Archive for the 'farming' Category

Pig Business, the movie.

On Monday a friend from Consumers International and I went to a private screening of Tracy Worcester’s film Pig Business at the cinema underneath Channel 4.

The film, part of the Big British Food Fight season, looks at the environmental and animal welfare implications of factory farming. Needless to say it concludes that such practices are a bad thing. It “aims to inform people about the true cost of cheap meat and its impact on every level of the food supply chain. [It aims to] stop factory farming and promote widespread sustainable farming practices that are independent, small scale, compassionate to animals and the environment”. So far, so good.  But I’ve a couple of comments about the night as well as the content of the film that I’d like to share with you.

The Dramatis personæ.

Former model, actress (Timelash) and environmental campaigner Tracy Ward is also the Marchioness of Worcester, and can apparently use the name of the town as her surname. Her husband Harry Somerset is heir to his father’s 52,000-acre estate worth £135m, nice. Zak Goldsmith was also present; making a couple of good point after the film was shown (he eschewed the microphone much to the chagrin of the cameraman trying to record the speakers). Finally vegetarian and PETA member Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders said a few words (don’t eat meat was her opening line?!) and directed applause at Tracy. Rosie Boycott was there, and a nice chap from Compassion in world farming, and finally some people from the marketing agency who went on about Facebook and stuff.

Perhaps it’s true what they say, that every debate in America is tainted by race, and that every debate in Britain is tainted by class, but one would imagine that these people aren’t exactly short of a few bob. So when the PR girl sent round ‘please donate’ forms I duly passed them on (to Leslie Ash who was sitting next to me). Politics comes in to play here, and though Zak and Tracy along with myself are all members of the Soil Association, personally I find taking what someone with 52,000 acres in the offing and a wealthy family background sticks in the craw somewhat. I would suspect this is the case for most people; their responses will naturally be ‘it’s alright for you’. This isn’t to say that they shouldn’t say it, or make films, or have causes and believe in things and try to change things, it’s just that I feel it, how shall I put this, it taints their argument.  She says she wants to protect ‘rural life’ but I’m always slightly dubious of rich, Tory, land-owning aristocracy who want protect rural life, who’s life are they protecting really? Yet I’m mindful that perhaps this is the way the messy world works nowadays, where pro hunting, referendum seeking, good food loving eco-conservatives like Zak and Tracy have views that overlap with more urban regenerating liberal/labour minded folk like myself like a Venn diagram drawn by a three year old. 

Roll the tape

Anyway, the great and the good aside let’s look at what was on the screen. I thought Bobby Kennedy Jr came across really well. But by going solely after Smithfield (who yesterday rushed out a press release) and spending a large amount of time in Poland and the USA, Tracy had little room left for UK focused implications. I would have liked to see these fleshed out a bit more. Because although the pollution of the Polish countryside is a terrible thing, I think that given the current situation that particular concern is going to come quite far down most people’s list.  Ditto the fact that EU taxpayers funded bail out for a water pipe to the tune of thousands of pounds because Smithfield had allegedly polluted a local water supply. I can’t remember the exact figure but it was pocket change compared to what we’ve just given the banks and everyone else in this downturn.

What’s moreI thought the film lacked bite, a killer punch, a money shot.  Four years and we got this?! I think a lot of the most arresting imagery came from Compassion in World Farming, and even when Tracy found direct evidence of the culling of weak piglets and discarding them illegally in the lagoon, she failed to put this to the Smithfield spokesperson she had access to, preferring to narrate a standard press release reply of ‘we aim for the highest standards of welfare…etc”.  I found myself thinking ‘well of course they’d say that”.  I really wanted her to go mustang, where was the fire, the anger? Tracy you should have had that guy by the plums!

Some other points that I felt detracted. Her kids. Tracy takes her teenage daughter (Lady Isabella Elsa Somerset) shopping for ham and it’s all a bit embarrassing.  Like the bit in Nigella show last year’s where her son Bruno is rolling along the pavement on his skateboard in full protective gear outside their million pound Georgian London town house to show how ‘normal’ they are.  The camerawork was a bit hit and miss in places, a few out of focus shots of interviewees lessened the impact and the editing was a little odd, but then this was a 77min version, and due to be cut down for release to 55min.

