We spent our Christmas holiday in the UK this year visiting family and friends. While there, I decided to check out the differences in our food systems and explore whether or not big-agro companies had the same influence in the UK as they do in the US. The next few blog posts will hopefully shed a little light on the differences. Generally, I believe the English system is a little bit better but it is definitely in danger of turning into a mini-US with rising obesity rates, diabetes in children, and growing food insecurity. British Chef, Jamie Oliver and other chefs like him are certainly vocal about the declining quality of food in the UK but I wanted to see for myself.
Our good friends, Leighton and Leanne, had us over for dinner when we arrived in the valley. Leighton is really into cooking and he prepared this awesome Beef Wellington with butter-fried potatoes and broccolini. It was delicious and I was so happy to see pink in the middle! Leighton uses a variation of Gordon Ramsay’s wellington and it is awesome! I love the moment of truth when you slice into the browned pastry after it has rested to see if it is cooked OK! Check out Gordon Ramsay’s recipe below:
For Dessert: Bread and Butter pudding with vanilla ice cream!
The trick to a great beef wellington is a nice cut of meat; grass fed, pasture raised, and organic add to the flavor as well as the texture of the meat. Leighton and Leanne go to a butcher or their local market (bury market: post coming soon) to get their poultry, meat, etc but they admit that it is hard to resist going to the grocery store and skipping the butcher altogether. Leanne told me her mother still goes to the baker for her bread, the butcher for her meat, and makes about 5 stops before her groceries are all in hand. This is the way it used to be everywhere and unfortunately it is a dying practice. Convenience is our number one goal and therefore something has to give if everything has to be cheap and convenient.
Not only is it quality that we are missing out on by skipping the butcher/baker/candlestick maker, but also a sense of community. When you know your butcher, he gets to know you too. I went into a local butcher in town and loved it. The atmosphere was so great and the butcher could answer questions about anything in his case. He made conversation and helped people figure out the best way to cook the meat. Also, believe it or not, the meat was CHEAPER than it was in Tescos. This isn’t always the case but many people claim that the only way they can feed their family is through massive super market chains but I found this to be untrue. There are more cuts of meat available at the butcher, including the ‘less desirable’ but just as delicious cuts like chicken legs, thighs, offal, etc. The butcher can help you decide how to feed your family on a budget, while supporting your local economy at the same time.
Grass fed meat in the UK is some of the best available. Because there is soooo much grass/greenery/pasture, the grass fed animals have layers of gorgeous fat that add to the flavor and texture. It is also higher in Omega-3 fatty acids because of the rich diet of clover and grass. There are 3 main types of saturated fats found in beef in particular: Stearic Acid (does not raise blood cholesterol) Palmitic and Myristic Acids (do raise blood cholesterol). In grass fed meat, the ratio of Stearic Acid (good):Palmitic and Myristic (bad) acids is higher as opposed to grain fed meat. Another difference is Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) levels in grass fed vs grain fed meat. CLA, which is produced by bacteria in the gut, is a widely accepted antioxidant which protects us from diabetes, cancer, heart disease, etc. Grain fed animals do not have high levels of CLA because eating grain changes the pH of their stomach(s) and therefore creates an inhospitable gut for bacterial colonization. Grass fed meat also contains higher levels of vitamins and minerals (vit A, Beta Carotene, zinc, iron, potassium, etc.)
While grass fed can be more expensive for sure, it is worth it. You are getting better tasting and healthier meat that is more nutritionally dense than it’s counterparts found at Tesco/Wal Mart/Stop and Shop/Asda/etc. It is also important to keep these farmers/butchers in business. You do NOT want to see what will happen when your only option is Asda/Walmart. Keep these farmers in business raising cattle in a humane and healthy way that is a win win for everyone, including the cattle. Keep your butcher in business so he can help support local ethical farms and let him know your preference for grass fed meat.
Thanks to Leighton and Leanne for feeding us and giving us the scoop on the local food scene! Love you guys!
xo, Sweet P and SW