He’s the first in generations not to be a farmer, but he’s still keen to teach his kids what it means to eat meat.
l like to think I make informed choices in terms of my diet, and I’m happy with them. Everyone has choices – you do you, I’ll do me.
My family members have been dairy farmers
as far back as we can trace our heritage in New Zealand – across the Waikato, in Taranaki, and for the first half of my life in Te Puna. I’m the first in about five or six generations to follow a different path. I’m not cut out for it – I’m a bit lazy, to be honest, and I like late nights and weekends too much. But thanks to my early years in Te Puna, I am aware of what’s involved in getting a delicious steak sizzling on the barbecue.
Cooking meat on fire unlocks the carnal desire that’s burned since prehistoric man was on the scene. We’re not too different, him and I. He has slightly less hair, but grunts about the same amount. I hang, one-handed, on the evolutionary ladder; the fire on which my meat sizzles has been aided by electronic ignition and LPG. But what really connects us is that I’ve been taught the importance of animal husbandry and how my steak makes it from the paddock to my plate.
I grew up feeding calves, watching them lead awesome lives on our little hilly farm, and seeing them being taken away to fill freezers and stomachs. Home kill is the most delicious beef you can eat. You can taste the freedom, the love, the care and the life that animal experienced. If you’re not friends with a farmer, I suggest you start stalking a few at pace.
I remember the shock and disappointment when I left home and had to actually purchase meat. Supermarket beef reminded me of bodies on New Zealand beaches over summer: expensive, spray-painted to look good, and shallow in depth and flavour.
With a young family of my own, I want to allow my sons to experience what I did, to know what it takes to put that meat in our bodies, where it comes from and the people who get it there. So I linked up with a buddy who farms with care, and less intensively. “Producing food is a hard task, and city slickers are lucky that farmers and growers do it, as it means they don’t have to,” he said.
Trust me, I’m grateful. I know how hard it is to be a farmer. But it’s important that you know who’s farming and growing the food you put in your body. If you went to a restaurant, looked into the kitchen and saw something that resembled a back alley in New Delhi, and that your food was being prepared by someone whose interests actually lie in front of a bar, you’d think twice about dining there.
Together, my mate and I have bought a yearling beast (farmer chat for a one-year-old calf) that he’s going to raise for another year. Then a local butcher will come to the farm to kill the animal and process it from nose to tail: organs, hide, the lot. This shows respect for the animal and for the farmer. I want my boys to know that meat doesn’t come from plastic trays, that there are cuts other than rump steak, and to appreciate the circle of life and where we fit into it.
When I told my friends, they thought I’d completely lost my mind. “You’ll traumatise the poor little buggers!” “They’ll become vegetarians or vegans!” “That’s barbaric!” I can’t see how it’s barbaric to teach my sons where meat comes from. Surely it’s better than loading them up on high-calorie, low-nutrient processed food without knowing the process. If they don’t want to watch, I won’t tape their eyes open and give them front-row seats. And if they become vegans, I’ll support them, because they’ll be making an informed decision about the way they want to live their lives.
I understand that not everyone knows a farmer who’s willing or able to do this, and not everyone wants to commit to knowing what they eat, or be responsible for another animal’s life, but I do, so I will. I’ll be documenting this journey we’re embarking on, so feel free to watch how it unfolds, or not. Everyone has choices – you do you, I’ll do me.