It seems outrageously hypocritical to write a post criticising attitudes towards meat, accompanied by images of, and a recipe for a multi-layered meat feast. From my point of view, it is even more ridiculous to concentrate upon a subject I have put so much effort into not eating for the past few weeks and thus find myself uncontrollably salivating over the keyboard whilst editing said photos. Yet in times where meat is no longer consumed in terms of availability and quality, but in those of cost and quantity; in the context of a rapidly narrowing window of opportunity for a slightly less bleak environment of the future, I felt the urge to offer my humble opinion upon my public platform. And so, in keeping with the imagery and style I aim to maintain on here and so that this blog doesn’t become just a textual rant, I provide my view alongside a sustainable, 100% horse venison crepe lasagna.
As the supermarkets’ inability to act with any grasp on responsibility or sense of moral fibre increases alongside their profits, the horsemeat fiasco has led the British ones to immediately look, as is the trend with such corporations, to anywhere but themselves to place the blame. The unjust pressure they consistently place upon suppliers to conform to their drive for increasingly lower costs seemingly playing a trivial role in the whole thing. And as some shoppers reeled in disgust at the thought of (shock-horror) being lied to by their ‘trusty’ supermarkets, they started to read labels and look up from their processed plates of food to question what they were really throwing down their gullets. The latest consumer statistics show a decrease in processed meat consumption alongside consumer’s level of trust in supermarkets; a rise in sales at local butchers, of meat alternatives such as (the questionable) Quorn; and increased calls to action for a more tightly regulated food industry.
But equally as clouded as the supermarkets’ ethical position may be, and as sinister as the ‘Mafioso’ abattoirs that supply them, is the destructive path down which we as consumers are leading ourselves. I watched an inspiring documentary this week, ‘Surviving Progress’, which I highly recommend to anyone with an interest in our planet and where it is headed. One of the standout moments was David Suzuki explaining our planet as a ‘natural economy’. For the hundreds and thousands of years up until around the 1980s, as humans we lived from the ‘interest’ of the land thus what we consumed was naturally replaced in a relatively harmonious cycle. Yet we have now reached a point where we are delving into the capital of the land and consuming much faster than resources can replenish themselves. With a spiralling world population and the rise of the middle class in some of the world’s most populous nations idealising the destructive Western culture of overconsumption, the demand on a whole multitude of industries has never been greater. At this pivotal time, this insatiable and deeply ingrained desire for more needs to be replaced with a culture of less.
The sad reality is that this objective, this necessity, is seemingly unachievable at any kind of effective scale. Changing that many attitudes to such an extent requires a time scale that is not afforded to us. So my new pledge to eat meat and fish just once a week bought from an independent butcher and fishmonger is completely irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. On a problem of this scale, there is no ‘every little helps’ solution. As items make their way from the supermarket shelves into our packed baskets, we as consumers are voting. We vote for products to survive with their purchase and be discontinued through their lack there of. Thus the horsemeat scandal has been a fantastic and much delayed wake up call for those corporations to which consumers reacted so rapidly to with their purses and wallets.
The fear is that it becomes another short-lived phenomenon. Much as we have seen in the past with consumer reactions to BSE, it doesn’t take long for us to forget and move on, to return and to vote based on the lowest price. It doesn’t take long for their ‘more tightly regulated’ supply chains to slip in salience, so profit margins increase until the whistle is blown on them again. This change requires a rewiring of the mind-sets that constitute our Western societies so as to consume less, more responsibly, from the controlling oligarchies right through to those who are being priced out of buying sustainable items of food. For corporations to sacrifice their own profits and not pass the added costs of responsibility on to the consumer. For governments to demand more transparency from these overly powerful corporations and to regulate a self-destructive industry.
