Q&A with Tobie Puttock, Chef & RSPCA Humane Food Ambassador

Chef Tobie Puttock has always been renowned in the industry for respecting the journey of produce he has used in restaurants from the paddock to the plate, and is a worthy ambassador to champion awareness of supporting better animal welfare as part of that process.

As a Chef Ambassador for RSPCA Australia’s Humane Food initiatives, can you tell us about the program, and what that responsibility means to you?
For sure. The RSPCA’s Humane Food initiatives are ultimately all about creating a pathway to better lives for farm animals. For example, RSPCA’s Choose Wisely is an online directory that helps people that love to eat out, choose restaurants and cafés that serve higher welfare food, which in turn creates demand for higher welfare products. And RSPCA’s Approved Farming Scheme focuses on improving the lives of farm animals by ensuring its participants farm to higher welfare standards than are legally required and making higher welfare eggs, meat and fish readily available to all consumers. I think RSPCA’s work in relation to humane food is fantastic and I’m proud to be involved. As an animal lover, these initiatives are great news for animals, allowing businesses and farmers to stand proud next to their products with the knowledge that they are contributing to good animal welfare.

It is very encouraging that our mainstream supermarkets are welcoming the opportunity to become involved with supporting the initiative. What message would you have for consumers on the part they can play?
I guess the biggest message is that you have control over the destiny of animal welfare with your dollar. If everyone stops buying eggs, meat, poultry and seafood that doesn’t meet strict welfare requirements then there simply wouldn’t be a market for such products and we would be on the way to making a better life for farm animals and a somewhat more humane society.

Broadly, as a chef who has had global experience in some of the world’s best restaurants, what does better animal welfare mean for you as part of your food philosophy, and the point of difference that better animal welfare delivers on the plate?
From a humane point of view, intensive farming where animals are confined and unable to express natural behaviours means those animals exist only to end up as food and for many of us, this isn’t acceptable. As a chef, it’s important to me to know that farm animals have lived a life worth living and this includes freedom to move and express natural behaviours. From a chef ‘s point of view, a pig or a hen that has lived a good life with space to roam freely, forage for food and socialise, is going to be a far better product than one that’s lived an unnatural confined life. Animals that are confined become stressed, scared and miserable.

When did you first start being more involved in supporting higher animal welfare, and start following the food chain from your restaurant back to its source?
Definitely when I was working at the River Café in London. That was the first place where chefs sourced their products themselves and didn’t simply ‘order a porterhouse’ from a supplier. I believe this may have come about due to Mad Cow Disease because people wanted to know what they were eating and where it came from. While this wasn’t necessarily about animal welfare, it did pave the way for consumers to be more comfortable to ask questions about the origin of food served in restaurants, including animal welfare, and for chefs to ask questions of their suppliers and alter where they sourced ingredients.

If you had a message for other chefs and consumers who have not been as involved, what would that be in relation to a starting point?
Get involved. It’s easy to make good choices. A great place to start is the RSPCA website. Not only does it make you more responsible but it’s a great ethos to teach your staff and will definitely bring a feel-good environment with it as well your food tasting way better. It allows to you to showcase your produce rather than hiding it in any way.

Can you tell us what point your career is at, and what the future holds for Tobie Puttock?
That’s a great question! Right now, I am working on food brands for supermarkets. This is an area that is all about spreadsheets, it’s crazy. I’ve been in the space for some years with a little success and a lot of failure but I am learning a lot and believe there is room for a lot of improvement in the space.

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