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Gilly Smith

A Passion for Meat

Write about what you know. That’s what the experts tell fiction writers, but journos often have to write about what we don’t know, taking our readers with us on a journey of discovery. It helps if we have an interest in the subject – preferably a passion. Mine is food.

But writing about green issues over the last year has put my interest in food onto a new plate, jostling for space with transport, housing and waste as climate change and peak oil threaten to change the way we use and view each one of them. So I’ve thrown myself right into the centre of the Transition Town project, often blindly leading the food and communications groups in Lewes into new, uncharted territories.

Since Wednesday night, I’ve been planning a party of enormous proportions in just one month to celebrate the mighty passion of local Lewes folk and their role in an energy descent plan for the county town. Installations showing off the arty potential of recycling, surgeries on housing and business, local bands with (almost) zero carbon footprints and a cornucopia of slow local food to feast on are all on the programme, a celebration of English summer at its creative best. It’s ok; I’ve done huge parties before, but interestingly, I’ve stumbled at the first hurdle into a dark world I know little of.

A spit roast at the heart of a British feast is, I think, where old England meets New Britain, but not according to the vegetarians putting 7th July in their diary as the date Transition Town Lewes gets unplugged. The very idea of a pig slowly roasting as a centrepiece of a British fayre is an anathema to them, while being the very thing that, I think, would lure a stream of locals, Bisto-style, to the party.

Vegetarians believe that a greener world is a world with less meat. Methane produced by cows is supposed to emit more greenhouse gases than a community of brightly lit homes, and a diet of pulses is the responsible way to eat. But what about the poor old farming industry that has had more than its fair share of disasters over the last 10 years? Should we be promoting a meat-free society in the interest of becoming carbon neutral or promoting increased consumption of local meat in order to reduce shopping and food miles? And what on earth do we do at the party? What are we celebrating – organic Sussex pig farms or a meat-free future? Several veggies have referred to the “smell” of roast pig, but it’s only a male pig’s smell that is so intense, and I happen to know that the one we’ll have is a girl. I asked the butcher.

The party is run by committee, so do I have to try to persuade them of the rights of meat eaters to sniff their pig? Or do I bend to the sensitivities of a minority group? Do I scream “thought police alert!” or acquiesce to a new British way? But hang on; my take on the new British way (and what I love most of the Jamie Oliver inspired drive towards meeting the meat) is the re-emergence of slow food, promotion of good animal husbandry, proper-job farming and an understanding of its place in the greater scheme of things. Without pig farming, we would have no pigs. Cows, lambs – they’d all be gone without a market of meat eaters.

In my book(s), it’s not cruel to breed cows or pigs or lambs, to feed and treat them properly in organic free-range farms, and at 30 months or so according to their species, take them to the local abbatoir – perferably a mobile one – so that up until minutes before their end, they couldn’t have wished for a better life. Am I being ovely romantic? Did I believe Hugh Fearnley-Whittinstall when he told me about the calf called Lovely who was adopted by his young son after being rejected by his mother, and raised lovingly for those 30 months before being taken to meet his maker? Yes, I did. That’s what rural life is all about, and how it plays its part in our world. Do vegetarians believe that we should do away with meat farms altogether? If not, why not eat meat in the most salivatingly celebratory way I know – a spit roast?


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