eating meat
Rob Percival proposes that we collectively reimagine what it means to eat meat. Image Leah Kelley

My three rules for modern meat eating

Eat the lot, share everything, waste nothing: here’s how I would reimagine our approach to meat eating, writes Rob Percival.

Eat the lot. Share everything. Waste nothing. I propose that these three principles should guide modern meat consumption.

I’m talking about how meat and animal foods are consumed. This question is often neglected. We spend plenty of time debating whether we should eat animal foods, and if so, which animals, how often, and from which farms. We spend much less time reflecting on social norms.

I challenge you this. Adopt these three principles for a month. Or treat this as a thought experiment if you prefer. But entertain the possibility that our dietary norms might be radically rewritten.

I propose that we scrap the social rulebook. Let’s collectively reimagine what it means to eat meat.

Eat the lot

You’re probably familiar with the concept of nose-to-tail eating, where one consumes, as far as is practical, the whole animal – but I propose we go one further. I propose obligatory nose-to-tail eating. If you eat ‘meat’ at all, you must be prepared to eat the lot – heart, liver, kidneys, connective tissues, edible bits from inside heads, bones, and so on.

Do you want to eat animals or not? For me, it’s either all in or all out. Eat nose-to-tail or go plant-based.

There’s lots of good nutrition in this stuff. And it’s better for producers if we buy the whole beast. The idea that we raise and slaughter an animal only to eat a select few slices of muscle should be seen as absurd and backwards.

For those who don’t want to eat hearts, offal, and gristly bits, going plant-based is an excellent choice.

Do you want to eat animals or not? For me, it’s either all in or all out. Eat nose-to-tail or go plant-based.

Share everything

I also propose this. You should only consume animal foods when in company. When alone, your diet should be wholly plant-based. If you want to eat meat, you seek someone to share it with. Ideally, you only eat animal foods that someone has given you, and you buy them only to give them away.

Why? Because eating an animal should be too consequential an act to be undertaken in private. This is someone’s life we’re talking about. The requirement that animal foods are shared is entrenched in many indigenous cultures – impractical as it may seem, I propose that we entrench it in ours.

Waste nothing

According to waste experts WRAP, the UK throws away 240,000 tonnes of meat on an annual basis. That’s one in ten animals – over 10 per cent of purchases. This waste generates more than four million tonnes of equivalent CO2, exacerbating the climate crisis. It also betrays a profound disregard for animal life.

Let’s get angry about this. Let’s start politely but firmly calling each other out. 

Wasting animal foods should be seen as socially abhorrent. As taboo as smoking in a child’s bedroom or stealing from your granny.

What’s the point?

The climate and nature crises are escalating, and the scientific consensus says that our diets must change. For many of us, this will mean eating ‘less and better’ meat (if we eat animal foods at all) and ‘more and better’ plants, sourcing where possible from organic and agroecological farmers.

But shifting diets across society is proving difficult, and this is partly because our behaviours are shaped on such a fundamental level by unexamined habits and engrained social norms.

Should we not therefore seek to disrupt the status quo, adopt new habits and new norms?

I propose that we scrap the social rulebook. Let’s collectively reimagine what it means to eat meat.


Leave a Reply

  1. Brilliant! I agree. We tend to eat mindlessly without giving the food – animal or plant (or fungi!) the respect it is due. We tend to eat a plant-based diet most of the time but really enjoy good quality, ethically raised or wild meat and fish…. We appreciate the sacrifice of that ‘being’ for our nutrition and health. That goes for the meat – and also for the plants we eat. They are alive and it behoves us to treat them with respect also. So it is as important to us to grow or buy ethically grown plant foods as well…
    After all – we actually are what we eat…..??!!!

  2. I’ve always said if you’re not prepared to kill the animal yourself you should not eat it. How many people are happy to eat meat but can’t stomach the slaughter?

    1. Might we add this to the list? I think everyone should do it at one point in their life at least, a rite of passage per se. Not wholly practical for modern living though is it?

      Have you killed an animal before? If so, what was it like?

    2. Trouble is, that people can become used to killing animals, so that suffering and death of another species is a complete non-issue for them. Therefore this is weak reasoning, changeable and varies between people. It’s not a good or ethical reason to comfort yourself that eating meat (ie killing) is ok. Would we accept the defence of a murderer who said, “But I’m completely ok with murdering, therefore I’m not doing anything wrong.”

    3. “the scientific consensus says that our diets must change”. More likely we are being brainwashed into thinking along certain lines and not doing our own research and coming to our own occlusions.
      We had a smallholding and killed our own meat; or rather a licenced slaughterman came to the holding and did the job whilst we looked on. None of the animals (mainly goats) showed any fear or distress – even any which were waiting. We had given them a happy life on free range pasture with extras collected from the wider environment, like ivy and willowherb (for the goats). I collected the blood and made black puddings; I boiled up the pig’s head to make brawn, or made a ‘Boar’s Head’ for Yuletide Festivities; and buried most of the guts where I planned to plant a tree or anywhere where I would eventually be planting vegetables. I cleaned out the intestines for use as sausage skins. I cured the goatskins. The children witnessed all this and were quite happy to ask, “Who is this we are eating?” It is such a pity that this kind of “kill humanely and use everything can’t be translated to a bigger scale. The only thing I couldn’t kill were rabbits.
      I now buy free range grass fed beef and Norfolk Black chickens because that old life is no longer an option.

