In a world where plant-based diets are on the rise, one might question the arrival of a book called Meat. But Anthony Puharich of Victor Churchill is championing change in the animal-protein debate, writes DAN STOCK.
The United Nations advocates for it. Cancer research bodies think we should do it. Greenpeace reckons it’s crucial for the survival of the planet and it is, of course, PETA’S raison d’etre.
The news is in: eating less meat is good for us. And according to the latest figures, more than two million Australians are heeding the advice and now living a meat-free life.
It’s a fairly compelling message: eat less meat and save the world and yourself. This means, though, there’s never been a tougher time to be in the meat business, something fifthgeneration butcher Anthony Puharich knows all too well.
The one-time merchant banker has witnessed first-hand the changes in Australians’ eating habits since setting up Vic’s Premium Quality Meat in 1996 with his father, Victor – which has since become the country’s leading meat wholesaler – and then luxe butcher shop Victor Churchill in Sydney’s Woollahra. The father-and-son team are widely regarded as the country’s foremost butchers, creating a company that now employs more than 250 people.
But with plant-based eating going mainstream, much like the apocryphal Chinese curse, these are, he says, interesting times for the meat industry.
“I respect everyone’s position, how they want to live their lives. My opinion, and this is backed by doctors, a healthy life is a balanced life, and that includes all types of foods, not just vegetables. Not just seafood. I think meat should and has to form a part of everybody’s diet. I’m not saying to eat meat three meals a day, seven days a week, not encouraging people to eat meat at the levels that we have been, (but) in order to live a long and happy and healthy life protein has to form some part of your diet,” Puharich says.
The butcher bristles at accusations levelled at the industry, and those who, in a rush to condemn meat eating as a modern evil, tarnish the reputation of Australia’s farmers who, he says, are world-leaders in meat production.
“Industrial-scale farming is like any industry, there are good producers and bad ones. You shouldn’t judge a whole industry on the small percentage of those that don’t do things properly,” he says. “I’m not a big fan of people who form an opinion of the way meat is produced or raised, or whatever it might be, but at the same time are not offering up a solution, a better way of doing it.”
While he doesn’t profess to have all the answers, Puharich has outlined a vision for the industry’s future while at the same time distilling his more than two decades’ experience into Meat. The weighty tome covers the history of breeds, farming practices, animal husbandry and provenance, and teams this with butchery techniques, and advice on selecting, storing and cooking all types of meat. The aim, he says, was to present the most comprehensive book written on meat. “My whole life revolves around meat, so I’m probably in the best position to talk about it in the country.”
In the book, Puharich outlines three guiding principles he believes will go a long way to solving problems the industry faces, both in the physical production of meat, and the perception of it: eat less but better quality; eat more of the animal; and eat native and wild meat.
“If people subscribe to those, I think we can go a long way to correcting the imbalance, the dependence and reliance on industrial-farmed meat,” he says.
Though championing best-in-class producers, such as Bruce and Roz Burton’s Milking Yard Farm chickens, David Blackmore’s Wagyu beef, or Taylan and Megan Atar’s Seven Hills Tallarook goats, is the foundation of the success of Vic’s, Puharich remains pragmatic about the need for more intensive farming practices here driven by growing affluence in countries such as India, China and Russia that have been unable to afford to eat much meat in the past.
“I can’t see the demand for meat slowing down, but the amount of land available to farm product in [less intensive] fashion is becoming smaller and smaller, so it’s a far-fetched ideological dream to expect we’re going to be able to feed the world purely from small-farming-type plots,” he says.
“It is unfeasible to think we can grow all animals out in the open on pasture in a free-range environment. That we’re going to have enough space and water to produce a lot of meat – which we do need to do to meet the increasing demands around the world for meat.”
So while the appetite for $300/kg David Blackmore striploin is stronger than ever, Puharich says eating ethically raised product from good farmers is not simply the domain of the well-to-do, with lesser-known cuts from the same animal sold for a fraction of the price.
And, he says, our meat-eating future would look a lot brighter if we embraced eating the humble kangaroo.
“As a country, we need to get over the stigma that surrounds kangaroo meat. There’s 60 million of these things hopping around the country; it’s high in iron, minerals, it’s lean, inexpensive. ”
Puharcih enlisted chefs including Kylie Kwong, Ben Shewry and James Viles to share their recipes for roo in Meat in an attempt to help put kangaroo on more plates. Because that is, after all, the butcher’s business. For an extract of exclusive recipes from Meat, get the bumper December/january issue of delicious., on sale from November 15.