Veal is one of the tastiest meats you'll ever eat. It is beyond tender and lends itself to a huge range of wonderful dishes. It features prominently in Italian, French and now American cooking. Despite its huge popularity around the world, you rarely (if ever!) see it on an Irish menu or for sale in butchers or supermarkets. When I asked Irish people most were open to it but simply couldn't find it for sale...
@NiallHarbison If I could find it anywhere, yes.
— Ray (@reannaigh) February 5, 2015
Why The Concern?
It mostly comes down to a practice called "crating". This is where the young male calves are taken away from their mothers very soon after birth and placed in tiny confined areas. The logic here is that the less an animal moves the less muscle it will develop and the more tender the meat will be. If the calf can't physically move you end up with the most tender meat imaginable. Conditions like this have been banned in the EU since 2007 but still exist in America...
If you look a little closer it seems that some of the practices on the continent might still be severe enough, but in Ireland the calves used for veal are much better treated. Having said that, a huge problem is that because we don't eat veal here, the vast majority of our calves get exported meaning they are separated from their mothers within days and sent on long dark journeys across Europe to be reared in veal production units (mostly in Belgium, Holland and France). With no need for them here it makes commercial sense to send them to Europe. Some Irish people do seem aware of the issues around veal here in Ireland and have an appetite for it...
If we didn’t eat veal, what would happen to male dairy calves?
Totally anti calf crating though.
— Geoff Boyle (@geoffboyle) February 5, 2015
@NiallHarbison Yep. Just back from UK and its a standard dish on Sunday lunch menus. Wouldn't eat in USA due to crating etc
— Dave Kavanagh (@innodavek) February 5, 2015
The UK are ahead of us when it comes to veal with chefs like Jamie Oliver promoting it providing it is humanely reared. Companies in Ireland are working on Rosé veal which gets its name from the distinctive pink color. Humane raising of veal means the calves get more space, straw and corn and natural daylight. I've eaten the product and it is absolutely outstanding product. Last week I cooked the recipe in the picture below, and had absolutely no moral issues with it because I knew the animal had lived a good life..
Giving An Animal A Good Life
I was talking to a butcher last week about veal and the perception of it in Ireland. He flipped the question on its head and asked me about greyhounds in Ireland. Trained to within an inch of their lives, locked up, not socialized and then dumped as soon as they were no longer useful. Many of us have been to Shelbourne Park or Harold's Cross to see the dogs and not batted an eyelid. Every day I see horrendous examples of animal abuse here in Ireland like this and this in the last week alone.
What has happened in the last couple of decades is that we have become totally desensitized to having to kill animals. We all happily walk into a supermarket everyday and buy a packet of chicken that looks something like this..
Nobody wants to know where the chicken came from. What sort of a life has a whole chicken that costs you 6.99 in Tesco had? I'm pretty sure it isn't roaming the fields eating the finest grain living for years. Is that any better or worse than veal? The simple fact is we don't know.
It isn't as simple as this, but rather than just dismissing all veal as "bad" I'd encourage people to read into it a little. The amount of calves we export to the likes of Holland isn't going to decrease because they can't get enough of veal on the continent. Rather than packing up the animals and shipping them across Europe, we could actually keep them here and develop a better life for them. For that to happen we'd all have to start eating veal. As soon as you taste it you'll be sold immediately. It is one of the best meats ever and if we can give the animals a better life, that is a win win.