I’m back from another trip, this time to Normandy, and it was lovely!
I’m still trying to be more sustainable, ethical and healthier by having vegan food and it was the first time I attempted to do this in France, land of butter… and steak.
We went over on the ferry and I prepared by buying several vegan snacks for the journey (which also saved us money as it’s pretty expensive to buy food on the ferry itself).
I went to Holland and Barret and tried 2 Blackfriars flapjacks, suitable for vegans. I had the walnut & date one on the way there, it was a really nice flapjack and left nothing to be desired, not even butter. 😉
We also had root vegetable crisps, they are so delicious! I may not like beetroot in jars but love them in crisp form 🙂
We stayed with my boyfriend’s parents, so admittedly it was easy to eat vegan food. If we had been going around all the time it would have been a lot harder as there barely seem to be any vegetarian options in ordinary French restaurants, let alone vegan. If you are planning to go somewhere and want to check which restaurants have more sustainable vegetarian and vegan options, have a look at Happy Cow, the healthy eating guide.
One day we went to Mont St. Michel and stopped to buy some snacks on the way, including apricot juice!!!!! It’s my favourite fruit juice and it’s really popular where I grew up in Italy but not in the U.K., so that was a treat!
The Abbey of Mont St. Michel was breathtaking and we were lucky to visit it on a beautiful sunny, clear and hot day. We had a guided tour and the guide was really charismatic, we learned a lot during those 80 minutes.
The village at the foot of the Abbey was full of souvenir shops and restaurants, I glanced at a menu and every dish had scallops, salmon, lamb, beef, chicken or some other meat as its main feature. I think there may have been one vegetarian option, an omelette, but no vegan options.
In the evening we all went to a local restaurant which specialises in pizza and steak&chips. I thought I would easily be able to “veganise” a pizza by simply asking to omit the cheese (which usually has natural rennet in France so often isn’t vegetarian) but unfortunately they make their dough with milk! So I had a salad and chips instead, just like in previous last-resort-situations on our trip to Florida.
The next day we had a picnic on the beach, I had lots of vegetables and in the evening everyone has mussels while I made simple spaghetti with tomato and lentil sauce for me and little M. who is almost 3 years old (and who liked my pasta 😀 )
I loved the lentils so much that I bought some the next day to bring back with me, with other goodies.
More apricot juice of course, d’aucy lentils – I saw this brand in the U.K. but haven’t spotted these tasty lentils – LU Granola chocolate chip and caramelised almond biscuits (couldn’t believe they are vegan!) and organic quinoa, which was more reasonably priced than in the U.K.
What I realised in Normandy is that maybe we really are happier when we are closer to nature.
It can be the simple pleasure of having the garden of your dreams, or living in an area quiet enough to be able to hear birds sing or looking out of the window and seeing cows roaming around freely, grazing happily… or perhaps staring at the sky for hours, thinking of all the stars that are always there but are usually drowned in a bit city’s light pollution.
I know several people who aren’t particularly into sustainability or protecting the environment and yet say things like “I want to have a house with a massive garden and I want to grow my own vegetables”.
It seems like an instinctive call to “go back to the basics” and reconnect to simple things.
Normandy is great for this. Everywhere we went we were able to see, smell or hear animals. We went past crops, saw dozens of cows, horses and butterflies, smelled fields and farms, heard crows and buzzing bees.
We also went to a farm up the road, within walking distance of where we were staying.
We simply turned up and went into the area where cows queue up to be milked twice a day. The lady who owns the farm with her husband greeted us warmly, asked if we had any questions and offered us raw milk (although nobody accepted the offer).
She explained what she was doing and seemed proud of her lovely cows, who looked at us with curious and intelligent gazes.
We were introduced to the lady’s son and husband, they showed us the calves and answered absolutely any and every question we had. Although we had all just turned up out of the blue, it was like a guided tour.
There were 2 calves, one had been born the previous day, the other 3 days before.
