Thursday, January 31, 2008
Here's what I wrote:
Dear Senator Salazar, (and Senator Allard and Representative Lamborn)
Since reading an article in December about the mistreatment of factory-farmed animals, I've been on a quest to purchase and consume only local, humanely raised meat and poultry. In addition to my quest for what I've been calling "happy food," I've also been educating myself on the state of American agriculture. As I'm sure you are aware, the state of our agriculture is hideous.
From the government-induced over-production of corn and soybeans to the disgustingly inhumane treatment of animals on factory farms, our agricultural system is in shambles and is, dare I say, shameful. It actually makes me feel ashamed to be an American when I consider what a disgrace our agricultural system is. It is our food culture, or some would say, lack thereof, that is allowing our agricultural system to continue down the current path to destruction of our land as well as our health as individuals.
Probably none of what I have said is news to you. But, if any of it sounds unfamiliar or you would like to learn more, I would urge you to read The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan and/or Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. Both have tremendous amounts of light to shed on this situation.
I do not know what the right solution is to the problems with our country's agriculture, but I know that together we can redirect our nation from a fast-food nation to a country with respect for the land from which our food grows and the animals we raise on it.
Thank you for your attention to this heartbreaking situation. Please let me know what I can do to help.
Video Reveals Violations of Laws, Abuse of Cows at Slaughterhouse
By Rick Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 30, 2008; A04
Video footage being released today shows workers at a California slaughterhouse delivering repeated electric shocks to cows too sick or weak to stand on their own; drivers using forklifts to roll the "downer" cows on the ground in efforts to get them to stand up for inspection; and even a veterinary version of waterboarding in which high-intensity water sprays are shot up animals' noses -- all violations of state and federal laws designed to prevent animal cruelty and to keep unhealthy animals, such as those with mad cow disease, out of the food supply.
Moreover, the companies where these practices allegedly occurred are major suppliers of meat for the nation's school lunch programs, including in Maryland, according to a company official and federal documents.
The footage was taken by an undercover investigator for an animal welfare group, who wore a customized video camera under his clothes while working at the facility last year. [Warning - Graphic Video: View the video on the Humane Society Web site ] It is evidence that anti-cruelty and food safety rules are inadequate, and that Agriculture Department inspection and enforcement need to be enhanced, said officials with the Humane Society of the United States, which coordinated the project.
"These were not rogue employees secretly doing these things," the investigator said in a telephone interview on the condition of anonymity because he hopes to infiltrate other slaughterhouses. "This is the pen manager and his assistant doing this right in the open."
The investigator and Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society, said the footage was taken at Hallmark Meat Packing in Chino, Calif. Hallmark sells meat for processing to Westland Meat Co. in Chino, according to Westland President Steve Mendell, who is also Hallmark's operations manager.
Over the past five years, Westland has sold about 100 million pounds of frozen beef, valued at $146 million, to the Agriculture Department's commodities program, which supplies food for school lunches and programs for the needy, according to federal documents.
In the 2004-05 school year, the Agriculture Department honored Westland with its Supplier of the Year award for the National School Lunch Program.
In an interview, Mendell expressed disbelief that employees used stun guns to get sick or injured animals on their feet for inspection.
"That's impossible," he said, adding that "electrical prods are not allowed on the property."
Asked whether his employees use fork lifts to get moribund animals off the ground, he said: "I can't imagine that."
Asked whether water was sprayed up animals' noses to get them to stand up, he said: "That's absolutely not true."
"We have a massive humane treatment program here that we follow to the nth degree, so this doesn't even sound possible," Mendell said. "I don't stand out there all day, but to me it would be next to impossible."
California law and USDA regulations do not allow disabled animals to be dragged by chains, lifted with forklifts, or, with few exceptions, to enter the food supply, all of which happened at Hallmark during the investigator's time there last fall, he said.
Video images show those activities, as well as a trailer with Hallmark's name on it.
One reason that regulations call for keeping downers -- cows that cannot stand up -- out of the food supply is that they may harbor bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease. It is caused by a virus-like infectious particle that can cause a fatal brain disease in people.
Another is because such animals have, in many cases, been wallowing in feces, posing added risks of E. coli and salmonella contamination.
