The Wild Meat Company was established in 1999 by Robert Gooch and Paul Denny, who were keen to take the muck and mystery out of buying, preparing, and eating game. At the beginning, Paul did all the processing and butchery and Robert made the collections and deliveries. Since then the company has been named as one of Rick Stein’s Food Heroes and been highly praised by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.
Locavore spoke to Robert about why game is ethical, its growing popularity, and the differing views of what ‘sustainable’ actually means.
From where is your game sourced?
In Suffolk there is an abundance of wild game. The Wild Meat Company source and sell venison, game birds, rabbit and even squirrel entirely from farms and estates in East Suffolk where possible – with some exceptions such as grouse, or wild boar, that do not exist in our area.
Wild meats have been gaining in popularity over recent years. Why do you think this is?
Three main reasons – a large amount of people are only interested in eating meat that has not been through an abattoir due to the stress involved with transport and lairage. Another factor is that game is low in fat, and so fits into various weight-loss diets. Finally many consumers want to follow the Paleo diet, or other high protein diets, which fits into a pre-industrial lifestyle.
You say that game is, ethically, the best meat to eat. Why?
Game is ethical to eat because much of it is already culled for various reasons to do with countryside management. It would be wasted if it was not eaten.
You sell a variety of game, including grouse. Driven grouse shooting is a contentious subject, to say the least. What are your views on this? And where do your grouse come from?
Our grouse come from moors in the North of England. It is contentious because high-profile conservationists believe that grouse moors are responsible for the illegal killing of hen harriers. Hen harrier breeding populations are very low, but that applies not only to grouse moors but also on reserves, such as those of the RSPB. However, as a game bird that is wild and not artificially reared or released, it could be argued that grouse shooting should be less contentious than, say, pheasant shooting.
You also sell a variety of free-range meats. Where do these come from?
Our poultry range is not wild, but is farmed by our friends at Sutton Hoo Chicken, on the Suffolk coast, to very high welfare standards. The birds are reared slowly, the traditional way and are completely free-range.
Our goat products come from Andalusian breeds in the deep southern part of Spain. The goats are all free-range.
Alde Valley Lamb is produced by Nick and Penny Watts on a family farm based in Suffolk from a flock of 200 Mule ewes. The lambs graze the lovely historic water meadows of the Upper Alde Valley and are also fed on a homemade ration of cereals and sugar beet. The Wild Meat Company is located further down the river catchment in the Lower Alde Valley.
The pigs that produce our Blythburgh Free Range Pork are born outside and spend their entire lives outdoors in the fresh air, with freedom to roam in large paddocks, rooting around in our sandy Suffolk soil and playing with their peers. They have shelter when they need it, in the form of large airy tented barns in each paddock with plenty of bedding straw.
There is much debate around the role of meat in sustainability, climate change, and ethics. Do you think meat can be part of a sustainable and ethical diet?
Grazing livestock are key to the management and economic viability of many of our most fragile landscapes, such as our mountains and moorlands, marshes, floodplains, water meadows. All these habitats would revert to woodland if they were not grazed. A vegan diet, and forest cover of most of the UK, is an alternative vision of sustainability, but it is not sustainable given the growth in human populations here and globally.
How does sustainability affect other aspects of your business?
We are part of low-carbon programme, and we have long-term targets for reducing carbon use.
How do you think the coming political changes will affect your business, and the game business as a whole?
We have a very small proportion of our business trading with the EU, but I anticipate that this will stop after Brexit. Small companies, such as mine, trading in many species will not be able to manage all the licensing requirements.
Do you have any plans for 2019?
We have plans to add a small beef producer with traditional breeds to our range of products.
What are your hopes, and fears, for the future, both for the Wild Meat Company and the wider food world?
It is important that the value food products – from any source – are available for those who cannot afford them, or do not have the time and land to grow their own food. But equally I hope that specialist retailers such as ours can provide traceable and ethically sourced local meat.
Finally, why do you do what you do?
Because I love it.
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