Why We Need to Think Differently About Meat


The fetishisation of meat has gone too far and consumers have to have more realistic expectations when eating it, if we are to eat meat sustainably, according to some of the world’s best grill masters and butchers.

Speaking at the first ever Haragi International Meat and Grill Meeting at the Basque Culinary Center in San Sebastian (‘haragi’ means ‘meat’ in Basque), from 27-28 April 2018, Mexico-based Argentine chef Dante Ferrero, who has been known to roast whole cows, argued that consumers’ unbending desire for the tenderest meat is forcing meat producers to engage in unnatural rearing practices. “We’re eating muscles here, we’re eating meat. It should have bite,” he said. Chefs, he said, are totally accountable for ensuring the meat they serve has been ethically raised. He also argued that we need to try and vary the cuts we eat, as much as possible: “Having the same cut all the time forces producers to be less natural about what they do,” he said.

Left to right: Pablo Rivero, Mikel Zeberio, Juan Antonio Zaldua Olazar, José Gordon

Ageing of course is another aspect of meat culture that has taken on an almost hallowed reverence, and there’s nothing like meat that’s been hung for the gestation period of a small mammal to get a committed carnivore’s juices flowing. It’s a simple equation right, the longer the ageing the more intense the flavour, certainly when it comes to beef? But is a five-month-aged rib eye actually any better than one that’s been aged for say two months? Is it all actually just one big con? Food writer Mikel Zeberio took to the Haragi stage to speak about, amongst other things, the time he ate beef that had been aged for 420 days. “It was just dried out,” he said of his disappointment. “It tasted like it had been salt cured.” He also argued we need to move away from our obsession with breeds. How the animal is fed and treated is most important for flavour he said, a sentiment echoed by all the meat experts in attendance.

Left to right: Xabi Ruiz, Renzo Garibaldi

Grill cooking is at the heart of Basque gastronomy and Haragi also saw many Basque chefs join some of the new wave of South American meat chefs and butchers, such as Jefferson Rueda of Sao Paulo’s Casa do Porco and Renzo Garibaldi of Lima’s Osso, on stage. They all seemed to be in agreement: 20-40 days ageing is the ideal time for the famous Basque T-bone cow steaks they cook, perhaps a little more for oxen. Juan Antonio Zaldua Olazar, who owns several grill houses in the region, put it bluntly: “Excessive ageing does not mean the meat will be tender … when we talk about ageing, not all meats or animals are the same.” Xabi Ruiz, of Casa Nicolas, one of the Basque Country’s first grill houses, in nearby Tolosa, argued that he had found longer ageing to be “no good for flavour,” while Pablo Rivero of Buenos Aires’ Parilla Don Julio talked about how different cuts require specific ageing processes.

Rivero also addressed the elephant in the room, veganism, describing how his restaurant had been picketed, something that had also happened to Ferrero. But Rivero takes a diplomatic approach: “I want to understand and respect others, even if I don’t agree with them,” he said. He argued that he and his fellow chefs in attendance should not be the first targets of vegans, given the commitment of all those present, from the new wave of South American butchers and chefs to local Basque, to sustainability and animal welfare.

What do you think, are we too obsessed with ageing and breeds, and not enough with welfare? Let us know over on our Facebook page.