This opinion was originally published in The Conversation Friday 1 June, 2012.
I invited some friends to dinner recently for a little heart to heart. Little did they know, that I was being literal. For my guests that night, I served lamb heart stew.
Offal. The word is enough to turn stomachs. But only a generation ago, it was a staple on many Australian dinner tables. Perhaps as a consequence of our parents’ mandatory consumption of liver, brains, tripe and the like, Generation X and Y have been denied its delights. But I’m on a one-woman quest to change all that. I love offal. There. I said it.
Not only is it delicious, offal is also a solution to our fiscal, health and environmental problems. A study conducted by the Australian Institute found that the average Australian wastes $239 worth of food annually. And that’s only the stuff we chuck out. It doesn’t take into account the billions of dollars of food that never makes it off the supermarket shelves.
“Paddock to plate” calculations by the UK’s Waste and Resources Action Programme calculated that one ton of edible waste produces 3.8 tons of equivalent carbon dioxide (CO₂) emission. Australians throw out 4.45 million tons of food each year. This is equivalent to 16.9 million tons of CO₂.
Another study conducted by the South Australian EPA found that 315 tonnes of chicken waste is thrown out each week. This converts to roughly 80 tonnes of CO₂ per week — just from chickens, just in SA.
While some of this ends up in dog food and fertilisers, a significant amount is thrown out. And food that rots produces methane, which is 25 times more potent than the carbon pollution from our car exhausts. Next time you feel like bacon and eggs, substitute the bacon with chicken livers and pop some black balloons.
Eating the whole animal not only produces less carbon, it’s also damn good for you. First up, offal is high in protein. Secondly, it’s more nutritious than popular cuts of meat like rump and sirloin. Last but not least, it’s significantly lower in fat.
Leading British nutritionist Jane Clarke says: “Liver, heart and kidneys in particular are a good source of iron: 100g of lamb’s liver provides 7.5mg of iron — which is an incredible 54 per cent of a woman’s daily requirement.”
Offal is also high in B vitamins, which reduce stress and are imperative to a healthy blood and nervous system. You know that Berocca you take to get back your b-b-bounce? A few livers — choose your flavour — and your b-b-bounce will be back in a jiffy, your tummy will be satisfied and you will have consumed some essential vitamin A — excellent for cell growth and reproduction, and healthy skin, hair and eyes.
Want some more beauty secrets? Beef hearts. They contain amino acids that are thought to improve metabolism. Hearts, furthermore, are a great source of compounds that stimulate collagen and elastin production. You may be able to cure your wrinkles from the inside!
But wait, there’s more. Not only will eating the icky bits of our four legged friends reduce carbon pollution and make us fitter, stronger and leaner. Our hip pockets reap the benefits too.
Ox cheek — a scrumptious delicacy that is beginning to appear on many high-end restaurant menus — costs me a measly $2.99 per kg. And last week my butcher had five lamb hearts that he just gave me. Lambs brains have a soft texture and sweet taste, they are as easy to cook as your favourite steak, but will cost you twenty to forty cents each.
That’s right, cheap, good for you and good for the environment.
Whether you’re trying to save the planet or your money, or just trying to get healthy, then why not head to your local butcher and check out their brains and sweet breads.
As for my dinner guests, they may have squirmed at first, but in the end, they loved my heart(s).
Stephanie Pradier is a Physics Laboratory Demonstrator and student majoring in physics, maths and philosophy at La Trobe University.