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Review - The Ethical Omnivore

People are increasingly considering their relationship to food and how it is produced, and meat is arguably the most controversial ingredient. We are asking where does our meat come from? How did it live and how did it die? How should I cook it? And should I eat meat at all?

We’ve discussed the meat dilemma with past ExtraVirgin podcast guests including Hannah Miller - A Lady Butcher - who we talked to about nose to tail eating, and dietitian Kiah Paetz who shared how more people are trying veganism.

Like many, I enjoy the taste of meat but I also care where my food comes from and how it's been produced. So, I was keen to dive into a new book that promises to show me why what I eat is important and how I can ethically buy, cook and eat meat.

Called The Ethical Omnivore, it’s written by Laura Dalrymple and Grant Hilliard who own Feather and Bone – Rare Breed Providore and Whole Animal Butchery in Sydney, Australia, and it could well be life-changing for some.

It is both a practical handbook for anyone who truly cares about the meat they eat, as well as a cookbook with 60 nose-to-tail recipes to support sustainable meat-eating.

Laura and Grant didn’t start out as butchers - Laura was a graphic designer and Grant an aspiring filmmaker. But it dawned on them that while people fuss over wines for their pedigree, genetics and terroir, meat was considered generic, regardless of breed, production or provenance.

Grant found some farmers growing rare breeds of sheep and some chefs willing to buy their lambs, and in 2006 Feather and Bone was born, with the aim of supporting sustainable local meat producers and regenerative farmers, and encouraging consumers to not waste any part of an animal when they cook. They only buy whole animals which they break down to supply retail and leading restaurants. They are butchers but they are also educators, passionate about better farming methods and the ethics of eating meat.

In The Ethical Omnivore, they’ve pulled together all the wisdom and experience of 14 years of answering customer’s questions and working with farmers and chefs, laying out their solution to the ethical dilemma of meat-eating.

In summary, it comes down to asking the right questions of whomever sells you meat, supporting ethical and regenerative farmers who minimise impact on the animals and the environment that support us, and learning how to respect the animal so that you're willing to cook something other than chicken breast.

“Every time we buy something, we vote for the system that produced it,” they write. “We’re unapologetically on the side of food production systems that foster sustainable biodiversity, resilience and vitality in soil, plant, animal and human communities.”

At least half of the book is dedicated to the topic of ethical meat production and consumption, while the rest is a beautiful collection of tried-and-tested recipes from the Feather and Bone community, including home cooks, farmers and chefs, united by their determination to make compassionate food choices that support a healthier planet. The recipes are diverse and cover all parts of the animal, and I love that the recipes aren’t divided into the typical categories of starters and mains, but by the time and effort involved. There’s a section for shorter cook times including schnitzel, salads and pasta sauces, and a section for cooking “longer and slower but not harder” such as hearty stews, smoky ribs and nurturing bone broths.

And then there’s a section for the adventurous cook who likes a challenge, featuring more involved recipes that the authors say you should cook “at least once”. These include pig’s head terrine and a show-stopping spit-roasted lamb for 40.

It was hard to pick one recipe to share with you here but I can't go past this one by Ben and Reagan Waring, who are retail customers of Feather and Bone. The well-travelled couple’s recipe for beef short ribs with pickled carrots and noodles was inspired by the idea that the food we cook should have a loving story that carries over into the eating experience you share with your friends and family. You need three hours to slow-cook the ribs but the preparation and plating is a snap at just 20 minutes or so.

Click here to discover the recipe.

You can find the book, published by Murdoch Books, at all good book stores and from Booktopia and Amazon. For more inspiration, you can visit the Feather and Bones website here.

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