The veal taboo

From foie gras bans in select areas to increased awareness about the folly of eating folk-lore inspired delicacies such as shark fin soup, chefs, retailers and consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of how food choices affect the well-being of not just other creatures but the planet. In fact, I learned last week from Cheryl’s blog that the issue is on the election roster for her and other Californians in November, too.

On the heels of research that shows that North American consumers are willing to pay 10% more for humanely raised meat, a new certification program in the US called American Humane Certified was launched to help responsible producers entice consumers to buy their products.

Despite such efforts, practices such as shark finning continues; foie gras is ubiquitous on most high end restaurant menus and suckling Berkshire or Du Breton piglet cause patrons to squeal with delight when it’s featured on a Toronto menu.

Why, then, does veal continue to be so very taboo? What makes a succulent grilled veal chop less enticing than a cracker topped with goose liver pate or a slab of tender, crispy skinned suckling pig? My only guess is that there’s no publicly acknowledged attraction: foie gras is a luxurious, status product; pork is the new hedonistic pleasure; and, shark fin soup is linked erroneously to virility. Veal, on the other hand, is seen as undernourished, incarcerated beef.

Interestingly, in the UK, there’s a movement to woo consumers to buy something called rosé veal by educating them about how uncrated, grass fed veal saves the lives of male dairy cattle who would otherwise be destroyed. The campaign launched earlier this year and as yet, I haven’t heard how successful it’s been.

I’m not entirely sure where my own feelings net out on this issue. I admit to behaving hypocritically: while I vehemently oppose shark finning and boycott restaurants that serve shark fin soup, I eat veal often and enjoy foie gras on occasion. Heck, I use eggs and cook chicken with abandon even after seeing pictures of battery hens living in conditions so cramped that they can’t take a step left or right. Somehow I turn off this knowledge in the kitchen.

How do you rationalize your food choices? Will a certification program like American Humane Certified entice you to spend more for meat, dairy and eggs to ensure animals are respected and treated better?

17 Responses to The veal taboo

  1. Honestly? I look for a deal – regardless of how the meat was treated. It’s like one of those – out of sight out of mind concepts. I mean, if they put a big sign in front of the meat case that the animal was treated poorly, then maybe that’d have some reaction. But I gotta he honest here and say I don’t think I’m one that is THAT concerned with this.

  2. Beth says:

    Darius reminds me of the pictures on cigarettes of ugly lungs and mouth cancer – seeing pictures of crated animals would likely send me to the tofu aisle pretty fast.

  3. danamccauley says:

    Interesting comments. I really like meat so I’m not sure such pictures would send me to the tofu aisle more often but I do think being reminded of the way my food is treated wouldn’t be a bad thing.

    Cheryl’s blog did a great job of discussing the practical aspects of legislating more humane treatment for animals. She points out that deals will be harder to come by if the bill in California passes.

    I do often pay more for grass fed beef so I think that higher prices will not send me out of the meat category. They will make meat more precious to me and we may eat less of it but in a way, that’s a good thing since I think I’ve taken it for granted in the past.

  4. The more I learn about where our food comes from, the more I read labels and ask questions. While I can ask my butcher about where his meat comes from, the people at large chains aren’t always as informed. Some form of certification / labelling would be handy for me in these cases.

    I admit my ethical choices are illogical. And many of them are based on targeted awareness campaigns. For instance, I haven’t eaten veal since I saw a documentary in high school but for a long time ate chicken without thinking about its cramped conditions since I never saw an upsetting visual.

    Labels would help raise awareness and guide me to better choices. But like the cigarette label scenario, the warnings will likely only help those who are already converted.

  5. Cheryl says:

    Dana, thanks for linking to my blog and broadening the discussion. I think you make some really important points. I agree with others about the lack of logic and consistency in many of our choices. I’ll eat foie gras at a fancy dinner once or twice a year , but I’ve never ordered veal in a restaurant because it just appeal to me in concept. I also find that that I don’t enjoy a piece of chicken, beef, or fish as much when I suspect its origins aren’t sustainable or “clean,” but I also think this is a mind-game. I mean, does grass-fed beef or wild salmon really taste “better?” Maybe it’s a halo effect — you feel like you’re doing the right thing so the food tastes better as a result (even though it probably tastes exactly the same).

  6. Hélène says:

    I don’t even really want to know where the meat comes from. That’s probably bad. I buy my meat at Costco and trust them. Hopefully I do the right choice. I worked in a meat transformation plant for 4 yrs and the best meat I ever had was from this place. It was fresh. But now I don’t have heo luxury to buy directly from a farmer or a local butcher or even organic meat. Maybe later when there is only my husband and I and we may have more money to spend on organic or locally raised meat.

