus here is on meat, we won’t really be talking about dairy or other non meat, animal products or fish. And to keep things manageable, we’ve limited our geographical focus to the UK. Although we have done our best to keep in view how decisions made here might impact other parts of the world.
Katie Revell 29:09
In the next episode, we’ll be taking a deeper dive into what some people see as the most important issue when it comes to the future of meat. How can we understand the impact of producing meat on our living environment?
I enjoy consuming meat and I continue to consume more meat than is probably a sensible amount. I think the ubiquity of meat in the foodstuffs available to us probably contributes to that, as does work in a bakery making sausage rolls.
Flavian Obiero 29:45
For me growing up in Kenya, I think I was about 11 or 12. And we’re at my grandmother’s place and it’s around Christmas time and there’s a goat being slaughtered. And I just run off, I was like no I don’t want to see that.
My best friend will never eat lamb I don’t think ever again, because she found out aged eight or something that you know, this was Basil the sheep that she was eating that she’d reered.
I’ve always been a massive carnivore. I’ve watched a few shows on Netflix in the past about veganism and it makes you want to be vegan. But then I don’t want to stop eating meat.
I have been trying to consume more plant source proteins like legumes, nuts and seeds. But I don’t really think the solution is just cut meat out altogether.
The plant based meat was just as yummy. But my favourite meal still is meat and three veg.
I have been almost entirely vegetarian for I don’t know, like, five, six years, when I see there’s adverts for like subscription services for a meat box or whatever. And seeing all this just massive amounts of meat laid out actually kind of makes me feel a bit sick.
I think the danger of taking something away which you really enjoy depriving yourself of that seems with a few friends who have tried to go vegan is that you kind of just give up and then go back onto the meat full time. What works for me is it just a little bit of meat sometimes and make sure it’s good, you know, kind of like the best you can afford really.
A lot of my cooking learning has been around meat, right. And I like the taste. And I like the tradition, all the cuisines I like they involve also, meat.
For me, it’s not destroying communities and cultures where a certain type of meal is so important to someone’s childhood, and it’s nostalgic, and it has all of those associations, but it’s enabling you to have those memories and have that nostalgic engagement with food without harming animals. And to me that’s exciting.
Dora Taylor 31:40
I think the longer that I have been vegan for the more I’ve understood, 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.
Katie Revell 32:05
Thanks for listening. You can find a transcript of this episode and links to relevant resources on the Farmerama website.
Katie Revell 32:12
If you value what we do at Farmerama, please consider supporting us on Patreon. 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,
Katie Revell 32:30
and our artwork is by Jagoda Sadowska.
Olivia Oldham 32:34
In this episode, we heard the voices of Pippa, Matthew R, Lisa, Rafael, Luis, Dora Flavien, Flora, Ross, Ellie, Matthew O, Raymond,
Olivia Oldham 32:49
Nikki, Francisco, Jo, Diviya, Elise, Chris, Andrew, Kumar, Molly, TJ, Samson, Alex, Illtud and Ty.
Olivia Oldham 33:02
Thanks to the rest of the Farmerama team, Dora Taylor, Annie landless Eliza Jenkins and Lucy Fisher. Less and better was made possible thanks to generous funding from The Roddick Foundation and The A Team Foundation.