Saturday, 23 April 2011

The Free Range Debate

For the last year-and-a-bit, I have chosen to only use free range eggs. I decided to start using only free range as I was concerned about the way battery hens are farmed. I have seen a working egg farm, and it's not pretty. The poor hens are squashed into tiny cages, living what can only really be described as a miserable life. I believe that chickens are made to squawk around outside, scratching up everything in sight (including the lovingly-tended garden).

I'll admit, free range eggs are more expensive, but not by much more. In fact, down at my local Sunday markets in the city, free range eggs from a local grower are cheaper than battery eggs at the supermarket.

This year, I also decided that I would only buy free range pork and chicken, for the same reasons as I choose to buy free range eggs. I believe that the animals I eat deserve to have had a quality life.

Why only from this year? Price was my main consideration. Free range chicken and pork, when you can find it, is very expensive. I would estimate about double the price of standard chicken and pork. But, I decided that I was no longer in a position to use price as an excuse not to buy free range. I now buy much less pork and chicken than I used to, both because of the price, and because my local supermarket does not sell free range. It irritates me that my local supermarket does not stock free range pork, and only stocks whole free range chickens. It is one of the main supermarket brands in the country, and is one of the larger stores in the country. It services a large area, with a highly concentrated population.

In Wellington however, I can thoroughly recommend the Island Bay Butcher. The store does not have a website, but I have included a link to their yellow pages details. When I am in the area, I call in here as they have a wonderful range of free range meat. Although, sadly this is not frequently, as it's an almost half hour drive away. (They also have a huge selection of the most delicious gluten-free sausages).

I have found ways to innovate, and use the chicken and pork that I do buy wisely. As I wrote about above, I have discovered lentils, a wonderful way to bulk out a meal. I also add far more vegetables, to for example, curries and stir-fry dishes. I have also been buying a whole chicken (as it's the most cost-effective way to buy free range chicken) and either roasting it and using the leftovers in future meals (one chicken will last two of us for three meals and then I make stock with the carcass), or jointing it and freezing the different portions. Again, this will give us three meals - I use one breast per meal, and use the two thighs and legs for another (rather large) meal.

Why do I not buy free range beef and lamb? Because I think that sheep and cattle get a pretty good deal in New Zealand, and have a pretty good life. I grew up on a farm, so am aware of how our farm animals are treated. I'm just not sure why we can't treat our chickens and pigs the same way as our cows and sheep.

At the end of the day, choosing to buy free range is a personal choice, and is often dictated by price. I am in the fortunate position that I can afford to buy free range, but I know that not everyone can, and indeed, not everyone wants to.

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