  3. While I have long been of the opinion that we should use all of an animal that we eat. I live in a town and I am sure that it’s not possible to get everything locally. I am also of the opinion that we should be using the skin and the fur from theses animals. Ann

    1. Do you have a butcher in your town? If so, even if they don’t stock the quirky stuff, just by asking they might think of getting some in and trying. If enough people ask, and there’s a market for it, businesses adapt pretty quickly.

  4. This article is nonsensical and seeks to justify/make people feel better about eating animals.

    ‘The climate and nature crises are escalating’ – yes and regardless of whether we eat a whole animal or not, does not change the detrimental impact intensive farming has on the world.

    Also, there’s no such thing as ‘better meat’.

    1. I’d disagree, I think it’s about changing the culture around meat and being practical about its consumption. In a way, it’s about reducing total meat consumption, because if you follow these rules, then it automatically comes down.

      It sounds like you position is an ideological one.

    2. I just wonder if 8 billion people in the world to feed, whether these ‘rules’ would actually make any significant and lasting impact on reversing what animal agricultural is doing to and already has done to the Earth….

    3. I think it would reduce meat consumption a lot. I think it translates to a respect and mindfulness of what we eat, unlike the willfull ignorance in which we consume meat today. Only eating meat in company? Think how much that would reduce, no more meat sandwiches or fast food lunches by yourself. I think a more concious approach to food is a big step in the right direction and forces you to reckon with where your food comes from and the impact it has.

      Every little helps, and I think the tendenancy to get ‘there’ fast or make a significant and lasting impact is a red herring. It will be lots of small things that help us face the great environmental challenges, and changing culture is a big part of that. I agree that we need to also change the way we produce meat, and I’m sure the author would agree, but the way we eat meat is important too.

  5. what has been lost is the arts of ‘gleaning’ and ‘eking out’ – my late inlaws would regularly just eat the breast and leg meat from a chicken and throw the rest away because they could get a whole bird for a few quid at a supermarket. Having been a strict vegetarian (20 plus years)and for a very short time a ‘raw vegan’ I went back onto a diet that included meat. The reason for this was after reading “Not on the Label” by felicity lawrence my wife decided to ditch cheap meat products in favour of a more ethically sourced meat. We were fortunate the one hand to have The Real Meat Co locally but unfortunate to be on a low income. As the main cook of the home i decided that if we were going to be buying from them i’d better learn to cook it properly and as my original objection to meat was factory farming this also offered me an alternative i could ‘stomach’. It was the year that HFW published The River Cottage Meat book which was totally inline with what Rob is suggesting here. My fridge is regularly populated with various little pots of fats and juices that have been rendered from other cooked meals – good bacon fat is great for frying eggs and makes a great flavouring item for plant based stir fries

  6. This proposal is really just advocating a return to religious based meat eating , which was practised in ancient Greece and elsewhere.
    Even very rich ancients Greeks only ate meat as part of religious observance- the meat being the sacrifices of the lives of animals to their pantheon of gods. The gods were given the bones and the fat and the worshippers and priests ate the meat,which was apportioned by the priests.
    This was pretty much absolute- there were no butchers shops, animals were slaughtered and processed by priests. The portions that were not palatable were given to the gods.

    Only in the Abrahamic religions was meat eating not at all associated with religion (although there is evidence it was in Judaism originally)In these religions the lives of animals are seen as unimportant, their lives being solely to provide us with resources.
    The change you advocate is one of belief, not sustainability.
    The inextricable rise of the personal, over the collective is of several thousand years standing, reversing it will be challenging.
    Belief also has a part to play in the role of the improvement of living standards- most people believe that the continual improvement in their living standards is a birthright, and that something has gone fundamentally wrong if society doesn’t deliver that improvement. This is why the current crisis is so hard for many people to understand. Constant growth of GDP and living standards is not sustainable and never has been- but most people believe it is or should be- shifting this mindset will be a huge challenge.

    1. So interesting and could not agree more on your point about the priority of the personal. I think it is the missing piece of the puzzle in taking action on the great social and envirionmental challenges of our time. We don’t know what collective action means anymore. It’s hard when society is constantly telling you that our individual purchases and ‘carbon footprint’ (a term invented by the fossil fuel industry to put the onus on people not companies) are the only way to reckon with climate change.

      We can act and think in terms of community as well, and even though our material standards of living *might* go down, it might makes us feel better.

  7. Not everyone has family to share meat with, but better quality food (plant or meat) tends to mean better health for us, better welfare for animals and less damage to the environment. And if the cost is important, it is probably better to cut down on the amount rather than the quality…which would mean less waste, too.


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