Thursday, 28 March 2013

Forget a sacrificial (British) lamb at Easter

For more pics and info, follow @herdyshepherd1.
It seems that most everyone is feeling depressed at the unrelenting tramp tramp of winter, but if you think you have it bad, then spare a thought for the country’s hill farmers, for whom this latest snow is proving fatal to many new-born lambs.

There’s something particularly poignant about that as Easter approaches, given that the most traditional celebratory meal in many western countries is roast lamb.

That’s not just a matter of seasonality (the best lamb you could eat at this time of year would have been born last August), but it has a long religious tradition too.

In Christian terms, the use of ‘lamb of God’ to describe Jesus originates in John’s gospel, where it is credited to John the Baptist.

My school in Manchester, Fairfield High School for Girls, which was linked to the Moravians, had as its badge the lamb of God carrying a vexillum – a well-known motif and the seal of the Moravian church.

It goes far further back than Christianity, though: the paschal lamb, for instance, was one sacrificed and eaten at the Passover.

Although eating lamb at Easter seems a rather odd tradition in terms of Christianity: given that the lamb is a symbol of Christ, it’s a trifle cannibalistic, albeit not nearly as much so as transubstantiation.

Anyway, there have been calls on social media to support our farmers by making sure that any lamb we buy for Easter comes from the UK.

Actually, what would be far better would be to try to buy British throughout the year and not just as a sort of charitable act when headlines raise awareness.

British farming shouldn’t be a sort of charity case.

Agnus dei – lamb of God with vexillum.
There are a number of reasons why supporting our farmers would be positive.

To start with, we need to seriously consider sustainability in terms of the food chain – the first months of this year have surely proved to everyone just what a convoluted food chain means in reality, as the horsemeat scandal proved to have a large reach.

If we buy as locally as we can, we reduce that chain, and in doing that, we reduce the carbon footprint of our food too.

Better yet, if we can possibly buy from farmers’ markets and the like, we help to ensure that the producers get a decent rate for the product – not one that’s been squashed down as low as possible by a big company with the power to do so.

Nor are these the only points. We also need to think seriously about the UK’s food security. We produce a decreasing percentage of our own food, and that’s not good.

Some politicians appear to believe that this is not a problem – we can just fly food in from somewhere or other. So we get asparagus from Peru, which is pretty tasteless to start with – unsurprising, given the distance it has had to come: it’s a vegetable that needs to be eaten as soon as possible after harvesting to be at its best.

But setting aside the question of taste, the mass production of a non-indigenous crop for the foreign market is damaging Peru’s own water supplies, with wells that local communities rely on drying up.

And could anything really be as crazy as carnations grown for the European market – grown in Kenya?

They’re not even easy to grow in the south of Europe because of the vast amounts of water that they need – just think Jean de Florette.

There’s something that’s almost beyond screwed-up about that. After all, nobody needs carnations out of their natural season in this country or anywhere in Europe.

For anyone who thinks that such situations are good for developing world countries, no they’re not – as Joanna Blythman illustrates perfectly in Shopped: The shocking power of Britain’s supermarkets.

Yet again, it’s a good reason for anyone who likes to think of themselves as a shopper with a conscience to shop as locally as possible and as seasonally as possible.

But back to food security – it has to be a matter of simple logic that we should be producing as much of our food as possible. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to understand that.

And that means remembering who produces out food – and reconnecting with them.

Personally, I’m not planning on lamb this weekend – but whatever I do decide to cook, the fresh ingredients will be bought, on Saturday, from farmers and artisanal producers and small, independent suppliers.

And please, if you can, help to support our domestic farming and agriculture. You’ll get a far better product too.

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