The Humane Society and other groups have for years urged Congress to pass legislation that would tighten oversight at slaughterhouses.
Kenneth Petersen, assistant administrator of the Food Safety and Inspection Service's Office of Field Operations, whose 7,600 inspectors monitor the nation's 6,200 slaughterhouses and meat-processing plants for the Agriculture Department, said he had not seen the video. He added that he would have preferred that the Humane Society contacted the agency directly.
But he said use of a Hot Shot -- a brand-name electric device used to get dawdling cows to move along -- is "not allowed" as a means of getting a downer on its feet.
In the video, handlers repeatedly apply powerful shocks to the heads, necks, spines and rectums of immobile cows.
"That's certainly not a way to have them stand up or a correct way to move them," Petersen said.
Raising a cow on the prongs of a forklift is also not allowed, he said.
"We've made it clear that mechanical means to try to elevate an animal is not considered humane," Petersen said.
If he had evidence that the practices in the video were going on at a slaughterhouse, "I would immediately suspend them as an establishment," he said. "You're done. You're suspended. Everything stops. That's what we call an egregiously inhumane handling violation."
Temple Grandin, a professor of animal science at Colorado State University and an expert in slaughter practices, called the Humane Society footage "one of the worst animal-abuse videos I have ever viewed."
The investigator said a USDA inspector appeared twice a day, at 6:30 a.m. and about 12:30 p.m., to look at each cow to be slaughtered that day. The practices occurred before the inspector's appearance, he said, with the goal of getting the animals on their feet for the short time the inspector was there.
"Every day, I would see downed cattle too sick or injured to stand or walk arriving at the slaughterhouse," he said. "Workers would do anything to get the cows to stand on their feet."
USDA regulations say that if an animal goes down after it is inspected but before it is slaughtered, then it must be reinspected. But that rarely, if ever, happened, according to the Humane Society.
"They wanted to do whatever they could to get them into the kill box, including jabbing them in the eye, slamming into them with a forklift and simulating drowning or waterboarding the animals," Pacelle said -- all practices that can be seen in the video.
Mad cow disease is extremely rare in the United States, but of the 15 cases documented in North America -- most of them in Canada -- the vast majority have been traced to downer cattle. When the United States had its first case a few years ago, 44 nations closed their borders to U.S. beef, Pacelle said, costing the nation billions of dollars.
To sneak downers past inspectors, Pacelle said, is "penny-wise and pound-foolish."
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
What I really loved about the eggs was what I found when I cracked them open in my frying pan. First of all, the color was a gorgeous dark yellowy orange, not the typical yellow of grocery-store eggs. I wish I had taken a photo. Sorry...the intensely colored yolk is apparently due to the variety in the hens' diet. Since they're allowed out of the hen house, they have an opportunity to scratch around in the dirt for bugs, worms, and grubs, like happy hens are supposed to do. In the summertime there is much more food available for them outside the hen house, so their yolks will have an even more intense color. The second thing I loved about cooking them was the stiffness of the white. It was thick and stood at attention in the pan instead of running all over like more watery whites. I don't know if this was due to the eggs' freshness (they were collected on Friday and I cracked them Sunday morning) or the hens' diet. Maybe both. Once I finished cooking the eggs, I served them to the girls and their Uncle Brian, who visited us this weekend. Scott was busy bottling beer but did take a time out for a bite of my eggs. We were all in agreement that they were some of the tastiest eggs we'd ever had.
Here's the rub...first of all, I have to drive to "Kansas" to get the eggs. Ugh. Second, the eggs are rarely available in the winter since hens raised in a natural environment don't produce as many eggs in the winter. I guess I lucked out on Saturday. Once the hens go into full production mode again, I'll probably be making more trips out to Isle to pick up more of those beautiful eggs. And a few loads of the free cow manure, too...spring will coming eventually!
