The widespread view that eating veal is unethical is well-founded and well-meaning but out of date.
You can, though, see where it comes from. Even as a chef and lifelong meat eater who generally tries not to feel too sentimental about using animals for food (as long as they have had good lives, been well-treated and humanely slaughtered), it is hard not to feel sorry for the poor old veal calf.
Actually, “old” is the wrong word because male calves from UK dairy herds that have no milking value are often culled at birth (some 100,000 last year). So the calf typically doesn’t even get slaughtered for food – it just gets killed or transported live, often for hundreds of miles, to market abroad.
But recent campaigns promoting “rose” veal, using dairy calves from the likes of Gordon Ramsay’s F Word and TV farmer Jimmy Doherty, have pointed out there is a more humane alternative. British “rose” veal is reared to higher welfare standards and is a very different product from the “white” veal favoured on the continent. The meat is pinker because the animal has been exposed to the outside world and is fed on milk with grass or grain to supplement its diet. Purists might argue this makes the meat less delicate but, in my view, it more than makes up for this in its fuller flavour. Far from being inferior, I actually think it makes better eating.
Don’t think of veal as just young beef. It has a completely different taste and texture – much softer, leaner and more tender, lighter in both colour and flavour. Unlike beef, which I prefer served rare, I would always cook veal to medium. It can be used in all manner of dishes where beef would be too strong. My favourite way to eat it is a big chop on the bone with garlic butter and chips, but braised shin or a lovely lightly cooked fillet with vine tomatoes work well too. The Italian classics ossobucco or Austrian wiener schnitzel are great veal dishes but if you’re concerned about provenance when ordering veal in a restaurant, ask if it’s British.
Making use of animals that would otherwise be killed at birth and wasted is a good thing for British diners as well as British farmers – not to mention being good news for the calves. It’s ironic but eating British rose veal now seems to be a more ethical choice than not eating it. If you’ve got a beef with veal, think again.