Eating a balanced diet isn't just about meat and veg anymore. With growing movements toward sustainability and conservation across just about every aspect of our lives, the dinner table is no exception. Eating nose-to-tail is a great way for meat eaters to participate in conservation without giving up animal foods. That's because nose-to-tail eating is all about making use of the whole animal, not just the prime cuts of muscle meat like we see at the butcher counter.
This movement is a throwback not only to our ancient hunter and gatherer ancestors, but to common folk of just a few generations back when smallholdings (with a backyard family pig) and small farms were the norm. Eating or making use of every part of the animal was (and still is) the most economical way to go, offering more nutritious calories to their families and avoiding excessive food waste.
Conservation and economics are two great reasons to consider joining the nose-to-tail movement, but the third, incredibly compelling, reason to give it a try is to reap the vast nutritional benefits. Organ meats and collagen from bones and connective tissue are two incredibly dense sources of nutrients that are generally discarded. By incorporating these parts of the animal into your diet, you'll receive a boost of vitamins, minerals and amino acids far beyond what you'd get from your standard cuts of meat.
Read on for a deep dive into the how and why of eating nose-to-tail and the myriad benefits you'll reap in doing so.
The Origins of Nose-To-Tail Eating
In 2004, restaurateur Fergus Henderson released the two seminal British books on the topic, called ‘The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating’ and ‘Nose to Tail Eating: A Kind of British Cooking’. The first outlines the definition and purpose of the diet, and the second is a book of recipes incorporating the various unfamiliar animal parts we'll talk about here.
These two books, along with the Slow Food Movement that started in Italy in the 1980s, sparked an international shift toward farm-to-table cooking with a preference toward supporting local farmers and ranchers to ensure top quality foods. This includes choosing grass-fed pastured meats for their superior nutritional profiles.
The idea behind Henderson's books was to make eating generally discarded animal parts like offal, bones, skin, pig's head, pig's trotters, beef heart, tripe and various other animal innards more accessible to the average eater. These books take the values of the paleo diet to a whole new level, truly acknowledging the ways of our ancestors and the ecological, economical and personal benefits we can experience from eating as they did.
So Henderson didn't come up with nose-to-tail eating, he simply brought it to the forefront of British cuisine and created a movement toward a more sustainable, economical and nutritious way of eating animals.
Now, foodies all over the world enjoy delicacies made from unfamiliar cuts of an animal, while indigenous cultures never really stopped eating them as they moved toward modern times. Famous foodies like the late, great Anthony Bourdain have helped bring this way of eating into the mainstream by showing all sorts of cultural food traditions on his various television shows.
Nose-To-Tail Adds Superfoods To Your Diet
The term 'superfood' tends to be reserved for brightly coloured fruits and vegetables rich in antioxidants and micronutrients. But nutrient density isn't just reserved for plant foods. In fact, most organ meats are even more nutrient-dense than some of the most potent plant-based superfoods and supplements you'll find at your health food store.
The offal of grazing animals like cows, deer, bison, sheep, goats and lamb is incredibly rich in vitamin A, B vitamins, iron, copper, selenium and zinc . Beef liver is particularly rich in choline, an essential nutrient that plays a vital role in brain health and memory development of in-utero human fetuses . Choline is also a valuable nutrient for adults. Studies show that a high-choline diet can reverse fatty liver damage, muscle damage or both .
Skin, bones and other connective tissue are also typically discarded parts of the animal packed with nutrition (and flavour!). You've likely heard about the health benefits of bone broth and the collagen found within. But as a refresher, collagen is the most abundant protein in the body. It’s full of 18 amino acids including glutamine, proline, hydroxyproline and glycine.
Each of these plays a vital role in the healthy development of muscle and connective tissue and wound healing, in addition to promoting a healthy gut lining and offering cardiovascular support .
Like for Like
Our ancient ancestors believed that eating the organs of animals would supplement the health of the same organs in their own bodies. This 'like for like' tradition suggests that eating heart is good for your heart, eating kidneys is good for your kidneys, eating brain is good for your brain and so on.