In conclusion, I felt detached not from the message, so much as from the narration. I felt, how can I put this? Itchy for this to work, but came away a little short changed to be honest. There’s a shot in the first 5mins of a farmer dropping a breezeblock on a pig’s head to kill it. Cruel yes, but it was never referred to again in the film. I’d have also like to have seen more UK focus, more on record interviews and a greater look at some solutions.  According to Compassion in World Farming the UK’s record of pig welfare is higher than the rest of Europe, but still not perfect.

Maybe it’s the genre that’s the issue, but like an action movie you know exactly how it’s going to pan out.  Big business bad, EU is wasteful, poor people taken advantage off, corporate greed, we know all this, what we want is why? Maybe it’s time to reboot the ‘issue led doc’?

Finally, though I’ve perhaps come across as a little critical above, I do know that making anything is hard work, especially when going up against multi-nationals and their law firms on your own, so Tracy should be commended on that. The film’s has its faults, but it is worth watching, which you can do on More4 at 10pm on the 3rd February and tell me what you think.  

Pork cuts application goes live

wooo!  You can now use our super fancy video guide to a pig thingy

As well as find out more about the project here

Here’s the online trailer for the season

And here’s an extended version (on MSN for some reason) featuring Geoff Capes who’s knocking on a bit.

Extended Online Cut | The Great British Food Fight
Extended Online Cut | The Great British Food Fight

Oh and finally some graphics chap got the Union flag/Jack the wrong way round which has now been fixed apparently

New for 2009 – 4Food pigs out

As the Big British Food Map drew to a close in late November, I started to think about what to do next.  Channel 4 was planning another January food season called The Great British Food Fight that followed on from the successes of last year’s one, the highlight for me being Hugh and Jamie’s shows about intensive chicken production.

In this new season there’s another collection of programmes looking at food and food related issues.  Gok Wan is fronting a documentary on childhood obesity, he readily admits he was rather a chubby boy, as well as suffering bullying at school. He’s also an excellent empathiser and good foil to tackle this important issue so that should be good.  Incidentally Gok added his favourite food places to the BBFM, including his family’s chip shop in Leicester, where I stopped in for a portion  – yum. There’s also Heston making his debut on Channel 4 with Big Chef Saves Little Chef.

But the key show in this new series for me is ‘Jamie Saves our Bacon’.  Jamie picks up where he and Hugh left off with chickens last year, namely looking at intensive rearing and why it’s not that good for either the pig, or your palate. The Guardian had a piece on the subject this week tooHowever, once you’ve given people the facts and stoked people up to make a change, you’ve got to actually follow through and offer help and advice. This is where I come in.

There’s more to pork than…

According to this 2007 PDF from British Sausage Week, sausage is the number one ‘in home meal’. What’s more only 15.4% are eaten for breakfast compared to 39.5% for dinner and 15.4% for tea (linguistical North/South divide there?). What’s more Saturday is the favourite day for eating sausage.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a good banger, a well-made pork sausage is a thing of beauty.  I’ve hunted down a few interesting specimens in the past, the Manchester Sausage, Edwards of Conway, Art of meat to name but a few.  Good bacon too, is a joy, Emmett’s of Peasanhall in Suffolk’s special Christmas bacon cured with spices and ginger tasted amazing.  The pork pie is another subject dear to my heart, and I’m proud to say I was there when the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie achieved EU protected status. 

All these products, when made properly with good meat from well cared for pigs are fantastic, the trouble is two fold. Firstly, these products can often be made from poor quality meat and disguised with flavourings; Secondly, there’s so much more to pork than sausage!

However a fair few of us are still slightly confused about which bit of the pig is good for what purpose and where on the animal it comes from.  And so to address this, channel 4 are building a video based pig cuts application. Now Google pork cuts and you’ll get dozens of drawings with bits of the pig described by dotted lines like the States of America. The thing is they often bear no resemblance to the hunk of pork flesh in front of you; the bodies of pigs do not come apart on neatly perforated lines like stamps. So by having the cuts overlaid on a video of the animal we hope you’ll get a clearer understanding of its shape and exaclty where the cut comes from.


But that’s not all…

Knowing where the meat is from on any diagram is one thing, but you still need to see it for real to make proper sense. That’s why in early December, (with my cameras still hot from finishing the BBFM) I travelled up to North Yorkshire to meat Tim Wilson of the Ginger Pig. The first days filming had to be cancelled due to the terrible snow, in which I spun the hire car off the road and into a drift, luckily there was no damage and we managed to dig it out. The next day it’d melted and Tim’s farm and butchery room were just about accessible with a front wheel drive Ford Fiesta.


