Posts Tagged ‘dairy’

veal calf

Ever wondered what becomes of male dairy cows? Cows that produce milk are, of course, female. So what happens to the males? We eat them, surely? Well actually no, not often.

Dairy cows are bred to be great at producing milk. But unfortunately, this is at the expense of their meat and most dairy cows are considered to produce inferior beef. And it’s worth a lot less than regular beef to the farmer.

So normally, to save the cost and bother of rearing them, male dairy cows are shot at birth.

Last year 260,000 male calves were disposed of as a waste product of the UK dairy industry.

A few more were spared being shot and were exported to the continent and used to create traditional white veal. Whether you consider these ones the lucky ones is a matter of your point of view.

White veal, as is fairly well known, is a pretty cruel way to produce meat. In order to keep the meat white, the animals are kept in crates and deprived of light and they’re fed only on a diet of milk. It’s a practice that was banned in the UK in 1990 but still continues in France, Italy and other European countries.

However, there is an alternative, which is growing in popularity.

British ‘rose ‘ veal.

It’s called rose veal because the meat is pink not white. It’s pink because the animals lead a more natural life: in daylight and eating grass, as well as their mother’s milk. It’s being promoted by the RSPCA as a much less cruel alternative to killing the animal before it has had a chance to live.

And because it is young, it still makes good meat. It’s like really tender beef.

Typically British veal calves have a lifespan of 6-8 months. This is no worse than lamb. Lamb is of course called lamb because it is a young sheep. The definition of lamb is a sheep less than 12-months old. After that it becomes mutton.

Killing an animal at birth seems incredibly cruel and wasteful. But without consumer demand for meat from male dairy cows, it is inevitably what will happen to them. Unless they are packed off to France for an even worse fate.

So if you eat milk, cheese and butter, then you should consider eating veal too. Possibly even if you’re a veggy that eats dairy. They are all products of the dairy industry. And if you consume milk, then you are in some small way responsible for the male calves.

If you buy some veal escalopes or veal mince instead of regular beef, you are also reducing the demand for regular beef, which as has been discussed a lot in the press recently, has a fairly large environmental impact.

Rose veal is becoming pretty widely available and the supermarkets seem to be increasingly stocking escallops, mince and other British veal. As with all meat, free-range or organic is the best choice as it means there are much higher welfare standards.

Fewer than one in 100 people eat veal in the UK. But what many of us have considered to be one of the most unethical culinary choices over recent years, could actually can be one of the most ethical. And we can be smug about being more caring than the French.

Excellent. Who’s for a veal burger?


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Following on from the last post about milk, which also provides food for thought for buying other dairy produce, I thought it was worth following up with a quick peek at spreads.

In the red corner is butter. In the blue margarine.

Which should you be spreading on your toast and why?

For a few years, ever since someone told me that margarine’s natural colour is black and that it has to be bleached white and then dyed yellow in order to make it look acceptable, I’ve eaten butter. This tale convinced me that whatever health problems might be associated with butter, they’re probably not nearly as bad as eating something that’s made like margarine is.

So I’ve looked into it. I still don’t really know if margarine really starts off black. But it does appear that my gut response based on not much other than urban myth was about right.

And here’s why.

From an environmental point of view margarine is worse than butter. A lot of spreads are made from palm oil, often disguised as “vegetable oil”. Unbeknown to most of us, it’s also in about 10% of products you’ll find in your local supermarket. It’s in biscuits, ice cream and pastry. As well as soup, soap, toothpaste, shampoo and lipstick. It’s even boot polish. It’s everywhere.

The production of palm oil is one of the biggest contributors to climate change. In order to meet the massive demand for it, huge tracks of rain forest are being destroyed to make way for plantations from which to harvest it. Malaysia and Indionisia who between them produce 80% of the 30 million tonnes of palm oil the world now consumes every year, have created plantations that cover an area the size of England. Destroying rain forest is bad news as means there are less trees to soak up all the CO2 we’re pumping into the atmosphere. CO2 is also released from the peat bogs that rain forest clearance creates.

Not only do many spreads include palm oil, but the process of making margarine is also very energy intensive. It’s also highly industrialised and dominated by multinationals like Unilever (manufactures of Flora) who have been frequently criticised for their environmental record. Butter in contrast, tends to be produced by much smaller companies and produced in the UK from locally produced milk.

And then there’s what else there is in margarine.

To make it, you bubble hydrogen through cheap vegetable oil to turn it into solid fat. Then you mix it with water. The trouble is oil and water don’t mix. So you need to add some chemicals to make it mix. Things like lecithin or monoglycerine. Sounds nice eh?

