Chefs and restaurants are becoming proponents of sourcing humanely raised animals, because it’s better for the planet and the palate.
In his formative years as a chef, Conor Hanlon didn’t think too much beyond the kitchen.
“I was much more concerned about keeping my head above water than about where we were sourcing ingredients,” Chef Hanlon acknowledges.
But now, as executive chef of the W Hotels in Miami and chef de cuisine at its upscale eatery, The Dutch, sourcing is no longer an ignored topic.
Chef Hanlon’s broadened enlightenment began seven years ago when he read about the Mangalitsa pig, a little-known Hungarian breed characterized by its fatty, marbled meat. Fascinated, he spent four months trying to find the pig, often called the Kobe beef of pork. When he finally secured the animal and cooked it, the experience proved transformative.
“That’s when the light bulb went off in me,” Chef Hanlon says. “Whenever something is being raised, there’s someone behind it—and the way [that person] is raising the animal translates into its taste.”
In subsequent years, Chef Hanlon became increasingly more engrossed in the issue of animal welfare and how animal care translates to both the plate and the dining experience.
“Because I love what I do, I want humanely raised products,” he says.
A multi-layered issue touching hot-button topics such as animal rights, environmental stewardship, and social justice, animal welfare has become a frequently discussed subject in the restaurant industry, one propelled by consumers and chefs alike.
“This is everybody’s issue,” says Jason Gronlund, vice president of culinary for Smokey Bones, a 65-unit casual-dining chain based in Orlando. “Just because we have to feed the population doesn’t mean we can take shortcuts in the care of animals.”
Though animal welfare is a subjective term with shifting meaning among chefs, farmers, producers, and consumers, Meat & Livestock Australia business development manager Catherine Golding says the principal elements of animal welfare remain evenhanded and clear: Animals should be treated with respect and care according to best practices in animal husbandry throughout their lives.
That extends “from the paddocks they were born and raised in to when they are transported for sale and at the processing plant,” says Golding, whose organization works with industry and government in Australia to promote fact-based best practices in animal husbandry.