Ted's teaching tips

1st June 2001 at 01:00
Does anyone care what happens to food before it reaches our table? This hapless bird is being force-fed so that it can be used to make the sort of pate for which gourmets will pay a high price. At least Sumo wrestlers have a choice about being fattened up, and they get well paid for their efforts.

Food farming

If you eat meat for lunch, does it matter what happened before it reached the butcher (humane farming methods, hygiene, transport, slaughter)? Why is the term "factory farming" sometimes used (examples, battery hens; using certain types of diet or supplements to produce bigger animals; breeding fish under controlled conditions instead of catching them in rivers or lakes)? Should animals grow normally, run free, eat natural food, or are factory farming methods acceptable to you? If some practices are acceptable and others not, where do you draw the line (physical confinement, feeding methods)?

Birds

What do you know about birds (about 8,700 species; warm-blooded, egg-laying, feathered; two-legged; most fly, hence wide spread around the world, some flightless, such as the ostrich)? Birds in their natural habitat are a fascinating study. What do you know about their lifestyle (nesting, breeding, feeding, social behaviour)? Have you ever observed seagulls (brilliant at gliding on air currents), birds of prey (often hover over roads), starlings (not just greedy guzzlers, also good mimics), pigeons, rooks (noisy, live in sizeable groups), sparrows, robins (males very territorial, drive off rivals, sometimes viciously)? If not, watch out for birds in the future and see wht you can learn about them. What sort of birds have become domesticated (hens, ducks, geese, turkeys, canaries, parrots, budgerigars)? What is their relationship with humans (not just a source of food, can be pets, garden visitors, source of fondness and wonderment)?

Foie gras

Pate is a common type of food, but how is it made (a paste consisting of meat, fish, vegetables, often combined with butter, oil, cheese, herbs, seasoning)? What is foie gras ("fat liver", a paste made from goose or duck livers)? If it is a popular food why do many people object to it (birds' livers are fattened in an inhumane way by force-feeding)?

Writing

Draw up a menu showing your favourite foods (starter, main course, dessert). Describe what you know about the ingredients of each dish, how it has been produced and brought to your kitchen.

Ted Wragg is professor of education at Exeter University

Talking points

Are factory farming practices acceptable?

For

It is hypocritical to be pious about farming. We slaughter animals and eat them anyway. Factory farming is economically more efficient and saves us having to import livestock for food. It does not have to be inhumane: fish farms may offer a longer life than rivers and lakes, free from predators.

Against

For centuries, we raised animals for food under natural conditions; there's no need to mechanise the process with disgusting means. They may end up as food, but should not be treated cruelly - kept in cramped conditions, debeaked, or force-fed. Animals reared naturally live better and taste better.


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