We’re very lucky here in the heart of rural Devon to have access to local farms and farm shops to buy the meat for Ruth’s Real Food and for our own table. Knowing the “provenance” of your food is, for me, critical when it comes to meat.

I figured years ago that if I wanted to continue eating meat I should face up to the realities of how it’s reared and slaughtered. If animals are being killed for us to eat, then we have a responsibility to provide good welfare and treatment, don’t we? Unfortunately, the industrialisation of farming seems to be gaining ground and this means that welfare is often the lowest priority for businesses.  I considered rearing our own animals once we got dab hands at keeping chickens but, time is short. Then I heard about a new venture called Crediton Pig Club where other like minded people club together to buy a small number of pigs, which are then reared by local smallholders who are paid in pork rather than cash. I joined straight away and invested in half a pig.

Three Little Piggies

The Club purchased six pigs in total to be kept in two separate locations locally. We chose Oxford Sandy and Blacks, a heritage breed which is in danger of dying out as they’re much smaller and with a lot more fat than modern commercial breeds. The weaners were all female which surprised me until I found out that one sow can deliver 30 piglets in a season and, with that number, not all the females will be kept for breeding by small producers.

Our little piggies had a good life, really well cared for and respected by the smallholders and we could see them regularly, which was particularly informative especially for those with children so that they know where their food is coming from. We all learned a lot, in fact, and, Anne, who organised the club, even went with the animals to the abattoir which I admired.

Our lovely local butcher offered to do the butchery for us and, with some trepidation, I completed a cutting list for my half pig. That stretched my knowledge of meat cuts and made me think seriously about not wasting anything of this beast. I was mightily relieved other members volunteered to have the heart and the ears for their pets as I didn’t really want to have to deal with those bits.

Gorgeous roast pork and crackling

Our half pig arrived and we had to dash out and buy an extra freezer from our local Refurnish charity shop. We completely filled this smallish domestic freezer with our meat and have enjoyed more porkie meals than we would have normally over the same period. It is the BEST flavoured pork I’ve ever tasted and that’s down to the higher fat ratio of the breed and, I’m sure, the caring, natural rearing time. I’m afraid our table manners usually go by the board when a beautiful joint is being carved, as we fight over crackling and outside bits! A bit like pigs at a trough.

I read recently that the environmental impact of rearing pigs (and chickens) to eat is much lower than that of beef. For example, “The popular red meat requires 28 times more land to produce than pork or chicken, 11 times more water and results in five times more climate-warming emissions. When compared to staples like potatoes, wheat, and rice, the impact of beef per calorie is even more extreme, requiring 160 times more land and producing 11 times more greenhouse gases.”  [Reference https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jul/21/giving-up-beef-reduce-carbon-footprint-more-than-cars]

So eating more pork turns out to be good for many reasons, more than I envisaged at the time we started. If I could urge you to do one thing differently after reading this, it would be to question where all the meat you’re buying comes from and how it was reared. If you buy from a butcher or farm shop, they’ll be delighted to help I’m sure and, if the meat is from a supermarket and the label doesn’t tell you, ask in store.

All I have left in the freezer now are 2 trotters! I’m determined not to waste them but have rather put off the cooking of them. This year I’ve invested in 3/4 of a pig so soon I’ll have five trotters in the freezer. Pea and Ham soup anyone?