Half A Lamb – The Beginning

This is going to be a very difficult post to write. Even typing the title made my fingers resist the keyboard. This topic is still too raw and too close, but I will try to write it anyway, because I think it is important to capture the thoughts behind why we did this. We bought half a lamb, and intend to try to keep it as our only source of meat for a whole year. Time will tell if our experiment will be a success.

Together with my best friend M, we went ahead and bought a lamb carcass from a local, organic farmer, half a lamb each. We did this to buy locally and to reduce our food miles, but also to remind ourselves where our food comes from. For M the latter was not necessary, as she grew up on a farm. To her, buying clingfilm-wrapped packages in the supermarket is something she was only exposed to as an adult, but I digress.

I dipped my toes into it by posting on twitter. Having been known as a mainly plant-based household by other bloggers, it was a difficult thing to admit to. But response was largely positive, so I will try to describe what we did and why.  It has been less than a week since we picked it up, and here are my thoughts on the process so far.

Background

Having been on a plant-based diet for three years, with animal products slowly sneaking their way back into our kitchen the past year after we moved back to Norway, I can only say writing this post feels difficult. Mr. Frugasaurus was never plant-based, yet he still went with me when I asked if we could have a plant-based only kitchen in London.

But Mr. Frugasaurus loves his cheese and especially his stick meat, which is one of the main Christmas dishes in Norway (we have several based on region/family history), which he gets at his grandmother’s house every year. Every so often the rest of the year, he would get meat cravings. But because he is an economical fellow, he bought the cheapest meat in the grocery store.

This made me concerned. How could I know this animal had led anything close to a decent life with sunlight, outdoor spaces and little stress?

Of course, I couldn’t.

So I went online to the local organic food guide and checked whether there was any local sheep farmers in our district, so that I might accommodate the desire in the best way I could think of. I wanted the whole animal, because there are only so many pieces of filet/leg/etc. I wanted to be conscious about the whole process. But because a whole lamb was too much for the two of us, I roped in my experienced friend M, who has butchered several animals in her childhood, to share the animal with us.

I figured, if we are going to bring meat back into the house, it will be with the full consciousness of the violence of it all, and with the mentality that it should be the only meat we purchase all year. No more occasional purchase of simple packages in the store, far removed from the real animal.

The meat of the problem

We eat too much meat and animal products.

From this site I found that the average member of an OECD country in 2017 (Norway is one) ate 30.2 kg of poultry, 23.6 kg of pork, 14.5 kg of beef and veal, and 1.4 kg of sheep meat per person. By comparison, an average citizen of the US consumed 48.8 kg of poultry, 25.8 kg of beef and veal, 23.6 kg of pork and 0.2 kg of sheep.

This is absolute madness. Especially considering that 1 kg of meat takes on average around 10 kg of feed plus copious amounts of water to produce. That is food and water that could be used to feed our growing population. Or even better, surplus land from eating less meat could be turned back to wildlife habitats.

Our one lamb was 14 kg. Divided by two households that is 7 kg of meat and bone. Divided by the 365 days in a year, that is comes out at about 20 grams per day for our household. If my experiment goes according to plan, this will be paced out over the year. With a new influx only if we decide to do this again next October. No grocery store meat.

Sustainable consumption

That would sound like very little to any meat eater, but that is the level of meat consumption per year it is realistic to aim for if we want to continue to consume meat. Especially if we want to live sustainably and add a bit of dairy and eggs on top. That is a couple of slices of ham or cheese for your breakfast or lunch bagel. Or it could be 3-5 thin slices of wok meat in your stir fry. It is not a lot. And remember that any dairy, cheese, eggs or fish is added to the total as well.

If you want to live sustainably, yet eat a little meat at the same time, you could either eat a tiny, tiny bit every day and probably feel deprived. OR, you could eat plant-based dishes during the week and serve yourself a meat-based treat for supper on Sundays. If you want the flavour to linger, make broth from the bones and add to vegetable soups and stews. There are many ways to make the flavour go further.

In the words of Graham Hill, be a weekday vegetarian. I think this idea is much easier for people to swallow, because it means not giving up anything permanently. You can still visit grandma and eat her famous roast. You can still have a burger once in a while if that is what you are truly craving. Although I would add to his statement – be a weekday vegan (as best you can).

Just because we can afford to trash the planet, does not mean we are entitled to. Meat free Mondays are just not going to cut it. It needs to be the other way around.

Half a lamb

Here is what I learned from the process itself.

As I mentioned, M grew up on a farm and has both slaughtered and butchered animals before. For that reason, we opted for “whole lamb” as opposed to roughly butchered in large pieces. We wanted the whole process, and M could teach me a new skill.

