I can’t remember exactly, but it must be about ten years since we started the Meat Box, or Riverford Butchery as it’s now known. Back then, organic food was on the crest of a wave. Vegetable box sales were soaring and it felt as though the next step was to do the same with meat. We were right but, at the same time, very, very wrong. Yes, you did want quality, organic meat with sound provenance, as straight from the farm as possible, but, as things turned out, you didn’t want someone else writing the equivalent of your fortnightly dietary prescription. We’d like to say ‘suggested fortnightly menu’ but, in practise, meat doesn’t seem to offer the flexibility of vegetables. It all felt a bit prescriptive and became like a never ending drive around the M25 – ‘back at Cobham Services – it must be time for leg of pork again and what can we do with it this time?’ Potentially, the practical advantages were considerable. We never quite mastered it but being prescriptive should have enabled us to balance the carcass to a ‘T’ – hence solving the butchers’ perennial nightmare of having too much stewing meat and not enough steak. But times have changed; we’ve moved on from Sunday roast, Monday cold cuts and Tuesday cottage pie. If it makes people think about their food, who are we to say it’s a bad thing. If it means they live on ready meals and takeaways, I’d go for the cold cuts and cottage pie any day, or rather every Monday and Tuesday.
Quite rightly, we all see choice as being our birthright and the success of the Riverford Butchery has been down to lowering the minimum spend and allowing people to buy what they like. There’s still the old ‘fixed weight’ conundrum but the same applies in a shop – watch the pain in a butchers’ body language when you ask him to trim a couple of centimetres off a joint of topside. I could almost do it for pleasure.
But while the onus might have moved from set boxes to pick-your-own, our relationship with our farmers hasn’t changed. Many of them have been with us from the start. Some, through being members of our vegetable growing co-operative, since before then. Some might disagree but I’d like to think Riverford has bought them the best of both worlds – the professional predictions that allow them to plan ahead, together with the knowledge that they’ll be getting a fair price, independent of short term market oscillations.
So it’s been rewarding but, as I’m sure you can tell, after ten years I’m running out of things to say, so this is my last meat box newsletter. But don’t worry, I leave you in the very capable hands of the Riverford chefs to help you make the most of your meat.