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.

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - On Sunday -

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.

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