Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Great lamb (Hebrides) and dubious chicken (unknown)

Now, this is good. Intelligent use of Internet technology to:

  • support livelihoods in Hebridean islands

  • provide a fair price for Hebridean produce to the provider

  • provide an option for high quality meat for mainlands

One advantage of online shopping is that it works both ways. Online shopping doesn't just mean that products travel over the Minch to the Hebrides - Hebridean residents and business can and should sell more stuff to the mainland.

In a particularly superb example of this, a group of crofters from Lewis have got together to sell their lamb. The current dire prices they receive at the market, which often bears little resemblance to what people pay for it in the supermarket, make this example particularly interesting. A similar situation occurs on other Scottish islands, as detailed by an Orkney blogger.


They have a website with prices, contact details, pictures and descriptions. It's here - go look:


Your purchase is delivered ready for the fridge, freezer or oven:
"Heather Isles Meats will only source products from local crofters who have signed up to the Quality Meat Scotland farm assurance scheme. All our animals are processed locally in Stornoway at a small, fully approved, EU-licensed facility. All individual cuts will be vacuum-packed on the premises and packaged ready for despatch to your doorstep." 

You can also purchase knowing that a much greater proportion of what you have paid goes straight to the farmer. Sort of a "Crofter Fairtrade". Which is a side-point; before this it's been much easier for someone on the mainland to buy coffee at a fair price to South American coffee producers than it has been for them to buy lamb at a fair price to Hebridean crofters.

One of the Scottish national newspapers ran an article about this a few days ago. It's notable that a few of the lesser intelligent commentators thought the lamb was expensive. It isn't. We've had Hebridean lamb every Christmas here, and the leg roast alone fed two hungry people and two greedy cats for a surprisingly long time. It tasted good, and turned out to be good value for money. Which is important - but so is quality and enjoyment of food (well, to me, anyway). Else you might as well eat in fast food outlets all day.

For those people who have "as cheap as possible" as their sole criteria, the Guardian had a disturbing article a few months ago about mainland supermarkets selling whole chickens for £2 each. Think about the whole process of raising and feeding a chicken, and all the people involved (farmer, supplyer, supermarket) - but it only sells for £2. The review of the £2 chicken:
"Poking the flesh revealed what might as well be a life's ambition to retain more water than Lake Erie ... During the cooking, a freaky amount of fat came out of it. Some 50 mins later, out the chicken came. I let my best chef friend, Fred, have a try. "It tastes like Kentucky Fried Flesh," was his summary, "and the bones behave like cardboard." I tried it too. It was tasteless, and greasy."

Of course, there always will be people who will buy the cheapest option, no matter how dubious the quality. In the same article: 
Back in Clapham, the £2 chicken is selling out. "Why are they selling this bird so cheap?" asks Bridget Aguilar, a local shopper. "There must be a catch. It smells to me that something is wrong." But she bought one anyway.

So Bridget and others have saved a few pounds. Good for them; but (a) they're on for a tastless meal and (b) if that chicken has been fed and injected unnaturally to keep costs low - and at £2 each, you can bet anything it hasn't had a happy, organic, life - then the end product of that feeding and injections and bulked water will be absorbed by your body. What price your health in the longer stretch? Literally, food for thought. Oh, and that isn't the cheapest chicken sold by Asda, almost unbelievably...

Christmas Day is just 10 weeks tomorrow(!), I'm looking forward to Hebridean lamb again this yuletide, be it from Lewis, Harris or the Uists. I hope the Lewis crofters online lamb selling system is successful, and the crofters in Harris, the Uists and Barra also increase the amount of produce they market and sell online, to the mainland.

With more of these kinds of schemes for marketing and selling produce, some aspects of crofting could be elevated back to the level of true livelihood provision, as opposed to what is little more than hobby-farming due to the astonishingly low prices lambs and other produce make at market. It would be good to see the Comhairle and WIE really supporting and pushing these kinds of initiative.

If you are contemplating what to eat for Christmas, and you don't fancy dry and tastless turkey, or suspiciously cheap supermarket chicken of dubious quality, then try some Hebridean lamb.


  1. I hope they achieve good sales of Lewis lamb.

  2. Who do contact re purchase and can I buy over the internet. Why not pay by Pay Pal if you want to go National

  3. Keith: their contact details are at:http://www.heatherislemeats.co.uk/#contact

  4. Excellent. Good luck to all with this venture and I look forward to enjoying Hebridean lamb at my table in Yorkshire.