There’s so much that goes into a good meal, especially one that features meat. From spices to side dishes to the cooking techniques used, one wrong decision can make a stunning dish into something less-than-stellar.
Of course, the most important factor is whether or not the meat you’ve purchased is of high quality. Your local shop provides great cuts of chicken, pork, beef and lamb, and you inspect each slice before you buy it. Still, simply looking at a butcher’s selection is no indication of how the animal felt before it died — and this can have a huge effect on the way your dinner will taste.
How Does It Happen?
Whether or not you’re an animal lover, there’s one fact you can’t deny: animals are sentient beings. As such, the environment in which an animal dies can play a big role in how the meat tastes once it’s delivered to you. That’s because the stress livestock feels before it is slaughtered can cause its muscles, the meat you eat, to tense up and taste differently.
This effect is caused by lactic acid in an animal’s muscles, or lack thereof. Livestock that dies without feeling stress hold onto the stores of glycogen in their muscles. After death, this becomes lactic acid, which works to preserve the meat’s tenderness and the pink colour you seek out when buying fresh cuts from the butcher.
On the other hand, a stressed-out animal burns through its muscular glycogen before slaughter. This means that meat doesn’t have its natural preservation, leaving it tougher and less tasty to eat. On top of that, the meat loses the bacteria needed to prevent spoilage, thus hastening the time in which cuts go bad.
In most cases, though, the health of the meat isn’t necessarily affected, but tough, crumbly meat plagued by stress isn’t servable. It’s less colourful, flavourful and tender.
What Else Can Affect the Health of Our Food?
There are other factors that affect the health of meat more than just the way it was slaughtered. For example, an animal’s diet plays a huge part in the quality of the meat that can be collected post-mortem. On top of that, the amount of time your dinner spends in transit from farm to table can make it less healthy, too. Before that, routine transport of livestock can cause stress and changes in beef: after 30 hours the body cannot shed more water, so the weight being lost is tissue itself.
Another big factor in the quality of meat we’re eating is the demand for low-cost meat options. In order to produce meat in a budget-friendly way, some companies have to cut corners, in the ways described above and with other methods. This, of course, makes meat less healthy, too.
How Can We Change It?
In short, enhancing the animals’ wellbeing will only serve to improve the quality of meat. Take, for example, an all-natural pig farm in Spain. The animals are allowed free reign, running through grass fields and subsisting on a diet of acorns. Their natural menu and de-stressed life gives their meat an incredible, rich flavour that can easily be mimicked by other production facilities.
Of course, it may be hard for companies to meet the meat demands of a country that eats incredible amounts of animal protein. At the very least, they can strive — and we can demand — that meat production facilities attempt to create a less stressful environment for their animals, especially at their time of slaughter. Less heat and humidity have been proven to help them feel at ease — from there, more concessions will only make meat better and animals happier in the long run.
In the end, it’s up to the consumer to demand better conditions for the production of their food. With a thoughtful campaign, it might only be a matter of time before stress is no longer a factor in the taste and quality of meat.
Emily is a freelance writer, covering conservation and sustainability. You can read her blog, Conservation Folks, for more of her work.