Take a butcher’s at this campaign to help preserve our food quality
- Credit: Archant
In case you have missed it, this week is National Butchers' Week, which aims to 'highlight the great work being done by butchers from around the UK that sets them apart from the competition'.
Now, you may be thinking that just about every week of the year is reserved for raising awareness of something or other, so why should we pay attention to this particular campaign? It's a fair question, but given what might be about to happen to our food supply, the presence of independent, local experts who can guarantee the quality of the meat we put on our plates is more important than ever before.
For good or for bad, we are about to uncouple the UK from the world's strictest animal welfare and food safety regime. Whatever your views on the EU, it is inarguable that Brussels has forced through really positive regulations on how animals reared for meat are treated, and on the safety of that meat.
Perhaps we will retain that strict regime when we leave the EU – I certainly hope so. But as we step into the dog-eat-dog world of global trade, it seems increasingly likely that the price we will have to pay for being able to do business with other countries will be a dilution of those safeguards.
Chlorinated chicken, antibiotic-ridden beef, intensively-farmed poultry with little regard for animal welfare: all of this may soon be coming to our supermarket shelves.
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The key word there is 'supermarket' – it is unthinkable that any proper butcher would let such products anywhere near their counters. Most good butchers have a close relationship with the farms from which they source their meat, and will often be able to tell you the name of the farmer who has reared the beef or lamb you are buying.
After a couple of decades in which the local butcher was very much looking like an endangered species, it is good to see that they are enjoying something of a renaissance. Our increasing awareness of the importance of provenance must be a significant factor in this success, but nevertheless we must be constantly wary of the march of the big supermarkets, who continue to do everything they can to squeeze the life out of local food retailers.
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If you buy all your meat at the supermarket, I urge you to use National Butchers' Week to reacquaint yourself with the kind of quality you will only find in a proper butcher – and at the same time, stop the seemingly inexorable march towards lower animal welfare standards and less safe food.
Restaurant customers show the love
The best foodie news of the last week was the announcement that Norwich's Last Wine Bar has been saved from closure by four local business people, who stepped in to buy the restaurant after its founder retired after nearly 30 years at the helm.
No-one with even the most tenuous grasp on reality would think that investing in a restaurant is a route to instant riches, so we must assume that the quartet – all regular customers at The Last – are doing it because they love the place. Certainly the fact that they are retaining the current management team and promising not to make wholesale changes indicates that they have acted for all the right reasons.
While it remains unusual for a restaurant's customers to put their money where their mouths are in this way, it is less rare for customers of independent establishments to feel a real connection – one might even say a sense of ownership – in a way which doesn't really happen with chain restaurants.
In one way Norwich is fortunate to be attracting big chains, as it does at least show we are not totally forgotten in London boardrooms. But the pattern is depressingly familiar: a chain sinks big money into a spectacular refurbishment, opens with a huge fanfare, and then attempts to sustain the interest by digging into its deep pockets to offer discounts.
And when the corporate coffers run dry, they are equally quick to abandon the city, as the vacant former premises of Jamie's Italian, Carluccios and, before long, Giraffe, bear witness to. You simply don't see the clientele of these places dipping into their own wallets to save them.
Meanwhile, it is the independents which are genuinely committed to the city and the county, working hard to build loyalty with customers not through unsustainable discounting, but by providing consistently good food and service.
We are not all in a position to secure their future by investing in them in the way that the Last quartet have done. But we can all help ensure their survival by choosing to spend our hard-earned cash in locally-owned eateries, rather than giving our money to faceless corporations which will abandon Norfolk at the first sign of difficulty