The Life and Death of a Scotch Fillet


Next week, I will be part of a group of 8 food bloggers whose recipes will be cooked at the two-hatted Assiette restaurant in Surry Hills. My participation in this event has raised an important question for me, and I review it below.

Eating meat is a matter of life and death, there’s no denying it, but an obvious disassociation is involved – we never seem to stop to consider that life that has been taken in order for us to enjoy our food. Since we became removed from the process of killing for own food, most of us regard meat as a lifeless hunk of protein, regardless of its quality or origin. The fact that a steak was only recently part of a living creature is something our brain is very good at ignoring.

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to take part of an interesting event. I and 7 other food bloggers were invited by Meat and Livestock Australia to each develop a beef recipe for a degustation dinner cooked by Warren Turnbull at his two hatted restaurant Assiette in Surry Hills. A moral dilemma presented itself to me. For the dinner, Turnbull has hand selected a “stunning Angus steer from southern NSW” to be butchered by Anthony Puharich of Vic’s Meat and Victor Churchill. I was staring the death of an animal in the face, and my participation in the event meant that I would take on the karmic load of that animal losing its life. This fact was direct and obvious to me, in contrast to that disassociation created by walking into a butcher’s shop and buying steak.

I thought the whole thing over. I, after all, am a meat eater. To refuse participating in the event based on a moral objection to the animal losing its life would be hypocrisy – an animal dies for all meat that is consumed. I decided to use the experience to reinforce to myself the importance of meat, and to reconnect with its source. After confirming that the beef was grass and not grain fed, and that it has had no genetically modified feed, I accepted to take part of the event. I was allocated my own cut, a scotch fillet, for which I developed a recipe with the assistance of chef Turnbull. I admit that as the animal’s life became at the forefront of my thinking, my approach to developing this recipe came with a bigger burden and a higher degree of reverence to get it right. I feel that if we are to eat meat, we need to respect it, and that means no waste and mishandling. Next week I’ll be attending the dinner at Assiette. I’ll keep you updated with how the evening goes, and will share my recipe with you.

What do you think about meat? Do you eat it, and if you do, do you think about the animal that has died? Leave a comment below and let me know.

15 Responses to “The Life and Death of a Scotch Fillet”

  1. Amanda says:

    Great post, Fouad.
    We not only eat meat, but grow it as well, raising a small herd of black Angus cattle here in the Adelaide Hills. When the time came to ship our first herd off to the abattoirs I found myself facing similar questions. We were able to take steps to ensure that our cattle went to their death as peacefully, quickly and compassionately as possible. We chose an abattoir that is only 1/2 hour drive from our farm, to prevent them from spending hours in a truck, and loaded the beasts up ourselves quietly and calmly.
    Eating meat is a fact of our lives and one I can live with as long as the lives of those animals is respected and acknowledged.

  2. I was vego for 10 years (not any more) and I still don’t know what to think. But I agree that it’s true of any food, but especially meat, that it’s a crime to waste it. That said, I doubt the cow you’re eating gives a damn how it’s prepared…
    Lau@corridorkitchen´s last [type] ..4 reasons I don’t own a coffee grinder

  3. Fouad says:

    Amanda. Thanks for your comment. It’s great to hear your first hand experience. I share the sentiments you shared in your last statement. Lau does bring up an interesting argument though, the fact that the steer doesn’t give a damn how it’s prepared, so in essence it doesn’t care whether it is respected and acknowledged after it’s gone. Is the respect and acknowledgment we give the animal there only to make us feel better, and justify our actions? Somehow, I feel better treating the meat with respect, but I can’t rationalise why I do. Lau, why do you think it’s a crime to waste meat? Is it an environmental concern, or out of respect to the animal? Thank you for your comment.

  4. pigflyin says:

    great post. It would be interesting to see how you rise to the challenge of no waste when only prime or commercial cuts of beef are used for the dinner.

    The offal are feeling left out, the marrows are disappointed, the briskets are crying with the silverside. Plate and short ribs stormed out of the room.

    If we are going to celebrate the death of this beautiful beast, if no waste is what you strive for, leave the prime cuts where where they are and start making the death of the rest of the cow means something.

  5. Fouad says:

    Hi Pigflyin. Thanks for your comment.

    You’re absolutely right – minimising waste is a breeze when using only prime cuts. It’s the offal where the real challenge is. I was surprised to see that none of the offal is allocated, as much more use can be made of the steer. My involvement in the dinner was creating a recipe from the allocated cut, the scotch fillet, which I did. I hope the offal does get used, if not in this dinner then in future Assiette dinners. I’ll check with (and harass) the chef on the night and report back.

