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Ethical eating, or at least, my version of it

If you’re reading this, you’re probably interested in some way in your fitness, a massive part of which is your diet. Now the pendulum has swung, correctly in my opinion, towards high protein, low carb diets of the type advocated by Atkins et al. Pretty much every nutritionist of note advocates either a zero carb or low carb diet for the best results in fat loss and health, which means finding time to consume quite a lot of protein throughout the day. An interesting footnote to the development of low-carb as an everyday ideal is the parallel introduction of the term GI into the vernacular. Where did this come from? Well, the food industry for a start. It is only natural for an industry that senses a threat to one of it’s main revenue streams to react, and the reaction has been to protect it’s grains by the introduction of this sciency sounding term. Does that mean that the science is wrong? No, just that everyone living on a low GI carbohydrate diet is preferable to a food manufacturer than everyone living on a high protein diet. Grains are easy to produce and refine, easy to transport, easy to store in times of plenty, have a long shelf life, and are easy to package. They are multi use too, it’s easy to imagine that you will probably have a grain for every meal today. There are also vast, vast acreages of land all over the world dedicated to grains, in many cases, these grains have taken the place of indigenous crops.

Protein on the other hand, and let’s assume that by protein I mean animals and animal dairy products, is not easy. It has a short shelf life, requires refrigerated storage, the canned and preserved versions are pretty much unpalatable to anyone used to the real thing. It requires specialist handling right the way from farm to fork, and it is labour and land intensive. In other words, it’s a low profit, difficult venture for anyone who is interested in making serious money. Oh, and those skilled farmers do kick up a fuss don’t they? With their tractor driving protests in ur cities. Now eating meat on a large scale actually has ethical considerations of it’s own. The environmental impact of oh so many cow farts has been well documented. But it’s a pretty safe bet to say that by buying local meat from Irish farms, you’re doing the best thing possible without trying to raise a family of goats in your back garden. The meat is farmed, slaughtered and butchered in your own country, which contributes to your own economy, the finished and raw products aren’t being shipped or flown for thousands of miles, which reduces their environmental impact, and the product is usually traceable to the farm. We also have some high standards of farming and feeding in Ireland and indeed Europe, all of which means that you’re getting an ethically sound, tasty bit of steak today. Yum.

Seriously, I really think about this stuff.

I have never examined one of my athlete’s diets (I occasionally ask people to keep a week long food log) and found it to have adequate protein intake. Protein is the single most important thing you will put into your body if you’re interested in muscle growth, repair, recovery or strength. If you are serious about training, you should monitor your protein intake carefully. But if you’re like me and you worry about things like the above and basically want to stick it to the man at every available opportunity, then you should also monitor your protein sources carefully too. This is difficult to do, and made extra hard by the the fact that in general, imported meat is cheaper than local produce due to economies of scale and the cheaper feed and transport standards outside of Europe. So what to do in a recession eh? If you’re like me and you’re budgetting a household it’s difficult to justify buying yourself hefty lumps of cow. It’s tricky. Thereare solutions though. My local mini supermarket has a Thursday butcher special every… eh… Thursday, obviously enough. I was in there last week.

So the deal is that there are 10 chicken breasts for €10, and these are in packages which have a clear and distinguishable label which identifies them as Irish. So I buy 40 of them (I have a chest freezer at home). There is also a deal going on sirloin steak. It is barbecue season so I’m about to ask for a heap of that too but I remember to ask the origin first. The butcher, who is only a young lad doesn’t know where the sirloin is sourced from. This is a problem. I want steak, I like steak, and this is cheap steak, which is my favourite kind of steak. I’m also after getting him to root through about 9 pieces before setting on the lean looking heap of ex-cow he has in his hand right now. It’s dangling in his hand and he’s waiting on the go ahead to bag it for me, but I just can’t say yes just yet. I’m battling with not just my conscience, but with my finicky food standards. I’m really snobby when it comes to food. Frozen meat is for the lower classes I say, as I munch on my grass fed cow with my little finger sticking off the fork. Let them eat Findus crispy pancakes while they watch Big Brother. Imported food is slightly higher on the scale but as long as I’m eating, why not have the best? There’s also a woman behind me who has already looked at my flipflops and beard (I don’t wear closed toes on a dry day in summer, and since I’m sleeping 3 hours a night, shaving is not a priority) and judging by the look on her face, she’s decided I’m either a hippy or have a very rare form of OCD which relates to food but curiously not to personal hygiene. Would there be anyone around the store who knows where the meat came from, I wonder aloud. Thankfully, the question doesn’t seem to be a rare one (steak related pun intended), and the guy goes and finds his boss who is in the back and he arrives to assure me that not only is it Irish, he can also tell me from which farm. Go on then, I say. And to my surprise, he can tell me, and it’s only down the road in Meath too. I take the steak, thank the lads and perform a small bow to the lady behind me to show that even OCD, unhygenic hippies can be courteous and I go home to light the barbecue.

So some slight inconvenience for the butcher, not too much inconvenience for me and an interesting story to call into Joe Duffy for the lady behind me and bingo, I have reasonably priced, reasonably ethical, trusted protein. Everyone is a winner.

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