De Lekkere Man shows that male meat is no small fry
‘Our aim is to give male meat a prominent place at the table’
Male meat. De Lekkere Man knows everything there is to know about that. And they also know that it’s time to stir the pot when it comes to male meat. This company, situated in Den Bosch, processes rooster, buck and bull meat into cured meats and ready-to-cook dishes. And the fact that this has also sparked an ethical debate is hardly a side note. “Many consumers have no idea what happens to male meat. We are telling this story, helping to ensure that these products are available, and offering farmers a choice,” says behavioural scientist and entrepreneur Anne Reijnders (27).
Together with animal scientist Lizette van Dijk (34) and chef Jorn Verhoof (24), Anne started De Lekkere Man in 2017. They opened up shop in the industrial area called Tramkade in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, where – symbolically – compound feed for animals had been produced until 2014. The office for the start-up is housed in the iconic former fire station. A little further down the road, you can find the production area where Jorn prepares delicious catering products for (business) events and festivals: everything from stew to Dutch ‘bitterballen’ and pastrami, and from pate to fresh sausage and rillette. And the menu will also soon feature sausage rolls made from buck meat. The creative part mainly comes in how they approach giving this kind of meat a prominent place on the table in the first place, explained Anne Reijnders.
‘For conventional livestock farming, roosters, bucks and bulls represent an expense. In other words they are not a very attractive investment’
Why is male meat so ‘unwanted’?
“Up until now, roosters, bucks and bulls have been rendered basically worthless due to our specialised food system. After the Second World War, the aim was to ‘never go hungry again’. A system was developed that was based entirely on efficiency: an ample, safe and affordable food supply. The immediate result was that broiler chickens and laying hens were divided into two separate breeds. This proved to be very efficient, but also resulted in a living residual product: the male. They are not able to provide milk or lay eggs. And only a few roosters are required for producing offspring. Because they are not a broiler breed, they grow slower and produce less meat. In comparison: After six weeks, a laying hen will weigh two kilos, after fifteen weeks, a rooster will weigh only one kilo. That means they cost more and deliver less. The same thing goes for bucks and bulls. For conventional livestock farms that deal in meat, milk and eggs, bucks and bulls represent an expense. In other words they are not an attractive investment. With our coining of the Dutch term ‘mannenvlees’ (male meat), we are using a storytelling approach to bring this issue to the forefront in a creative way. For example, we serve our rooster meat in egg cartons. And we can sometimes tell an entire story about circularity or seasonality in one dish. It is precisely that experience that is putting male meat on the table.”
What is your societal challenge?
“Our aim is to give male meat a prominent place at the table. When it comes to other breeds, we consume meat from both males and females. But with dairy and egg laying breeds, we only consume female meat. They produce the milk and eggs. But in order to produce milk, you also need a calf or lamb, as their birth ensures that their mother can continue to provide milk. For us. The males certainly play an important role, but they are massively undervalued. We think they deserve as good a life as their female counterparts. When roosters hatch now, they are often immediately gassed and used in animal feed. Bucks and bulls are sent to fattening farms for meat production, which involves antibiotics. The bucks are slaughtered after six weeks and the bulls after six to eight months. The meat is then sold in southern Europe, where male meat is in fact eaten. The problem with us is that our food system does not connect well with the livestock farms that are interested in farming differently. As a farmer, you probably would prefer not to waste your grazing pasture on half your cattle purely because they are male. No other option exists at the moment.”
‘Food concerns everyone and everyone has their own associations with food. This is a very personal experience as well as a cultural one’
How does De Lekkere Man intend to turn the tide?
“Farmers want to utilise male meat, and most consumers know nothing about the situation. We are here to fill in that gap by helping to make consumers more aware and by offering farmers a choice. We are achieving the latter by taking on their males. We sell the meat at events and festivals, helping to give it a higher value. And with this value comes the opportunity to give them a good life. And that is precisely what farmers are good at. Consumers are great at eating. And putting food into our bodies is a highly intimate action. Food concerns everyone and everyone has their own associations with food. This is a very personal experience as well as a cultural one. That is why the topic of food affects me. With regard to male meat, people are quite surprised when they hear about it. And when they taste it, they don’t understand why it isn’t available in stores. That’s how delicious it is! So we have a story to tell. The more often people hear it, the more they will buy it and the more males will enjoy a good life.”
What bumps in the road have you hit along the way?
“With our own butcher shop, we have to deal with legal hygiene regulations and the Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority. Meeting all of the requirements down to the last detail requires a substantial investment. As a start-up, we want to grow organically and at the moment we do not have the necessary resources. That is why we now have to outsource the majority our production. Otherwise we would not be able to supply to the catering and hospitality industries. So the issue for us is figuring out how we can grow organically while also making our production as efficient as possible.”
‘We are convinced that meat will never completely disappear from our diets, simply because our ecosystem is designed that way’
And what about the environment?
“Eating meat is not sustainable, and male meat isn’t either. But we are convinced that meat will never completely disappear from our diets, simply because our ecosystem is designed that way. The quantity of meat that we consume is disproportionate when it comes to the environment, our health and animal welfare. The concept behind male meat is not for it to be eaten as a supplement to the meat normally supplied, but as a replacement. I am certainly not in favour of increasing meat consumption. On the contrary. By limiting the amount of male meat we eat, we are making a positive contribution: the animal is able to enjoy a good life, is not euthanised at a young age and you also get a high-quality piece of meat on your plate. Personally, I only eat vegetarian food outside the house, because I do not know where conventional meat comes from. People who find out that I sell meat always give me a very surprised look.”
Meet the entrepreneurs that want to tell you the whole story at this excursion in Meierijstad on 22 October! Cuddle a goat and have a taste. If this doesn’t spark your love for men, we don’t know what will!