Monday, January 28, 2008
Saturday, January 26, 2008
Well, today I loaded up the kids and headed out to Isle Farms which is in, as we lovingly refer to it, Kansas. Not really Kansas, but far enough east to feel like Kansas. It was about an hour drive there and a little under forty five minutes on the way back. I found a much faster route for the return trip. I was really going out there to pick up a few chickens and some other meat that they sell. It's all local, naturally raised, and humanely slaughtered which was the attraction. I had talked with the farmer via email about raw milk and why I wasn't yet getting milk from him. It was mostly about the price (officially it comes out to about $7.50/gallon but is usually a bit cheaper since the cows make more milk than the farm can "sell," so we'll get a bit extra every week for free) and the fact that I'm not interested in driving to Kansas once a week to pick up a few gallons of milk. Well, he convinced me that I wouldn't be paying too much (I already pay close to $6/gallon for organic milk. I could get it cheaper but don't like the taste of milk from plastic bottles so I buy it by the half gallon). He also told me that I can pick up the milk from a local co-op where I've already been buying grass-fed beef, freshly-milled flour and organic produce. Objections aside, I was open to the idea of coming home with some raw milk.
The farm was great. The kids had cow poop all over their feet (I made them wear Crocs, knowing that they would be stepping in poop and mud. Crocs are easy to wash) but they had more fun than a kid should be allowed to have. The family that runs Isle farms has a lot of kids - I'm not sure how many. Maybe five? And another one on the way. Most of the kids were playing with Brynn and Callie and the others were helping with the Saturday chores. We got to meet the cows and pet one of them - a lovely and very sweet Jersey named Rosie. We had a tour of the milking barn and the bottling room. It's a pretty small operation but still very labor intensive. The kids are home schooled, and it's a good thing. I'm sure their help around the farm is required on a daily basis.
The sales pitch came at the end of the tour. That's when I realized that raw milk really wouldn't cost me much more than I am paying now and that it would be convenient to pick up. So, I went for it. The thing is, with raw milk, in most states it is illegal to buy or sell raw milk. Unfortunately, Colorado is one of those states. So, I now officially own a cow. Well, part of a cow. It's called a cow share. You pay a small fee to "buy" part of the cow and then a monthly fee for the care and boarding of your cow. Since you own the cow, you get to drink the cow's milk. Or make ice cream. Or cheese. Or feed the milk it to your dog. Do whatever you want with it - it's your cow, it's your milk.
The only problem I've encountered thus far is that Callie still prefers warm milk to cold. Well, microwaving raw milk would defeat the purpose of having raw milk - it would kill the enzymes that make raw milk extra healthy, kind of like microwaving breast milk. A big no no. So, at this point Callie's not a big fan. But, she's almost three and I'm treating her like a baby. Grow up, kid.
Friday, January 18, 2008
I'm listening to the book as I repaint and redecorate our guest room. While searching for upholstery fabric for Callie's room I found the end of a bolt of exaggerated houndstooth fabric like some I'd admired in a recent issue of Cottage Living magazine. Finding the houndstooth fabric (which was incredibly inexpensive since it was the last six yards of the bolt) gave me the kick in the pants to get that room done. I started the guest room when we moved in but never really finished it. But, I'd still rather read The Omnivore's Dilemma than work on that room, so making a deal with myself that I can only listen to the book on CD while I'm working on that room is making me super-motivated to finish the room. Can't wait 'til the kids go take a nap so I can get back to work!
Monday, January 14, 2008
Sunday, January 13, 2008
I've had a few setbacks but also a victory or two in my search for happy food. First of all, one of the stores that I thought was a shoe-in for happy food turned out not to be so happy. It's a little co-op started by a mom looking for all-natural chicken to feed her family. For ten years she sold natural chicken out of her garage to neighbors and friends because it was the least expensive way for her to get good quality chicken for her family - she had to buy it in bulk direct from the distributor. Now she and her family have a great little store where they sell their famous chicken in addition to pork, beef, dairy, organic produce, and lots of GREAT prepared foods. Upon further probing, though, only the pork appears to be humanely raised. The chicken, although naturally raised, comes from all over the country from a large producer and is, therefore, not likely to be humanely raised. The eggs come from one of the biggest egg producers in the country, one who is making changes to become more humane to its laying hens but is not up to my standards. The milk is similar, although it is at least from Colorado. The pork, on the other hand, comes from a little local family farm, which is great. It's especially great because they use the ground pork in their homemade Italian sausage which is in their homemade lasagna which is terrific. And affordable. I plan on buying more of that.
