Back in March 2019 I took a butcher course in a culinary school in Tel Aviv. The course was given by one of the first believers in sustainable cattle farming in Israel Ariel Cohen. In this article I'll talk about of how the butcher course influenced my decision to eat less meat.
I always loved meat. I grew up eating meat every day. As a cook I always loved to touch, cut and prepare meat. Every 'substantial' meal must include meat otherwise it's not substantial. However, when I went to college I found myself not being able to afford meat and needed to start learning to cook and to enjoy vegetarian food.
Today I know that we shouldn't eat meat every day. Eating meat every day is an unnecessary decadency. Moreover, I don’t think we should eat the meat sold in regular supermarkets all over the world every day. If you don't know exactly where your meat is from than it's probably full of hormones and antibiotics.
Last week I went to the butcher in Dahab (South Sinai, Egypt) and he offered me minced meat from Brazil for half the price of local “baladi” cows. So bringing it over to Egypt from Brazil including transport still results in half of the local Egyptian price? What’s in that meat I would like to know?
The Meat Industry
Repeatedly we hear stories and see videos about the meat industry that make our hair stand on end. The animals are being held in horrifying conditions cramped together; are injected hormones and protein rich food as well as given antibiotics in order to prevent disease. All of this we eat and are letting it through our body.
These measures are permitted by our governments. However, the effects of hormones, antibiotics and antimicrobial bacteria are not fully understood. Some researchers claim that the doses are so low that they don't have consequences on the human body. Others argue that the substances we inject into the meat we consume can lead to cancer, pre mature puberty, disruption of our intestinal systems and many more potential health problems.
I don’t think we should cut meat products out of our diet completely. At least not the ones who don’t want to. I believe in moderation. I would like to give our animals their dignity back; no mass production, no hormones, no antibiotics, grass feeding. At the end we are what we eat.
I also believe that this perverse amount of meat we’re producing is part of the reason for the increase of Co2 in the atmosphere due to farming of animals and the natural gases of their waste. Livestock and their byproducts account for at least 32,000 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, or 51% of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. Natural gasses main constituent is methane which is 25-100 more destructive than Co2 on a 20 year time frame. Long story short; the shit of the animals we’re eating is catapulting us into catastrophic climate change.
I’m not taking myself out equation! I am to blame as everyone else who consumes too much low quality meat. I always try to look out for prime produce but I eat too much meat in general resulting in a challenge to keep the standard always high. I constantly struggle to cut my dependency on meat and challenge myself with the joys of vegetarian cooking.
The Meat and Chicken in Israel
The over-the-counter chicken and egg products are close to radioactive in Israel. If you want chickens of the size of ducks cramped together; this is the spot. Unfortunately, the awareness for organic produce in Israel is not sufficient yet. The supply for organic poultry products in Israel is close to zero. I found these guys called Arzenu delivering organic kosher meat from the North of Israel twice a month to TLV for steep prices but amazing quality. All my beef products I buy at Meat Market at the Carmel market who "take only animals which were properly raised and accept only the best quality."
People want tender meat. Tender meat was typically not very active throughout its life and was fed with protein rich food. One of the most tender and expensive beef breeds is the Japanese “Kobe” beef. This meat is considered to be one of the best steaks in the world. However, since there is almost no grazing land in Japan the animals spend sometimes around 4 years in the pan. They are also being massaged and get beer throughout their life. The massage eases the joint pain from the lack of movement and the beer increases appetite due to depression. They have never seen grass under their huffs. We’re talking here about a luxury beef being strapped of their ability to ever walk.
Only slowly people start understanding that grass fed animals were able to walk around; have therefore tougher muscles however are more interesting and subtle in their taste. The colour of the meat is dark red because these muscles were pumping blood all their lives and the fat is yellowish because of the grass and hay. This is the reason why Irish and New Zealand grass fed organic beef is so absolutely amazing. The cow had a life.
The openness for culinary experiments with different cuts of meat is also only slowly on the rise in Israel. You find basically the same cuts of meat in every restaurant on the menu. Due to the specific way of how cows are slaughtered in Israel also comes a particular way in what the chefs are preparing with it.
The limitation of the meat industry in Israel start with the regulations of kashrut. According to kosher laws the cow is being cut into two halves. Whereas the front as a whole goes into the salt solution for a while. This is the reason why the Entrecote aka Ribeye steak is so popular in Israel. It’s the only prime cut located in the front meaning that it receives the least damage from the “kosherizing” salt solution.
Due to the intestines the back of the cow needs to be taken apart into all its single pieces (sirloin, tenderloin, flank, round, shank etc) and put into the salt solution separately damaging the cuts more due to bigger exposure. Back in the day Jewish butchers didn’t even use the back of the cow. They sold it inclusive all its prime cuts for a cheap price to the Arab population. Therefore, kosher meat is saltier and we only recently started appreciating a kosher beef fillet steak.
Not kosher beef
The import of un-kosher meat is prohibited in Israel by law. This means that the modernization needs to come from within. From people who's culinary mission is reform. From people who want the animal to gain its dignity back. From people who understand you are what you eat. People like our teacher chef Ariel Cohen. Ariel used to own an African place in TLV called Poyke as well as prepared perfect porterhouses in the popular NG in Neve Zedek. Today he's about to open his butchery in Hedera with prime beef products from his co-owned cattle farm. He’s one of the pioneers in sustainable and respectful handling of (unkosher) meat products in Israel.
I wanted to learn the craft of butchery from Ariel because before he teaches us to take the animal apart, he tells us the story about the animal’s life. Where is she from? How old was she? How many calves did she give birth to? Why was she slaughtered now? What was she fed on? We need to understand the whole story in order to maximize effective usage of this living resource. He makes us understand that its appearance and its taste are directly connected to its lifestyle. That there are no shortcuts. That a ‘happy’ grass fed cow who walked around freely all her life giving birth to 5 calves needed to be slaughtered because she couldn’t bear more calves. She is a part of the food chain.
Everybody who is consuming animal products cannot simply close their eyes on where the products are from and how they got here. We got detached from the responsibility of killing an animal for food. Many find it ‘disgusting’ whilst they eat meat several times a week. I tell people that here in Egypt (and probably in most places outside the Western world) when you buy a chicken you choose a live animal which is either being slaughtered for you or you slaughter it yourself. This usually disturbs them.
We need to come back to nature and start to take more responsibility for the things we eat and feed our children. Especially when it comes to meat products. It starts with respect and the willingness to look the animal into the eye (not only literally). Know how it has lived and what it was fed. It gave its life for you to eat it.