Ann Fitzgerald: Farmers are so busy feeding the world, we no longer feed ourselves

A cut of sirloin of steak
A cut of sirloin of steak
Ann Fitzgerald

Ann Fitzgerald

One evening last week, I was sitting back savouring a tasty meal comprising several home-grown ingredients when a sudden realisation nearly triggered indigestion.

But first to the meal, which had an unsurprising centrepiece of beef.

On the farm, we have been using a Stabiliser bull for the past couple of years. Marbling of the meat is supposed to be one of the traits of the breed, and we were eager to test this for ourselves.

So we asked our excellent local butcher Tommy Kenna if he would be interested in taking a heifer, with half of it being returned to us.

Then, instead of putting it all into the freezer (where much of it would undoubtedly languish a long time), we decided to do an experiment.

I spent much of last Saturday driving around delivering cuts of the beef to family and friends, in return for which we've asked them to fill out a short questionnaire about its taste, etc.

Even when the carcase was hanging, Tommy said it felt nicely firm. Once it was cut, it was immediately striking that it was well marbled. As Tommy sent me home with the first striploins, he said he would be amazed if it wasn't delicious.

How did it taste? Let's say, there is no danger of anyone in this house turning vegetarian any time soon. But we will make a proper assessment later on.

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We had a starter of courgette, ricotta and egg tart, with a green salad, while the steak was accompanied by roast potatoes with garlic and rosemary, caramelised onions, carrots and peas, and the dessert was rhubarb crumble.

(This does not happen every day - we had visitors.)

The beef, eggs, greens, garlic, herbs and rhubarb were all our own. During the summer, we might also have the courgette, onion, potato and carrot.

So what pricked my reverie of pride and pleasure?

I realised it's bizarre that a farm family would be patting itself on the back for producing the food that it was eating.

Farming started so people could feed themselves, and when they had excess, it was sold or bartered.

Then I had a further thought, of how we farmers complain that consumers have lost the connection to food, yet it has become stretched for many farmers too. I expect a significant proportion of today's farm families don't consume any food that they produce.

So how did we get here?

One thing was undoubtedly the move away from subsistence agriculture. For long enough, we had no choice other than to eat the food that we produced. So it became a statement to say we can afford to buy milk in the supermarket the same as everybody else. Allied to that is the issue of milk pasteurisation.

Then there was specialisation. Most farmers now only have one or maybe two enterprises. It's more profitable and requires less labour.

No different to the rest of society, we have also moved more towards faster and more convenient food.

Many farm families no longer keep a freezer or, at least, put a 'beast' in it. You have to remember to take meat out to defrost well in advance of using it, and most of us don't have time for that.

Anyway , if someone is picking up milk in the shop, they will justifiably feel they may as well get the veg too.

Another element of the jigsaw is travel. We are trying different foods and, if we go to the bother of making a meal from scratch, it will quite likely require ingredients from further afield.

Farmers have become so busy feeding the world that they have taken their eyes off feeding themselves.

What a quare turn of events, eh!

Indo Farming


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