Because the whole chemical process ends up removing much of the nutrition that was in the oil to start with, artifical flavourings and vitamins are added. Preservatives are put in so that it doesn’t go off quickly. And then colours are added in order to make it look like food. Yum.

Next time you pick up a tub of margarine, have a look at the ingredients list. It will almost certainly be lengthy. And it will contain a number of things that would sound more at home in a science lab rather than in something that you spread on your toast.

In contrast butter contains milk.

Just milk.

Perhaps some salt.

But pretty much, just milk.

From a health point of view, some new research suggests that, in moderation, some of the fats found in dairy products actually promote health rather than damage it.

Conversely, there’s also some recent research that suggests chemically hardened vegetable fats (margarine) may in fact contain something called trans-fats which are every bit as bad as the saturated fat found in butter. Basically, we shouldn’t eat loads of any hard fat.

In terms of what brands to buy, Ethical Consumer magazine recommends Biona, Yeo Valley Organic and Country Life butter.

If you still want to go for marg, then it recommends Biona and Suma. Biona use palm oil from a certified sustainable source. They give Bertolli, Stork and I Can’t Believe It’s Not butter pretty much the lowest score they ever give and  the market leader Flora score even worse and props up the league table. Don’t buy Flora.

Personally, I’m going to stick to butter. I’d rather wager my health with something that’s come out of an animal rather than a highly industrial process.

We’ve also recently just bought a butter dish. It’s satisfyingly retro and means that we buy the butter in paper rather than in the big plastic tub that ends up in landfill.

So what will it be? Butter or chemically hardened rain-forest-destroying vegetable fat? I know which I prefer.

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After my last post about the eco diet I realised I haven’t written about dairy. Butter, cheese and all the other good things that come from milk.

OK, here’s what you need to know about your pint.

Because most of the milk we use comes from cows, many of the environmental issues associated with the production of meat are also true for milk. The animals fart and burp a lot of methane. Which is a greenhouse gas and contribute to our warming climate.

However, if cows are farmed in a low intensive way, they also have some upsides. They produce manure, which is a pretty important fertilizer for organic farming and they also help create good habitats for wildlife such as birds. And unless you’re a vegan, you probably, like me, would find it hard to do without dairy.

The problem is that much of the milk we consume in the UK is intensively produced. And intensive dairy farming is pretty horrible for the poor cows.

Cows naturally live until they’re around 20 years-old. But most intensively reared dairy cows are slaughtered at five because they are so ill and exhausted.

A calf would naturally suckle a few litres a day from its mother. An intensive dairy farm will take around 50. They’re bred to have bigger udders than is natural so most of them have back problems. And in order to make sure they keep giving milk, they’re almost permanently pregnant. Poor old Daisy.

Because they’re so abused and spend their miserable days wedged in a shed with loads of the other unfortunate creatures, they’re given antibiotics and other drugs to keep them going. And this of course ends up in the milk we drink. Yuck.

Then there’s the problem of what to do with all the unwanted calves. And this is the bit that gets animal rights campaigners particularly twitchy.

Calves are generally taken from their mothers within hours of being born, causing them and their mother a fair amount of distress. The girls eventually replace their mothers. The boys are sold for veal or fattened up in intensive farms and eventually become low quality beef.

All pretty horrible.

But, you’ll be please to know, it’s actually pretty easy to avoid bad milk. And therefore also butter, yogurt, cheese and other dairy products.

As with most food, the answer is to buy organic.

Milk that’s certified organic has come from cows that eat better, have superior living conditions and spend a fair amount of time outdoors eating grass. Like you, cows are what they eat. Milk from cows that have eaten grass generally tastes better and is better for you.

Organic certification also means antibiotics are banned and young calves get to stay with their mothers for longer and aren’t weaned off milk for at least three months. So they generally have a decent life and give better quality milk.

And the good thing about organic milk is that there’s loads of it around. In fact we produce so much of it in this country, that it’s often mixed with intensively produced milk, rather than sold as organic milk. Which seems a bit of a waste. And because there’s lots of it, it’s generally not much more expensive than the regular stuff.

If you’re lactose intolerant, you’ll also be glad to hear that goats milk also is generally less intensively produced so is normally all right too.

Then there’s where you buy it.

Believe it or not, the traditional milkman is the most eco-friendly way to get your pint. The dairy is generally nearby, it’s transported in a vehicle powered by electricity and the container it comes in is reused. Good old milky.