  6. pigflyin says:

    thank you and best of luck with the dinner. It is great when someone is doing something to champion something that all need to be more aware of.

    It is not just offal that we failed on, but all the other muscle cuts on the beast.

    They are all beautiful in their own way and I would have them any day over a prime cut.

    what about the tail and the tongue?

    what about the 5 different texture of the abdominal muscles that extends from the end of brisket to the naval?

    What about the great flavorful meat between the fillet and the end of the ribs?

    What about the internal muscles like diaphram and the muscle that attached the kidney to the body?

    what about the odd shaped cut triangular end of the sirloin that don’t present neat and tidy on the plate?

    They hardly ever show up on our dinning table.

    They all have different textures, flavor and characteristics.

    With help from the head to tail movement, it is fashionable to be thinking about some of the prime offal but all these non-mainstream muscle cuts just get minced into oblivion and lost their self respect and identity along the way.

    For us to try, buy, eat, serve,. cook (not in that order) these great cuts will impart commercial value on them and where else is best to start the movement at great restaurant like Assiette?

    Many a cut have been given a name and respect before… lamb shank is now as expensive as anything – still remember they were 50 cents each not too long ago.

    Lamb shoulder is now proudly presented whole on a wooden board in places like 4-in-hand and district dinning.

    Trip, tongue, tail and tongue now started to have their own spotlight on our plates.

    I would propose a challenge to create menu that allow the rest of the non-prime meat and non-prime offal shine. Not stew them, shread them into unidentifiable mass. Give them a name, give them character, let them shine on a plate.

    If anyone can raise to the challenge, bloggers should lead the way.

  7. Maybe it’s just a gut reaction, like… I was so used to not eating meat at all that it seems so ridiculous to waste it. I think you’re right. Not wasting it makes you feel better about your actions, while still being able to acknowledge how insignificant they may be.

  8. muppy says:

    That sounds like a very exciting opportunity.
    I grew up on a farm that sent cattle to the slaughter so it has always seemed a familiar process to me but yet it is shocking the amount of people who never really think about what it means to eat meat and who don’t consider where the meat they are consuming was from and how the animal was treated.
    muppy´s last [type] ..Donna Hays Prawn Fried Rice

  9. Jayson James says:

    Hi Fouad,

    This is a very interesting post. I think it is a matter of how one person processes his thoughts with the way he/she values life and how it should be perceived. I am not a vegetarian but every time I encountered this kind of issue being raised by anyone, I always end up feeling guilty about it. But if think about it, it’s really all about survival. I like what you mentioned above that valuing what you eat and making sure that nothing goes to waste is one good way on how to go about respecting animal’s life. After all, it is something that we can’t live without.

  10. I would rather not eat meat because I hate to kill animals; but I do sometimes and prefer not to think about the process of slaughtering them.

  11. cecile yazbek says:

    I am turning 58 this year – have been a vegetarian for 36 years; many thanks to my Lebanese heritage that taught me a respect for food, the land and all its creatures; I don’t kill to eat because of the huge variety of plant food available to us here in Australia;if I had to kill to eat, as I used to do with poultry as a teenage cook, I certainly could no longer do it; the many cruel methods in raising animals for slaughter is abhorrent to me: live animal export for ritual slaughter overseas, contravening the animal welfare rules we have in Australia, is hypocritical; producing meat consumes major energy resources on our embattled planet – chemicals seem to be essential in the raising of animals required for the scale on which we consume meat – that is making us and the planet sick; most importantly, my life is not more precious than the next person’s: I cannot consume a resource, the production of which is creating and maintaining starvation in our world.
    But I will never tell anyone else what to eat: we have all the information we need to make an informed choice. It is up to us to live with the decisions we take.
    All that said, Fouad, your joy and passion as a cook is inspiring and soulful – sahtein!

  12. Jobe says:

    Mate, it’s an interesting topic to debate and I don’t think there are any clear answers.

    Our modern Australian society has broken the link to the nature that we’re eating, which means that the clear majority of people don’t care where their food comes from or what that food “means”. Hell, a lot of people don’t even know what it takes to get a bit of meat or vege onto the supermarket shelf, which is disgraceful. Everything is now something that goes into the stomach and has some sort of taste to it.

