Meat the Family – Channel 4 – Broadcast

When we started production on Meat The Family, nobody was under any illusion that it was going to be free from controversy.

When I first heard the top line – four farm animals go and live with four families and after three weeks, the families decide whether to give up meat and save it from slaughter or carry on eating meat and send it back into the food chain to its eventual death – my first reaction was: ‘Brilliant, brilliant idea’. My second? ‘Oh, I have to actually make that!’

Meat The Family absolutely hits the zeitgeist head-on. What are the ethical implications of eating meat, to what extent do we associate meat with an actual animal and how intelligent and sentient are the animals we love eating? What about our health and the health of the planet? And what should we all be doing about it?

The series roots this big moral and complex question via the experiences of four British families as they care for their animals and learn about their journeys from birth to death.

The families bring warmth and relevance to what can feel a dry subject matter – and the looming decision they have to make brings an extra layer of pathos to all the scenes.

From the off, the whole team felt a huge responsibility for our potential contributors. Series producer Charlotte Davis and the casting team spent a good deal of time ensuring that our families really knew what they were letting themselves and their children in for. And that care for them became my priority throughout production.

It was a big ask. We knew that we wanted the four families to drive the story, both in terms of their relationship with the animals in their care but also in delivering the complex arguments for and against eating meat.

We were always mindful of getting the balance right between a series with some factual entertainment sensibilities and a gripping emotional storyline alongside watertight specialist factual content.

As casting began, we got down to thinking about the animals. And my goodness, we had a steep learning curve ahead.

As we began to approach organisations for support with the series, we knew it was always going to create debate and some disapproval.

The first few weeks of production involved lots of meetings with our consistently supportive and brave commissioning editors Jonah Weston and Nicola Brown to set out the parameters for the care of our animals and addressing some of these concerns.

We wouldn’t have been able to set these parameters without the help of an animal compliance and welfare expert, whom we hired to be a guiding hand throughout production.

The animal welfare layer of the series was so enormous we had to hire extra production staff to focus exclusively on them.

This involved everything from sourcing the animals to their transport, to licenses, to husbandry, to the experts on the ground, and the care the animals needed post-filming and pre-slaughter.

Every filming day bought a fresh challenge and some very extraordinary calls from location.

From “we think the pigs have got mange” to “we think one of the chickens is dying”, the old adage ‘never work with children or animals’ felt tailor-made for this series. And by the way, the pigs and chickens were fine.

Over three weeks of filming, a PD and shooting AP essentially filmed observationally full time with the families, all of whom had school commitments and work commitments so scheduling was often challenging.

Each family also carried out a number of research trips to learn more about their animals, which ranged from meeting Moritz the wonder pig in Berlin to discovering how clever pigs are, to enjoying nose to tail (including brain and testicle) eating in Barcelona and visiting various farming systems, including a mega farm in Nebraska and an intensive chicken farm in the Netherlands.

At the start, we were not sure where the balance would sit between the home life material and the more specialist factual content.

What was really gratifying when the rushes started to come back was that we knew our families were absolutely nailing it. They were compelling, thoughtful, surprising and funny.

It felt really fresh seeing families visiting factories and farms and both reacting to what they were seeing viscerally as well as being thoughtful and informed about the subject. And the home footage was touching and funny.

We put in a filming framework for the families but very often how their reactions were the opposite of what we expected to happen. They kept us on our toes throughout.

I can think of no better tribute to the animals featured in Meat The Family than if their story reignites the national debate about the rights and wrongs of meat eating and the ways in which animals are farmed and processed.

All of our families and indeed the team have adapted their meat-eating habits and most are now eating sustainably sourced meat – just less of it, as obviously that doesn’t come cheap.

Never before has a project jangled my brain cells and tested my judgement in getting the tone right, but thanks to a resourceful and talented team, it was also the most fulfilling.

Meat the Family – Brand New Channel 4 Series – The Guardian Review

Meat the Family: can a brutal reality show stop us from chomping on chorizo?

Channel 4’s new series sees families decide whether to spare animals from the abattoir. It might just make you rethink what you put in your sandwiches.

disavowed pork last year after visiting a pig farm and petting a few of the small animals there, deciding that, though they produce a wacky quantity of excrement, pigs are basically just big, thick dogs, and as such I can live for a while without bacon. Do we want to mention the week in Italy I spent this summer chain-eating slices of mortadella from back-to-back deli meat platters? We do not. We do not want to mention that, nor the life-alteringly good Cuban sandwich I had in Miami. Or that actual sausage roll I had when Greggs ran out of vegan sausage rolls when I went there on a hangover. That was actually three sausage rolls, because it was a big hangover. But the point remains: on the whole, pork, no thanks.

It is a complicated thing, the ambient guilt of being a meat-eater, and Channel 4 knows this, which is why it commissioned Meat the Family (Wednesday, 9pm) to make me feel … something, at least. It sees incredibly normal British families – you know the type: families who hoover the house once a day and have semi-expensive garden furniture and two kids – welcome a farm animal into their homes for three weeks, where they will feed them and care for them and give them names. At the end of the three weeks, they are given a choice: release their new pet back into the food chain, where they will be processed by a farm and given back to them as meat; or disavow meat more convincingly than I ever have and save their new animals from the doom of the slaughter. The results are mixed.

The whole thing is fascinating. Firstly: for some reason, the reaction of every dad in every household is to immediately go and eat the animal they just put in their garden (one puts a pork roast in the oven in clear sight of his two new pigs; another, confronted with a garden full of chickens, instantly pops out for a Nando’s). Secondly: any child around the age of 11 can be convinced not to eat an animal by first Googling how intelligent they are. We see families make trips to Germany to meet an intelligent pig, we see a Dutch chicken farm and the sterile reality of mass production. We see, one by one, the faces of people who have been thoughtlessly eating meat all their life clunk together a connection: that the animal they have in their garden is the filling they eat in their sandwich. Meat the Family gently reinforces what we know already: it really is quite easy to eat meat if you literally never think about where it comes from.

This might have resulted in something heavy-handed and preachy, which MTF remarkably isn’t; it’s not scolding, it never tells you to stop eating meat, it just reminds you that a lot of animals have legs and heads before you eat them and can be quite cute, and oh yeah, did you know the UK consumes 2.2 million chickens a day?

Documentaries about the reality of the food chain often feel a bit like having your eyes pinned open and pointed at harrowing footage of an abattoir, and they have their uses, but Meat the Family manages something different: packaging a quiet ethical consumption message up in the cosy familiarity of primetime TV. It’s a worthwhile exercise, even if it doesn’t cause you to embark upon a doomed attempt to stop eating chorizo.

https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2020/jan/04/meat-the-family-channel-4?fbclid=IwAR2BSUmk9NFV0mzXkiV0yxDHXhj1gnDwZH5xlEeV4-fHGR8BnvWBElF5PWw