The only caveat is that we did not get the offal, only the muscle. We asked if offal was possible, but the slaughterhouse could not guarantee it would be from the same animal. Getting offal from any and all lambs from that slaughterhouse was not a risk we were willing to take. The whole point was keeping things local and organic.

So we had only the carcass, bled and hung for a week. M, ever the experienced one, served vegetable burgers for dinner before we got to work, sharp knives and whetstone ready at hand.

I will not detail the process, and I did not take any pictures. The violence of cutting a creature apart was such that there was only room for a mind that was focused on the task. We finished dinner at six pm and worked well into the night.

An ironic and perhaps uncomfortable truth

I quickly understood why M did not want to eat meat on a butchering day. Never have I ever, even in the midst of my purely plant-based years, felt so fed up by meat. It was everywhere. It got into my nails, I had stains up to my elbows, and the smell lingered on my fingers as a constant reminder. We are always keen on traditional preservation techniques, so much of it is now lying in brine or covered in salt to cure. The job is not done yet.

At the time of writing this post, it has been four days since we butchered the lamb, and I still cannot even stomach the idea of consuming it. M boiled a broth on the bones the next day, and used some of it to flavour a vegetable stew. We picked the scraps of meat off the bones and served it as a side. Mr. Frugasaurus and M’s partner who had not partaken in the work happily added it to their bowls, M and I abstained.

Personally, I think M’s reaction is more telling than mine. I have been plant-based for three years and have only deviated for the past year. I have never killed anything larger than a small fish, and I have never butchered a whole animal except store-bought chicken. But M grew up with this, and she tells me this is normal. Another goat dairy farmer I’ve talked to spoke of the same thing. When she has to club the baby male goats to death because they are useless in a dairy herd, she doesn’t want anyone to talk to her, let alone crack jokes.

It is a serious business, slaughtering and eating other animals, and it should be treated as such.

Want more?

Here are more bloggers tackling the issue, and one news article about the recent UN IPCC report:

9 Comments on “Half A Lamb – The Beginning

  1. Powerful post.
    I had to kill some tiny baby birds that fell out of a nest onto concrete and were starting to cook in the sun in the middle of summer. They were too young to fly and I couldn’t bear to see them suffer.
    It was horrible to do, even though it was a far quicker death than the one they were doomed to suffer.
    Actually, I’d be too scared to butcher a carcass. I’d be scared I’d hack into it the wrong way and screw everything up.

    • Thanks. I can only imagine how it felt.
      I’d definitely not consider taking on a whole carcass on my own if I didn’t have my friend with experience to show me how – I wouldn’t have known where to start!

  2. I grew up in the US eating meat with every meal. Was never told that it might be bad for the environment, never mind the animals. Just this year we’ve decided to cut back to just a few times a week. It’s been a lot easier than expected. I like your buying a half lamb approach. Keep it up!

    • Thank you! I grew up in a similar household. No one knew back then – much like smoking. All we can do is to try to do better when we learn better.

  3. I’ve been around fishing and crabbing all my life, so that’s normal to me, but now you have me wondering if we have the option to do this locally instead of getting the prewrapped packages we get from the farm. I can definitely see the reasoning to go through the process. Reducing meat consumption in my household is a slow process, but my goal is to someday get to 100% sustainable consumption.

    • We went fishing when I was small too – but I never got anything!
      I think everyone has to find their own balance, but going through the process was definitely a huge learning experience. But I will say that I imagine it was easier to learn on a relatively small animal. I’m not sure I would have managed with something bigger than myself. And we would have needed a much larger table.

  4. I grew up in a farming family though we were entirely removed from it as poor immigrants, and always knew where our meat came from, and how in the abstract it was done and how it felt. There are stories passed down of the karmic influence of being the butcher and so on but it’s also a pragmatic thing for the family I came from where they farmed for a living, they had to kill their own meat to put it on the table, and when I visited, we weren’t excepted from that reality.

    Still, and maybe because you don’t think of choosing to eat a certain diet because when money is limited, you just buy the cheapest available and make the most of it, it took me many years to realize we can choose to eat more plant based. Like Angela, it’s a slower process for us but I think that now we’ve got our feet on the path, we will choose to continue.

    • That is a great perspective. Like you, my friend M grew up in an environment where the only meat they could afford to eat was the one they butchered/fished themselves.

      No one can be blamed for not knowing any better. I choose not to have children for environmental reasons, but if I mention it to someone with children they get defensive – but they didn’t know the environmental impact when they choose to have children, so they didn’t do anything “wrong”. I think it’s the same with meat consumption. It’s one thing to consume mindlessly when you know no better – but when you do, it either becomes an act of wilful ignorance or trying to get a little bit better.

      Increments are powerful!

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