My very brief stint without meat or fish has left me with a deep found respect for vegetarians and vegans (not ‘pescetarians’ – your thinking is deeply flawed so feel free to climb down from your hmm… high horses anytime soon). My very insignificant project was a personal one, born out of a realisation that in the future I don’t want my meat and fish to come from a chemical lab as our stocks are so deeply depleted and the industry’s effect on our natural habitat so deeply scarring. I impatiently wait for it to be over and to sink my teeth into some meat once again, rightly unashamed that I will so eagerly return to eat it. However, I will become that cliché who checks the menu at a restaurant for sourcing information and who can’t just pop down to the local supermarket and pick up some fish for dinner. I know that the change for me is a positive one in terms of satisfying an ethical conscience; eating better quality food; and the innate feeling of goodwill derived from directly benefitting those working in a shorter, more transparent and mutually beneficial supply chain rather than playing into the paws of the fat cats.
I’m no sustainability saint but I endeavour to practice what I preach. I’d love to fly the flag of youthful optimism and believe that we, as a society, have the opportunity to change just slightly whilst there is time and adjust to be happy with a life of less. Yet more realistically, I believe that whilst the powerful are so comfortably in control, they will sit back and wait for reality to more brutally change it for all of us.
On a much lighter note, this rich venison ragú, so gluttonously trapped between thin layers of crepes and silky béchamel is a wonderful alternative to the denser pasta tradition. I guess the majestic beauty of a deer is quite comparable to that of a horse, but this is about as sustainable and efficient as meat comes in the UK and can be found at reasonable prices at butchers and even supermarkets, at most times of year.
n.b The photo of the dish was taken the day after it was made, and not wanting to ‘zap’ the colour out of it in the microwave, I didn’t reheat it. Thus it is not displayed to its full oozing potential… I guess you’ll just have to experience that for yourselves.
Venison Crepe Lasagna
For the Ragú
1kg venison meat, a cheap cut such as shoulder or neck either minced by your butcher or finely diced at home
200g smoked pancetta, diced
1 large onion, 1 carrot, 1 celery stick all finely diced
3-4 cloves of garlic, finely sliced or minced
2 tablespoons tomato puree
250ml red wine
1kg tomatoes, peeled and roughly chopped or two tins of peeled tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 bay leaves
fresh thyme sprigs
salt and pepper
In a large, heavy pot, brown the meat in batches on a high heat and set aside. Render the Pancetta in the same pan on a medium heat for 5 minutes and use this fat to sauté the vegetables for another 5-7 minutes or until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for another 2 minutes then stir in the tomato puree.
Deglaze with the red wine then add the tomatoes, herbs and seasoning to taste.
Bring to the boil then reduce to a very low heat and cook for 6-8 hours, partially covered until the desired consistency is reached. Remove the thyme sprigs and bay leaves when done.
For the Crepes
60g unsalted butter, melted
300g plain four
2 medium eggs
pinch of salt
Melt the butter and leave to cool. Whisk the eggs and milk into the flour, leave to rest for 30 minutes and finally add the melted butter just before cooking.
Heat a crepe pan or decent non-stick frying pan, very lightly greasing with butter for the first pancake but not the remaining. Ladle in the batter, swirling the pan whilst doing so to cover the base. Flip after one minute and cook for another 30 seconds before setting aside. This quantity made enough pancakes for around 10 layers, thus adjust according to size of dish being used and layers desired.
For the Béchamel
100g unsalted butter
1 litre milk
pinch nutmeg, grated
200g parmesan cheese, grated
Melt the butter in a saucepan on a medium heat, sieve the flour a little at a time into the pan, constantly stirring with a hand whisk. When a thick paste is formed, very slowly add the milk in small batches. Whisking until fully combined each time and so a silky béchamel forms. When all the milk is combined, stir in the nutmeg, parmesan and some pepper.
Oven @ 180C
Lightly grease a large baking dish, then add a ladle of ragu and a smaller ladle of béchamel. Combine and spread the two to generously cover the base, then cover with a layer of crepes, cutting them in halves if needed to ensure no gaps and as little overlap as possible. Repeat with the béchamel and ragu, then pancake layers. Finish with a layer of béchamel and extra grated parmesan then bake in the oven for 30 minutes. Leave to rest out the oven for a further 10 minutes before serving at the table.