As a nation with a dairy industry, is it incumbent upon us to eat more veal? Matthew Evans urges us to look beyond the European model, and to consider a better system, in which boy calves are reared for consumption.
By
26 Jan 2015 - 3:59 PM  UPDATED 17 Sep 2015 - 5:12 PM

Call it controversial if you like, but I think we should eat more veal.

We don’t have a real culture of eating young cattle in Australia. As a person who lives in a regional area and shops in a country town, I know that veal, true veal, hardly exists, even at good butchers. And, yet, it’s a big part of the culinary fabric of France and Italy, places I’ve spent a little bit of time.

And what I’ve learned, since I moved from the city, is that if you’re a nation with a dairy industry, you really should eat veal.

Want to know why?

Well, to be able to milk cows, calves must be born. Every year, on average, a dairy cow gives birth to a calf so we can milk her. So every year there’s a new calf. But dairy cows grow differently, and have different features to beef cattle. They aren’t as muscular. They have a higher bone to meat ratio. And this means that a boy calf, born to a dairy cow, isn’t desirable. In fact, a lot of dairy boys are culled at about a week old.

If you’re a nation with a dairy industry, you really should eat veal.

How much do you think a cow is worth to the farmer? To the butcher? To the hamburger joint? Not much if they’re barely out of the womb.

One dairy we went to said they might make $8 out of a calf, after shipping it to the abattoir and paying a kill fee. For a week-old calf whose meat ends up minced, for pies or hamburgers.

Now, in a better system, the calf wouldn’t be small and skinny and die at one-week old. It would be raised to months old, fattened and sold for a tidy sum; a plus to the calf, the farmer, and the environment that pays a price for each life raised in it.

Don’t be afraid of the European model, often touted as a reason not to eat veal. It’s illegal to keep a calf anaemic here, a cruel system developed so the meat stays very white. It’s illegal to keep the young calves in so-called ‘veal crates’ where they never walk around. Rose veal, the sort we can get in Australia, comes from calves that have spent a few months walking and cavorting with their herd, eating grass (they start to nibble it after a week, even if they do still drink milk for a year). It’s a far more sensible, efficient, and I think ethical use of animals that have been born simply to support the dairy industry.

So if you drink milk, if you eat cheese; if you like yoghurt, or butter, or ice-cream, or mascarpone like I do, it’s incumbent upon you to help make the industry more viable, and more responsible. And to that end, if you care about the lives of the animals that are born into that system, you probably should eat more veal.

 

Head to the Gourmet Farmer Afloat for recipes, videos and articles.