We often get asked why we made the slightly unusual decision to try and become self-sufficient and start a smallholding. Well, the truth is that there are many reasons why we are doing what we are doing, but one that often gets overlooked in its importance is, quite simply, FOOD.
It’s hard to overestimate how important food is to our lives and we think that is how it should be. Perhaps these days we all take it for granted too much as the time and thought spent on food gets squeezed by all the other pressures in life and the big supermarkets try to sanitise and unify everything that we eat (have you noticed how the choice of vegetables gets smaller but they stock them all year round. Gah).
In my opinion, the key to food is knowledge. Do you know what is in the food that you are eating? Do you know where it came from? How were the animals kept that went into it? What were they fed on? Sometimes you may be able to tell the contents and origin of what you are buying but scratch the surface and the reality is pretty scary and normally overlooked.
Chickens seem to have hogged the limelight – so more and more people now buy free range. Good stuff, but hang on a minute… what about pigs? Pigs are larger and a whole hog more intelligent than chickens but next time you go to the place that Shall Not Be Named (rhymes with fresco) try asking at the deli how much of their ham or bacon is free range. I asked in Morrisons last week – the answer ‘None’. Oh, and here’s another one – notice how you might track down some pork that claims to be ‘Outdoor bred’. Hmmm, funny wording you might think – and you’d be right. That’s a clever bit of supermarket spin to con you into thinking that the pork was brought up free range, but actually it, most likely, means that the litter was had outdoors and then as soon as the piglet was at weaning age (or younger) it was brought right on inside into a nice small stall to fatten for 6 months. Nice.
So pigs, for one, have slipped under the radar. Interesting. But what about food that you buy in restaurants etc. Well, don’t assume anything, even in the poshest places – make sure you ask. We asked in the last Chinese and Indian takeaways whether their chicken was free range, fully expecting them to say no of course. Their answers surprised even us old cynics: “I don’t know, it comes from Brazil” and “I don’t know, it comes from Thailand”. Ha. Now call me a lefty tree-hugging hobo but that isn’t for me.
In fact, we’ve found that the only way to really, comfortably know what you’re putting in you and your family’s mouths is, you guessed it, to grow it yourself!