She will become a milk cow. The calf next to her was a male born from a milk cow and they said he’s worthless, only worth a mere €100. He will grow to about 350kg, whereas meat bulls grow to weigh 550kg and their meat is more valuable as they have a better flavour and tender meat. They showed us how they clip the calves’ ears, adding plastic tags with all their information and ID number on them.
Then they fed them powdered milk with luke warm water. I asked why they are separated from their mothers as soon as they are born, they explained that it’s because the mothers need to go back to making milk for human consumption and the calves are fed on powdered milk to lower the risk of diarrhoea, which would be more costly than paying for powdered milk to prevent it. They also have fortified cereals, “equivalent to Kellogg’s corn flakes for us”.
After giving birth the mother’s milk is so rich with nutrients, fat and immune system building organisms that it’s as thick as porridge and cannot be used for humans either. I thought it was sad that the baby calves leave their mother straight away and can’t enjoy all this goodness, and selfish that this happens for us humans. At the same time, I know this is a “good practice” farm and most cows aren’t even cared for as well as these are. It’s quite confusing and thought-provoking.
A vet arrived at the farm while we were there to check if two cows were pregnant. He explained us how he checks them and even showed us the echography pictures of the babies, letting us know how far along they were.
The owners also showed us different breeds of cows and bulls bred for meat, who look enormous compared to narrow, slim-built milk cows. One of the bulls we saw is due to go to the abattoir this month as he is ready and the ideal size.
I asked how the cows are slaughtered. The lorry collects them and takes them to the abattoir, the closest is 60km away. They are led to a corridor, music is played to calm them as they can sense what’s going on and they get nervous. When it’s time, they are shot in the head with a pneumatic pistol that makes a whole in their skull. They are then hung by their feet, bled and butchered.
We then walked up the lane to the turkeys’ plot. In this farm, the regulations stipulate that they are allowed to have 6 turkeys per square metre. In an intensive farm, they are allowed to have double that number.
Like the cows, who roam around outside all day, the turkeys had a lot of space to move, however they all have one of their wings clipped so they are unable to fly away.
The indoor shed where they eat is heated and everything is monitored in order to make it optimal for the birds.
We also went to see the chickens, they have about 4,400 of them.
The owner explained the chicks arrive at their farm when they are 1 day old.
In industrial farms they would be killed when they are 35-40 days old. Here, they live until 80-90 days old and are allowed to grow more slowly and naturally. Their shed is also heated to the ideal temperature and the quantity of feed they are given are related to their age and size.
Once the chickens reach their ideal size, they are put on the lorry who will take them to the abattoir. It only takes 11-12 men/women 1 hour to load more than 4,000 chickens.
Once at the abattoir, they are placed on a conveyor belt, then hung by their feet, their head is swiftly dipped in water to moisten their neck and they are electrocuted to death. They are dipped in hot water and a machine rubs their feathers off, then the head is chopped off and another machine reaches inside their body and takes the internal organs out, then they are checked manually to ensure they are completely clean inside.
Some things struck me as cruel, and yet this farm operates far more sustainably than mass-producing industrial plants, where chickens do not have any room to move at all, where animals see no natural light whatsoever, where cows have to witness other cows being killed knowing they will be next and there is no care at all for the animals’ welfare, only the wish to produce massive quantities of bad quality meat to make as much money as possible.
These are animals bred for special occasions, not everyday meals for everyone, but I wish this was the norm, not the exception.
The farmers didn’t hesitate once in answering all our questions. This says it all: they have nothing to hide.
This is their job, their lives. Humans have to eat, therefore animals need to be bred for us.
I do not really agree, I haven’t eaten beef, turkey or chicken for years or any of their products for months, and yet I am very much alive and healthier than I used to be when I ate them.
However…it is improbable that the whole world’s population will turn vegan anytime soon. So I simply wish people would appreciate their food more, acknowledge and respect the process, effort and time it has gone through to reach our plate.
Eat less but higher quality meat. Do not waste.
Do you have any holiday experiences that have made you think of sustainability and what we do?
Have you ever visited a farm? Do you think everyone should be more aware of how food is produced?