While 'like for like' isn't a field of nutritional study, there's reason to believe that our ancient ancestors were onto something. After all, we're animals too, so it would stand to reason that our body parts are made up of the same constituents as wild and farmed animals, especially (but not exclusively) mammals.
Here are the nutritional benefits of various animal parts:
- Brain: Fish and animal brains are over 60% fat with a huge concentration of omega-3 fatty acids, a nutrient that's highly beneficial in cognitive function and brain health in humans .
- Liver: Animal and fish liver is potent with vitamin A, iron and B12, all nutrients that support our own healthy liver function .
- Heart: Coenzyme Q10 is a heart-healthy antioxidant found in large supply in beef heart .
- Kidney: Healthy human renal function is dependent on selenium, a mineral you'll find readily available in pork kidney, lamb kidney, beef kidney and sea lion kidney (enjoyed by Inuits and other people living near the north pole) .
- Bones and connective tissue (including skin and nails/hooves): Collagen, beta carotene, zinc and selenium are found in ready supply in all of these parts, both in animals and in humans . We need these nutrients to build up healthy bones and connective tissue in our bodies, so drinking bone broth made from animal bones, tendons and skin is a 'like for like' approach to getting these nutrients.
How To Get Started
If the thought of eating brains and intestines isn't quite your cup of tea, start small. We suggest on-ramping with bone broth, prepared foods made from offal and rendered fats to get started. The good news is, most offal and other discarded animal parts like chicken feet are incredibly inexpensive. So you'll have room to experiment in case something goes wrong in the kitchen.
Bone broth is an excellent way to begin your nose-to-tail journey. Not only is it a wonderful culinary ingredient to include in soups, stews and braises, it's also delicious on its own, sipped from a warm mug. Simmer chicken feet or wings, pig's feet or beef knuckle with veg scraps in water with a splash of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice for between six and 24 hours to create a delicious, collagen-rich golden elixir. Or save the bones and chicken carcasses from your various meals in the freezer til you're ready to make broth for an even more economical and conservationist approach.
You know you've made your broth right if it turns to 'meat jelly’ in your fridge. It’ll solidify into a gelatin-like texture, then melt back into delectable broth when heated.
Pate and Head Cheese
Prepared foods like pate or head cheese are your next step. Pate can be made from the liver or other offal of just about any animal, but you're most likely to find duck, goose or pork at your local shop. Pate is a delicious snack to spread on crackers or a lovely addition to a charcuterie plate.
Head cheese (also called brawn) is a little more advanced. Made with the flesh from the head of a calf or pig, it's set in a gelatinous substance called aspic. It's eaten in a similar way to pate, spread on crackers cold or at room temperature.
Rendered fats are an easy and painless way to incorporate more animal parts into your cooking. Tallow is rendered beef fat. Lard is rendered pork fat. Schmalz is rendered poultry fat (chicken, duck, goose). All of these saturated fats are wonderful for cooking because they have a high smoke point and are unlikely to burn or denature while you're cooking.
If you're feeling adventurous, here are some other ideas:
- Consider roasting your own bone marrow at home and enjoying it with an avocado oil dressing.
- Toss some chopped liver and kidneys into your next mushroom cream sauce, tomato sauce or even add them into your pulled pork BBQ.
- Grab a copy of Henderson's cookbook to learn tried and true ways to prepare offal at home.
Try Nose-To-Tail Eating for Your Health and Our Planet
Nose-to-tail eating is a way of life that's been around since the dawn of man. Over the course of modernisation, we as a society unlearned this tradition and began sticking to the basics like chicken breast and fillet. But eating the whole animal is a great idea for your pocketbook, our planet and your personal nutrition. Next time you're at the butcher counter, consider grabbing some chicken feet for bone broth to get started, or pick up some Hunter & Gather collagen peptides to add to your soups and smoothies. Your body will thank you.
All information provided on our website and within our articles is simply information, opinion, anecdotal thoughts and experiences to provide you with the tools to thrive.
It is not intended to treat or diagnose symptoms and is definitely not intended to be misconstrued for medical advice. We always advise you seek the advice of a trained professional when implementing any changes to your lifestyle and dietary habits.
We do however recommend seeking the services of a trained professional who questions the conventional wisdom to enable you to become the best version of yourself.