Demonized in the media, red meat is possibly one of the most controversial foods that graces the Mathieson dinner table with some regularity.
Initially fueled by public health organisations, red meat's bad rap originally centered on the fact that it's a source of saturated fat which has been linked to increased levels of 'bad' cholesterol and coronary heart disease. It's true that the effects of eating meat on our health has been well studied; however, research has tended to be observational, drawing only correlations and not causation. There is also disparity in the findings, some limiting the links between meat eating and heart disease to processed meats rather than unprocessed red meat.
Another argument focuses on the interaction of bacteria in our gut with a nutrient found in red meat called L-carnitine which is said to promote atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). While the research makes for interesting reading, like the work on cholesterol, it demonstrates associations and not causation.
If heart disease and clogged arteries isn't enough to warn you off red meat, there are also ethical arguments. As a teenager, I was a short-lived vegetarian after buying The Smiths' Meat is Murder album, (wasn't every teenager in the 80s?) But I seemed to suffer more spots as a veggie (again, not causation) which was enough for a self-conscious 15 years old (along with parental coercion) to compromise her views.
More recently the spotlight has shone on meat's environmental credentials, specifically in terms of greenhouse gas emissions from the farming of animals.
So the charges against red meat are multifaceted. But there's always two sides to any story and I choose to focus on the fact that red meat is good for you. It's nutrient dense, an excellent source of protein and contains various vitamins and minerals.
Information around saturated fat is now considered by many to be outdated (not to mention based on cherry picked data) with more recent studies contesting the conventional wisdom. Instead, from some quarters there is agreement with accumulated data that links cardiovascular disease to "the high glycaemic index/load of carbohydrate-based diets".
Anyone (like me) who has enjoyed an occasional blow out on junk food that's involved eating way too much 'bad stuff', knows that what you eat affects how you feel, both physically and emotionally. After a binge, there is no disputing the maxim 'you are what you eat'.
That's why industrial scale farming is so horrifying. Animals are poorly fed, fattened with hormones to grow faster and bigger than they would normally, pumped full of antibiotics and housed in poor conditions. In the USA they are called CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations), which successfully articulates why they exist. The emphasis is on feeding not rearing. And it is these mega-farms that don't respect animal welfare, and are profit driven that have the greatest impact on the environment. But there is another side to farming. One that champions good animal husbandry and that prioritises the production of high quality meat from animals that have had a good life.
I can't put my hand on my heart and say I've never bought meat from a supermarket - because I have. But where I can, I do try to buy organic meat from local farms and raised within a few miles of where we live.
This probably reads like a justification for eating meat and I suppose to some extent it is. I'm happy to feature red meat on our table when it's well sourced, unprocessed, and ethically reared.
Tonight's chimichurri steak salad was based on a recipe from The Modern Proper. I make no apologies - it tasted great.