Meat production is central to the debate on climate change and ethical food. But how much is too much – for people and the planet?
The meat on Richard Vines’s Wild Beef stall at Borough Market in London is purple. Puce, really; a cartoonish shade that old men sometimes go when they are really angry. Meat that is an unexpected hue would typically raise an eyebrow, but for Wild Beef’s devoted customers it’s the reason they come here. “The colour comes from the protein that’s been in the ground, the deep-rooted grasses, it gives that flavour of sweetness and that bit of fat taste as well,” explains Vines, who has 40 acres of wild pasture in Devon, on which he keeps Devon cattle and Welsh Blacks. “Dartmoor is mineral-rich country, God-given for cattle farming. Washed by the Gulf Stream, grass grows most of the year and there’s a lot of freedom for the cattle once they are up on the moor.”
For the carnivore, the chilled cabinet at Wild Beef is the promised land. There are all the familiar cuts (steaks, ribs), alongside parts of the cow you don’t see so often (cheeks and a giant, lolling tongue that is practically black). And, if you get there early and ask nicely, Vines will slip you a bag of bones from under the counter. “One thing that’s changed: people don’t sit down for Sunday lunch any more,” he says. “Just doesn’t happen, we don’t sell many joints. But I’m working out ways of making steaks all the time. Last year we did flat iron steaks; I didn’t know what they were but they sell. And 20 years ago, we used to waste buckets of liver and such like, which nobody wanted. Now the offal all goes before the meat.”