If you want to find out if there’s a milk round near you then you can check www.findmeamilkman.net.

If you haven’t got a milkman or it’s not practical then the next best thing is to go for the new bags of milk that are appearing in supermarkets. They use 70% less packaging than the standard bottle, which if you drink a lot of milk will soon add up.

So having discovered how badly the poor old dairy cows are treated and given how wildly available and relatively cheap organic milk is, I’m going to stick to the organic pints of the white stuff from now on. And next time you’re reaching for your usual pint, I think you should give Daisy a thought too. Moo.

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It’s January. Traditionally it’s a time to think about New Year’s resolutions and dieting. So I am. I’m going on a diet. But not a normal diet.

My New Year’s resolution is to employ all of the things I have learnt since I started this blog about eating in good, sustainable and fair way. I’m going on an eco diet.

In a moment I will tell you the principals of this diet.

But first I’d like to encourage anyone reading this to join me in this slimming of carbon pounds and piling on of social-conscience vitamins. If you’re going to do it, leave a comment. And then tell anyone else you think will also do it. Let’s create a weird, online, eco version of Weight Watchers. I’m serious. I’ve even created a Facebook group if you’re that way inclined.

OK, here’s the diet.


  • Eat less of it.
  • Restrict beef to a couple of times a month.
  • Always try and buy organic, free-range rare breeds.
  • Buy British, particularly pork (unless it’s lamb out of season).
  • Go to a proper butcher when possible.

Fish and seafood

  • Buy Marine Steward Council-certified wild fish if possible.
  • Eat more fish that’s on the MSC’s fish to eat list and experiment with unusual varieties.
  • Don’t eat any fish on the MSC’s fish to avoid list.
  • Don’t eat tiger prawns.
  • Eat more mussels, cockles, clams and other sustainably sourced seafood.
  • Eat less farmed salmon and trout and buy organic.
  • Don’t buy small undersized fish.
  • Go to a proper fishmonger when possible.
  • Go fishing.

Fruit and veg

  • Buy organic.
  • Buy local.
  • Buy seasonal.
  • Get a vegetable box delivered (Abel & Cole, Riverford).
  • If it’s not in season or local, treat it as a luxury item.
  • Try and grow some.


  • Buy organic, free-range eggs.
  • Buy British cheeses, organic if possible.
  • Buy organic milk, in a bag to save on packaging.
  • Buy organic butter (don’t buy margarine) and use a butter dish (less packaging).

Pasta, rice and so on

  • Eat less rice (it comes a long way) and buy organic.
  • Experiment with more local grains and pulses.
  • Buy organic dried pasta.
  • Make bread or buy organic.


  • Buy organic, fair-trade chocolate (Divine, Green & Blacks) and don’t buy crap chocolate.
  • Buy organic, fair-trade coffee (Percol, Café Direct) and don’t drink instant.
  • Buy fair-trade tea.
  • Treat goods from far away like luxuries.


  • Drink local beer and cider.
  • Check the label and don’t drink lager brewed in distant countries.
  • Preference European wines – French, Italian, Spanish – and organic or biodynamic.
  • Drink organic fruit juice (and go for apple when they’re in season).
  • Cut out fizzy pop.
  • Don’t buy bottled water.
  • Drink in a pub.

Other principals

  • Cook from scratch (no ready meals).
  • Make use of leftovers and make stock from bones.
  • Always take a bag out shopping and refuse carrier bags.
  • Avoid items with loads of packaging.
  • Shop less in supermarkets and more in proper shops.

There’s more info in previous posts on fish, meat, apples, milk, butter and alcohol.

Now like all good diets, I realise we all may lapse from time to time but that’s fine. We’re only human after all. But I think its good to have something to aim at and some principals to try and stick to.

Now all this might cost a little bit more but I reckon if you’re eating a bit less meat and cutting out some of the expensive crap like ready meals, you can balance it out.

I also think that good food, particularly meat, should be a bit more expensive. If it’s a real bargain, the alarm bells should start ringing about what corners they cut to make it so cheap. And this is something you eat. I’d rather scrimp on something else.

I think that we should all think about our food, where comes from, who farmed it and how, how it got transported to us and how sustainable it is.

If you want to be a bit greener this year, thinking about the food you buy is a really good place to start. We buy loads of it. It’s easy to make significant changes. And when you do, what you eat generally taste a hell of a lot better. And more healthy. And having started to do a lot of this over the last year, it’s making me enjoy food a lot more. And that’s as it should be.

So then. Who’s with me? Who’s going to join me on my diet?

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