    With the huge amount of discussion around global food security that is starting to ramp up in a big way in Australia (despite it being a global issue for decades), I’m hoping that a lot of people are going to be led to think a lot more about the food they put in their mouth and cook with.

    Beef is going to be a huge part of that discussion, since it takes (I think) more resources than anything else to grow and become food. Resuorces that could potentially be spent feeding many times more people.

    What people brought up in the above comments around making sure the animal is well (and thoroughly) used is also important. If we are going to insist on eating so much meat, then we need to make sure that we get everything possible out of those animals that take up so many resources to make.

    There’s also the need for people to reconnect with nature and realise that the steak they put on the BBQ is a part of an animal. It wasn’t something engineered in a factory. They are eating an animal that was butchered (in the occupational sense of the word). The same with vegetables, everyone needs to better connect with the seasons so we start eating smart and seasonally like we did hundreds of years ago. Before we we trained to forget.

    My opinions (misguided and poorly thought through that they are):
    - If you want to eat meat (and I see nothing wrong with it), you should be able to look that animal in the eye, see it being killed and butchered, and then cook and eat it. If an animal is raised well and killed humanely then there should be nothing “squeemish” about the process; it’s nature providing for us as it always has.
    - People need a better general understanding of what they eat. Before cooking something, we need to consider the impact of it. Ideally, that means eating a lot less resource intensive protein, eating seasonally/sustainably and considering how much we’re wasting. This is going to take a societal change but there are early signs this could happen in the coming decades.
    - Because they operate as a business, professional kitchens are pretty good at minimising waste from an ingredient. It’s households that need to improve dramatically.
    Jobe´s last [type] ..Tacos

  13. Meat is not on the top of my favorite foods but I eat it more or less. I never really thought about the life of the animal “poetically” but somehow it seemed a natural process to eat an animal when you are the top of the animal chain. I cringe from killing animals you cannot eat for the purpose of just sport though.
    I think all food should be respected and not be wasted, because there are so much people out there, including children, who cannot have enough to eat.
    So I try to wipe my plate clean to avoid spilling any kind of food.
    Another thing to be said though, respecting life, of whatever origin it is, is a commendable value: it makes us more human.
    Viviane@Taste-Buds´s last [type] ..Challenge 13- Knefeh

  14. Mark says:

    anita my wife used to be a vegetatian, i cooked for her each day most days something different -ish etc, but after having our first child when i cooked some meats these like sausages ,bacon etc she began to eat meat slowly, wishing to begin eating it she has now moved on to many different forms of meat products .i Have gone thorugh a few times up to a week without eating m eat but then i have had to eat meat a few pork chops or a large chicken breast or soething like this which can revitalize and make me feel good and full. i would like to think that all the meat that we eat is taken c are of and treated fairly and culed with some form of humane conditions but this is sometimes not the case .i do belive that treating the animal nicley before it is culed brings out the best in the meat ,as the animal is not so tence, and the muscles do not tighten up so much, and its a more honest way of killing it also to kill it if you need to not just for the fact that it is a animal .

  15. E. Nassar says:

    I do love and eat meat. I do make it a point to buy well-cared for animals that are treated and slaughtered humanely when possible. Specifically, I Buy from a local farmer who really takes care of his animals and I make it a point to buy all kinds of “other” cuts rather than rib joints.
    Philosophically and cosmically I see nothing inherently wrong in killing an animal for food. If we expect to go through life without affecting the environment we live in then we are lying to ourselves. Even if you are only eating vegetables you are contibuting to killing creatures (What happens to all those cute bunnies, lizards, bugs …that call those fields you are plowing home? for example). What about the egg/cheese industry? It’s all a product or byproduct of raising animals for meat. We need milk, milk is from birthing cows (or sheep or goats…). What happens to the cute baby male calfs or lambs? We use them. We eat them.
    Please understand that I am not trying to be insensitive here. Someone asked upthread whether a cow cares if it was treated well and appreciated before being killed. Well, think of it this way, what exactly is the cow going to do if we let it roam free. Die a “natural” slow death? In the wild? It will probably be mangled by a predator. So, maybe in the regular sense of the word, the cow does not “care” (thank goodness for that BTW or else we cannot eat it), but being raised humanely and killed quickly is not an option that is much worse than “nature”. I did say I love meat, but I do not eat a lot of meat, but when I do, I like to think that the creature was not tortured in a factory farm (bad for the animal, the environment and my family) and that makes a difference.

    My 2 cents. Love the blog Fouad.

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