Yesterday evening, we dined on free, ethical and carbon friendly meat, when a wood pigeon flew straight at one of our windows and with a loud bang crashed into our garden, with a broken neck. Last Autumn, the first one flew into a neighbours tree and plummeted into a flower bed. Now it just so happens that pigeon breast is one of my favourite foods so it was double bonus. Whether and indeed how our garden is turning into some sort of pigeon Bermuda Triangle I don’t know, but I’m not complaining.
While there are a lot of wood pigeons in Britain, 2.7 million according to the BTO, I am not suggesting the whole population can convert to eating pigeon. But it did get me thinking, about free and/or low- carbon meat.
One of the big arguments against eating meat from ruminants like cattle and sheep is that as they digest the fodder they’ve consumed, they release methane in burps and farts. And methane is a potent greenhouse gas. Of course if the vast amounts of methane trapped in permafrost and under the sea as methane hydrates, are released as the Arctic warms, methane from ruminants will pale into insignificance. But for now, cow burps are a big issue.
And this is a problem for people like us promoting the value of cows and sheep living outdoors grazing on grassland with more than just rye-grass in the fields, as opposed to living in sheds eating maize silage and processed wheat.
So, if we’re not all going to go vegetarian (which would be a disaster for grasslands all over the world) how about eating meat from animals that are not ruminants? Wood pigeon is one – though as they fly it’s a bit tricky to keep them on your farm. What about rabbit? It’s another tasty low-carbon meat, no rabbit-burps to worry about. Rabbits also happily live on grasslands full of wildlife.
After the Normans introduced them as a luxury food item and for their pelts, rabbit farming (in warrens) was for centuries a significant part of the rural economy. It took many centuries but eventually they became established in the wild. They were seen as a problem by landowners, but provided free food for the rural poor. Myxomatosis put paid to that. But perhaps their time has come again?