  7. danamccauley says:

    Helene, I think you speak for a lot of people when you point out that making these kind of decisions affect your lifestyle and have to be made by each family individually.

    Cheryl. I’m glad to continue the conversation that you started!

    Charmian, although you might be right about labels helping the converted, I think a lot of people might have the same reaction you had to that video…I honestly don’t think many people are conscious of the minutia of the process that transforms baby farm animals into groceries.

  8. jasmine says:

    I’d be curious as to see the raw data from the research, along with the timeframe the survey was conducted. The little bit in your blog doesn’t sit right with me.

    Ideally I know many people would like to be able to pay more to rest their consciences but with the market crash, people losing their jobs etc…I don’t think we’ll see many people going that route.

    I know from my local grocery store, the very large organic fruit and veggie display (with the organic pricing) doesn’t sell nearly as well as the regular produce and they wind up disposing of a lot of food…but feel they need to have the display for…sociopolitical…reasons. I see the premium attached to ethically-treated and organic animal products and I know I can’t afford it.

    Now, if the survey transforms into a major price cut in the cost of ethically-treated and organic meats, then I’d seriously consider it…but I doubt it will…

    j

  9. Jennifer says:

    I appreciate that we all have choices to make when it comes to the food we eat and veal is no different. However, I think that veal gets a bad rap because of a lot of misconceptions and some really powerful and sensational publicity largely coming out of the US. I cannot speak for veal raised outside of Ontario, but I can tell you that Ontario veal farmers are ethical and proud people who have the utmost concern for animal welfare. I work for Ontario veal farmers and their families who raise grain fed and milk fed veal in Ontario. Veal is raised using the same type of housing and production methods as all other livestock and poultry farmers do. Veal is definitely not “undernourished and incarcarated beef”. Farmers work with nutritionists and veterinarians as well as follow government regulations and standards to make sure that all animals raised are healthy and will ultimately generate some measure of a profit.

    Did you know that veal is perhaps the second oldest (after beef) meat we consume? I really think we as consumers need to put things into perspective because we do not seem to have issues with some of these other meats that are younger than veal. In fact, the attributes we desire most in our meat- tenderness, easy to chew, taste- all derive from the animal’s age. I too question why veal still seems so taboo for some.

    Rose veal has been successful in the UK because it has provided dairy farmers with an income for the unwanted bull calves that are born as a result of dairy production (that would have otherwise have been shipped across the channel to Europe), it has provided UK consumers with a local veal option and therefore consumers are supporting the local economy (rather than importing it from Europe) and it has shown that veal is a legitimate production sector, albeit still being produced on a very small scale.

    In the end, the choice is still on an individual basis but let’s make those choices from an informed position. Check out http://www.ontariovealappeal.ca for more information about Ontario veal.

    • Jessica says:

      IGNORANCE AT ITS FINEST!!!

      Clearly your opinion is a bias one, as it seems you are either a veal farmer yourself and benefit directly from it, or know someone who is.

      Veal gets a bad rap, because it is bad…horrible in fact!!! There are no misconceptions, just the reality, which is sickening to anyone who has a compassionate bone in their body.
      From the second male cows are born they are ripped from their mothers and sold to veal farms where they will spend the rest of the short lives chained to a crate no bigger then their body size. The “attributes we desire most from meat”, are a direct result of starving and containing these calves for weeks on end. As they are unable to produce any muscle mass under these conditions, the meat produced is more tender.
      I don’t know what part of this scenario seems ethical to you, but torturing an animal so you can eat a more tender steak hardly seems fair or ethical to me!!

  10. I’m with Beth. But anyway I’m in Portugal so things work a bit different, I don’t think we have this issues here.

  11. danamccauley says:

    In related news….check out this article that Adrian sent to me today via email:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2008/oct/01/advertising.oliver

  12. […] wise decisions at the grocery store. Fair Trade, Organic, Health Check, Peanut Free, Kosher, Halal, American Humane Certified and now… Jane Goodall’s Good For All symbol pop up on grocery shelves […]

  13. Jessica says:

    Ontario veal farmers are ethical and proud people who have the utmost concern for animal welfare?!?!?!?!?!

    IGNORANCE AT ITS FINEST!

  14. chocolate swinger…

    […]The veal taboo « Dana McCauley’s food blog[…]…

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