The victories I've had have been encouraging, but I've still got a ways to go. The butcher at Whole Foods has me semi-convinced that their meat is humanely raised, although I'm not confident enough to be happy buying all of my meat there. Their intent is great, but with the size of their operation, it's nearly impossible for them to be sure that their meat is humanely raised. Contrary to popular belief, I don't think the meat (or anything else, really) at Whole Foods is too expensive. It is more than at a conventional supermarket, but the quality is much better than what we can get elsewhere. For happy meat, a better option than Whole Foods is The Colorado Steak Company, which is located close to Brynn's school in Briargate. The first page of their website notes that they seek out ranches that raise and slaughter their animals humanely. One ranch that they buy from supplies meat to the Olympic Training Centers (no, they don't eat McDonalds at the training centers, despite being sponsored by them). Unfortunately, The Colorado Steak Company doesn't stock chicken thighs any time but summer. We eat a lot of chicken thighs. When cooked without the skin, chicken thighs have only slightly more fat and calories than their much drier and blander relative, the breast. Additionally, they have much more iron, niacin, zinc, and thiamine. So, clearly The Colorado Steak Company isn't going to work for me on a regular basis, since chicken thighs are on my grocery list about every other week. They do have a great fennel salami, though...I'll be going back just for that.
Here are my other options...tomorrow I'm going to Vitamin Cottage to check out their selection and prices. They apparently carry meat with the "Certified Humane" label. It's an organization to which ranchers can pay a fee to have a "Certified Humane" inspection on a regular basis. Those who pass are given this special certification. The requirements are pretty strict - even stricter than Whole Foods. I think the only places in the Springs where I can get their meat is at Vitamin Cottage and The Colorado Steak Company.
My second option, and the one we'll probably end up taking, is to buy a quarter cow, half pig, and some chicken from a local rancher. One that I've found and communicated with is the "Damn Near Anything Swine Ranch." The name caught my eye when I was searching through a list of "Colorado Proud" ranches and stores - people who grow/produce products or food in and of Colorado. It fits my desire to buy local (the ranch is in Rush, Colorado which is out east - the part of town we lovingly call "Kansas") plus the beef, pork, and chicken is all naturally raised with no additional hormones and no antibiotics. The beef is, of course, grass-raised. Since you are reading my blog, you are probably a very sophisticated consumer and, therefore, already know the benefits of grass fed beef. Just in case you missed it, I'll review. It's lower in fat and much higher in Omega-3 fatty acids, beta-carotene, and vitamin E than grain raised or grain finished beef. It can taste more "metallic" according to some people, but that is because there is not as much fat covering up the flavor of the meat, which contains high amounts of iron.
There are several ranches around us that sell quarters and sides of beef as well as lamb, pork and buffalo, so once I get a deep freezer (probably this summer), getting humane meat shouldn't be too big an issue. I'm still having a hard time finding eggs from humanely handled hens, although Cyd's Nest Fresh Eggs appear to be a good option. A dozen of her natural (not organic or omega-3) eggs runs around $2.70, as opposed to the $0.89 that you pay for a dozen eggs from caged, inhumanely treated hens. But, since we only buy about two dozen eggs a month, I think I can afford a few extra bucks. One thing I like about Cyd's eggs is that, despite treating their hens the way a small local operation would, I think their eggs are available nationally. You can even get them at Costco. Cyd's eggs carry the "Certified Humane" label and it seems like they are the only eggs that are readily available locally which I can trust to come from humanely treated hens.
Along the way I've found some fun new links. In case you're interested, I've included a few of them below:
100 Pounds of Leftovers
The Omnivore's Dilemma
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
Chico Basin Ranch
Lettuce Patch Gardens
Black Forest Bison
My Favorite Brownies
1 2/3 C granulated sugar
¾ C unsalted butter, melted
2 T water
2 large eggs
1 t vanilla extract
2 t espresso or strong coffee
1 1/3 C whole wheat or all purpose flour
3/4 C cocoa powder
1/2 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
1/2 C chopped nuts
1/2 C dark or bittersweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 13x9 baking pan.
Combine sugar, butter, and water in large bowl. Stir in eggs, espresso, and vanilla extract. Combine flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl; stir into sugar mixture. Stir in nuts and chocolate chips. Spread into prepared baking pan.
