The Future of Steak Lies with the Vegetarians

Having less meat eaters in the world would improve the quality of meat. Over time, industrial farming would vanish and we'd get back to local production, with cattle being bred in accordance with the environment.

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May 18 2015, 2:15pm

Franck Ribière grew up on his family's cattle farm near Montluçon in France's Auvergne region. While his uncle and father bred the celebrated Charolais breed of cows up until a few years ago, Ribière wondered why the meat he ate abroad seemed to taste better than at home.

It was this curiosity that sparked Ribière to create Steak (R)evolution, a documentary comparing beef production in countries including Brazil, Japan, Italy, and the UK, and attempting to answer one question: Where in the world can you find the best steak?

Thinking that you'll feed the entire planet with meat is a lie.

It'll probably surprise you to know that I'm a keen supporter of vegetarianism. In fact, I'd say that meat eaters' future is with the vegetarians. The more vegetarians we have, the better our meat will be.

At the moment, there are far too many meat eaters on this planet. If there were fewer, the quality of the meat we eat would get better. Over time, industrial farming would vanish and we would get back to local production, with cattle being bred in accordance with its environment.

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Our biggest mistake is that we got used to the idea that we "have" to eat meat because it's good for our health. And yet, in the Western world, we're lucky enough to live in countries where eating meat is not an absolute need, there are enough products out there to replace it.

Being a meat eater is not harmful in itself, it's our approach to meat that needs to change. When I look at people in restaurants, they "swallow" the meat, they don't chew on it. It's become almost mechanical and we don't take the time to appreciate it. In a way, we need to have the same approach to meat as we have with wine—it has to be seen as an "exceptional" product again.

Photo courtesy Franck Ribière and Vérane Frédiani.

Photo courtesy Franck Ribière and Vérane Frédiani.

I'm getting used to the idea of considering meat as a luxury product. While we should eat it less often, it should be of good quality whenever we do. I think we've lost our sense of taste and we're ready to eat just about anything.

A good breed, breeder, butcher, and chef are the four necessary ingredients it takes to make a good steak. You mustn't forget that a cow is an animal, and that it needs to be treated with care. A happy cow makes a good steak. Understanding all these parameters is what I call the "steak revolution."

The film I made is about people who understood this and see that we can't just carry on in the same way. When it comes to producing good quality meat, I think France is actually lagging behind. The mistake comes from trying to produce too much and feed too many.

In a way, we need to have the same approach to meat as we have with wine—it has to be seen as an "exceptional" product again.

A good breeder knows how to work with the resources his environment is giving him. Breeders in the UK have learnt to work with what they have; they let the cows graze on grass without adding grain feeding and that's how they've developed the best breeds. To this day, Angus beef is one of the best varieties in the world.

But it's not all down the the breeders, it's the cows too. British cattle are the best because their genetics are adapted to the British soil; they produce fat with grass and they drink rainwater. Those are what you get the most of in Britain: grass and water.

Steak-Revolution-documentary-France

Japanese beef. Photo courtesy Franck Ribière and Vérane Frédiani.

In France, we don't have the same culture of meat. In the past, cattle were used to pull carriages, which developed tough, muscled breeds of cow which don't produce fat. This makes them less interesting in terms of taste.

The number one reason for breeding cows in France has always been to produce cheese, rather than meat. For cheese, we're still the best.

Such statements have, of course, sparked a lot of negative reactions back home. I'm clearly stating that France is not the best country for meat and people have gotten annoyed at me for this, even more so because I'm saying that the best breeders are actually the Brits.

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But where in the world can you eat the best steak? Well, I might have not eaten it yet! The Spanish "Rubia Galleja" (the Galician Blond) certainly tops all the ones I've tried so far in terms of taste.

I think we shouldn't forget that meat is something convivial to share with friends or with your loved one.

As told to Alice Tchernookova.

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