The village of Levisham could be described as a one-horse town, in fact I did see one horse, a Shetland pony (I think) sheltering next to the wall of the church. Anyway, all this countryside, isolation and space is great for pigs. Tim’s pigs are mainly Tamworth, (hence the name Ginger Pig) bred with some Large White or Yorkshire. They also have Old Spots, Berkshires, and others.  Now, The Tamworth is a fairly hardy breed, indeed, most pigs are pretty hardy. A pig insulates against the cold not with fur – though the Tamworth has large stiff bristles – but with fat (more on fat later).  And so for three hours I filmed Tim slowly and methodically taking apart the animal, trimming off cuts, sawing through bone, portioning, and describing cooking methods and uses.  And even I learnt things about the anatomy of a pig as well as uses, for instance the hock, which is often smoked, can be slow roasted. As Tim says “we’re all familiar with lamb shanks, well this is just a pig shank”. So there you have it, proper video guides to butchering a pig letting you see exactly which bit is from where and how to prepare it.

 Take 10 chefs

So you’ve taken the plunge and are thinking about trying something different, but would still like some recipe guidance. Well the second part of my idea is best described though the following analogy. You know how in medieval times traitors where executed and then their dismembered parts were sent to other cities around the land as a warning. Well I’m doing something similar (but nicer) with the Channel 4 pig.  It’s working title was ‘Hung, Drawn and Slaughtered’, but we dropped that as it’s a bit full on. But the concept is the same.  So Tim’s Tamworth pig, which has had a good life rummaging around on his farm, had been chopped into 10 prime cuts and this month I’m taking those cuts to chefs around the country to literally see what they can make of them.  Here’s the list:

The chefs, the restaurants, the cuts. 

Anthony Demetre       Arbutus                        Blade

Benjamin Tish            Salt Yard                      Tenderloin

Vivek Singh                 Cinnamon Kitchen    Chump

Chris Wicks                 Bells Diner                  Belly

Hywel Jones               Lucknam Park            Head

Sue Ellis                        Belle House                Leg/ham

Paul Askew                  Hope Street Hotel     Loin

David Colcombe         Opus                             Hand/Spring

Kenneth Poon            Orchid                          Spare Ribs/Belly

James Makenzie       Pipe and Glass           Hocks/Trotters

 I’ve tried to get a broad range of locations (only three in London), styles and cuisines to contribute. We’ve got tapas, Indian, Thai, modern European, British. Hopefully this will go some way to showing the versatility of pork and how it can work with a great many flavours and seasonings.

Meet the Meat

In the USA they have an ad campaign for pork called ‘the other white meat’.  The phrase ‘White meat’ in America has become synonymous with low fat, (red meat meanwhile means full fat and is tantamount to suicide for your colon it seems). US pork producers no doubt want a bit of that sector that normally always went for chicken (even though most intensively farmed chicken has large amounts of fat). 

The key thing that chefs and butchers and farmers have stressed to me time and time again is that, no matter what the animal, fat is flavour. As Perry the butcher at the Ginger Pig in Marylebone says, “cook with fat on, even if you don’t eat it”.  The word ‘marbling’ along with the concept behind it is now well understood by most foodies when talking about beef. Well the same goes with pork, Tim’s rib eye steaks have a lacework of fat running through them that melts when cooked. But the supermarkets tell the farmers that the consumer doesn’t want fat – wrong. Like everything a little of Jack Sprat’s wife’s attitude is a good thing. The key is the good flavourful fat; from my experience on well reared animals it’s rich, firm and almost ivory in colour rather than bright white, flaccid and watery as it can be on poorer quality animals.

I hope this has at least made you think about trying something different with some proper pork, the best thing you can do is go out and buy it from a good butcher or direct form the farm itself. Visiting places like Chris and Bev Brown farm in Kent is a whole (free) day out, you might even get to feed the pigs and I’m sure the kids would love it much more than being dragged round a supermarket.

My wish is to see is pork take its rightful place as a respected meat, not chicken substitute. Let’s start enjoying it, smoking it, brining it, rolling it, stuffing it, putting interesting flavours with it, maybe hanging it a little to bring on the flavour. In shortlet’s  give it some of the reverence that we normally afford to beef. Because I genuinely believe it can be that good.

The application, cuts videos and other related Great British Food Fight season content will be live on from around the 12th January.

Next: A potted history of pigs….



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These are my personal views and not those of Channel 4 or the BBC
August 2020