Bake for 20-35 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out slightly sticky. Cool completely in pan on wire rack. Cut into bars. Makes 2 dozen brownies.
Tuesday, January 1, 2008
Some (like PETA) would say that there is no way to guarantee that animals you eat were humanely raised and slaughtered and they would contend that eating meat is unnatural and unhealthy, anyway. While I do not agree with the latter (see Real Food and Weston A. Price for more on why I think humans are "supposed" to eat meat), I do agree that in modern America it is very difficult to guarantee that you are eating happy food. Unless you're raising it yourself or buying your meat directly from a rancher, guaranteeing that you're eating happy food probably is impossible. Since I'm not willing to give up meat, I've made it my new year's resolution to do everything possible to ensure that my money is only supporting ranchers who humanely raise and slaughter their animals.
So, here is what I've learned thus far: basically, unless you can visit the farm/ranch yourself, it's impossible to know whether or not you're getting happy food. But, you can increase your chances of getting happy food. Here are some suggestions from what I've learned thus far in this process:
1. Buy meat raised and slaughtered by a small operation. If it's a small operation, it's more likely that the animals were humanely raised and slaughtered. You want to buy animals that were slaughtered by a person rather than a machine, which might miss knocking them out before slitting their throats or cutting off their heads.
2. Buy meat raised and slaughtered by a local operation. If it's local, it is more likely that the person/store you're buying from has done the research and visited the farm or ranch themselves. If it's REALLY local, you can go visit the place yourself. We have a small local dairy farm that sells eggs from hens that live on their farm. They also sell meat from small local ranches - their meat and eggs are more expensive and it's a heck of a drive to get out there, but you can bet I'll be visiting them and buying from them as often as I can.
3. Buy from an operation that processes the animals themselves instead of sending animals to a huge slaughterhouse. It doesn't really matter how happy the cow is growing up on a picturesque ranch eating fresh grass every day if then the cow is sent to the same slaughterhouse that also slaughters the not-so-happy cows. The happy cows will be treated just as inhumanely as the rest.
4. This one should be obvious, but maybe it's not to everyone...buy from an operation that does not treat their animals with added hormones or routine antibiotics. It would be even better if you could buy from one that doesn't breed their animals to be oversized. One of the biggest issues with the poultry industry today is that birds are bred to grow larger (and faster) than their legs and organs can handle, resulting in leg injuries and deformities as well as heart attacks and other health problems that are not present in properly-proportioned birds.
5. This one also seems a little obvious...buy free-range meat. While there seems to be a debate over whether or not free-range meat is what we imagine it to be, if you're buying from a small, local rancher who claims to be free-range, you're likely to get happy food. If you're buying from a huge operation that raises their animals thousands of miles from where you live, it is less likely that the lable "free range" really means what we hope it does.
Clearly, I still have a lot to learn and this new lifestyle will take some adjustment. I ordered PETA's free vegetarian cookbook, because while I get this all figured out we will probably not be eating meat as often as we used to. But, I think I've made some headway already. I've found a few small local stores and one co-op that sell locally-raised meat or meat raised at least in our region (Colorado, Wyoming, Montana) with strict rules for humane treatment and processing.
Through this new year's resolution I am beginning to recognize the benefits and importance of buying locally produced meat, produce, and other products. I really never would have thought I could get so much local produce here, or even local meat, for that matter. Once you start looking for this stuff, it's amazing how much of it you come across. I would have predicted that finding happy food would be relatively easy in Seattle or Boulder or Berkeley, but not in Colorado Springs. I love our city, but it is clearly not the most progressive city in the country. So if I can find happy food here, I believe it can be found anywhere...and really, it's not all about being progressive; maybe it is more about being regressive. Going back to how food was raised before food became a big business. Also, you should know that happy food is not just for people with money...natural doesn't have to mean expensive. Finding it at the right price or buying in quantities that fit your budget just takes a little work and a lot of determination. We'll see how long I last. Next on the list...happy dairy. That might have to wait until next year, although I'm aware of the possible contradiction between trying to eat happy food but not concentrating on dairy. I'm doing the best that I can right now! :)