Ethics vs Economics: Choosing free-range.

So, I’ve caused a minor furore with my latest Guardian recipe by using free range sausages at £2.79 for
6. Not as big as the furore I caused by (quelle horreur!) using basic baked beans and rinsing the sauce off them to reveal little white haricot or cannelloni beans underneath (more on that later) but a furore all the same.

I hardly eat meat at all these days, maybe twice a week, and usually sausages or chicken. I tend to get my proteins from beans, pulses, fish and vegetables – I lead a pretty hectic, active lifestyle, and am a healthy size for my height with good general health, so I think I’m doing alright. I do a lot of research into nutrition, and have a permanent mental list of great sources of B vitamins, iron, protein and vitamin C – a lot of which are staples on my shopping list – but I’ll blog that in detail one of these days. The point is, I try to get as much nutrition for my budget as possible. If I didn’t care about nutrition, I’d never have started this in the first place – I’d have carried on feeding SB a third of a ready meal and staring glumly across the table while he ate it.

Times have been bloody hard over the past year, and I bought Basic 80p sausages for my Live Below The Line challenge earlier this year, and £1.09 cooking bacon for everything, because sometimes you just don’t have the choice. I know that, believe me. I was surviving, experimenting, grateful for absolutely anything I could rustle up and blogging the successes.

This past year or so has been a learning journey for me, but something never felt ‘right’ about cheap meat. Beggars can’t be choosers, I know, so I switched the nagging voice off, told it to be quiet, and got stuck in. But…

I’ve tried to adopt a vegan diet a few times since I was a teen, and I guess with so many alternatives out there to eat, I’ve decided to bite the bullet and go free range. It’s a highly personal decision, but unfortunately when you have a recipe column in a national newspaper, there’s no such thing as a personal decision. People get to pick over it and bitch about it and call you names. It’s not the cheapest choice – but it’s my choice. Like whatever chicken and sausages you buy from the supermarket, well, that’s your choice. I’m not going to get all judgey-pants on anyone for choosing to buy three times as many sausages for their buck – as I said, it’s a personal decision, and I’d be a bloody hypocrite if I tried.

So here we go. From now on I’m on a mission to see if it’s possible to eat free range meat on a low budget. My sausage casserole recipe at just under £1 a head says yes it is – but my meat consumption might go down even further as I work this one through. And do you know what? I’m okay with that. And I feel much better about it, to be honest. The jump from former vegan to eating battery chickens was a jump too far for me – most people get to quietly make these choices on their own in their homes and their friends and family are none the wiser – but having been inundated with comments and emails since the recipe was published, I thought I’d set the record straight. I choose free range meat and eggs. And that won’t blow my budget, because I have a massive repertoire of vegetarian alternatives.

Recipes will still work with whatever sausages and chicken your wallet will allow – so use them as a guide, not as a science. I hope people understand why I’ve made the choice I did for myself and my family – and it’s times like this that being in the public eye really truly sucks, when you get abuse from strangers for trying to do the right thing.

Jack Monroe. Twitter: @MsJackMonroe

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