Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Great Dairy Debate

I've never been much of a milk drinker so giving it up wasn't a big sacrifice. Cheese, however, is another story. I love cheese. I mean really love it. But after doing some research on the treatment of dairy cows I've decided that if I'm to make a difference at all and try to make some changes to how these animals are treated, I needed to give up cheese too, along with yogurt and ice cream.

According to GoVeg, "The 9 million cows living on dairy farms in the United States spend most of their lives in large sheds or on feces-caked mud lots, where disease is rampant. Cows raised for their milk are repeatedly impregnated. Their babies are taken away so that humans can drink the milk intended for the calves. When their exhausted bodies can no longer provide enough milk, they are sent to slaughter and ground up for hamburgers."

The life expectancy of dairy cows is 4 to 5 years, only 1/5 of the normal life expectancy of a cow. They are continually impregnated with their calves being taken away from them when they are only a day old. The calves are the ones that should be nursing on their mother's milk, not humans. After birthing, dairy cows can lactate (produce milk) for up to 10 months, at which time they are impregnated again and the process starts all over again. As far as the babies go, female calves are either slaughtered or raised to be dairy cows and males calves are most often raised as veal. They are chained up in tiny stalls so that they cannot move around, keeping their flesh tender and they remain there for up to 4 months, being fed a milk substitute that is designed to make them gain up to 2 pounds per day and that is purposefully low in iron. This is in order to keep them anemic resulting in pale flesh.

Then there is the environment to take into consideration. Cows - both dairy and beef - contribute to over 18% of the world's carbon dioxide; more greenhouse gases than cars, planes and all other forms of transportation combined. In California alone, cows excrete more than 18 million gallons of manure daily, polluting rivers, streams and groundwater. 

There are many reasons to decide to give up dairy. Whether it is for environmental reasons, because of allergies, to avoid unnecessary hormones or to take your stand against animal cruelty, the decision is up to you. But there are alternatives out there and lots of them. Soy milk, ice cream, yogurt and cheese are delicious (just be sure it is non-GMO), rice milk and almond milk are also very good. My personal favourite is Blue Diamond Almond Milk (particularly the chocolate!). 

As far as cheese, I thought it would be very difficult to give up but then I discovered Daiya Cheese products. Shredded flavours in cheddar, mozzarella and pepperjack, this "cheese" has the taste and texture of real cheese - it even melts like real cheese - yet without the fat and cholesterol of dairy cheese. 

When it comes to ice cream and yogurt, there are several dairy-free alternatives on the market. My favourite ice cream alternative is So Good. It is rich, creamy and absolutely delicious! And for yogurt, my preference is Olympic brand. Their "soyogurt" comes in a variety of flavours.

If you are concerned with your dairy intake, the treatment of the cows and other animals that provide us with dairy or the toll it takes on the environment, think about some non-dairy options the next time you visit the supermarket.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Is it a coincidence that gelatin rhymes with skeleton?

When I was little my parents used to take us to a Chinese buffet restaurant a couple of times a year. The food was great but our favourite part was dessert where they had little bowls of Jell-O that were cut up into cubes. Oh how fun it was to watch those little squares jiggle and roll off the spoon. Jell-O was such a fun food but as a child I had no idea what it was made from and why would I? Unfortunately, now that I do know, it is on my list of foods I do not eat.

Gelatin comes from collagen which is derived from the tendons, ligaments, bones, skin and connective tissues of animals, most often cows and pigs. These body parts are loaded into chopping machines and cut up into small pieces. They are washed, cleaned and then roasted for about half an hour. After this, they are soaked in vats of acid or alkali for five days before being boiled to extract the gelatinous liquid. Depending on the use of the gelatin, there are food colourings, sweeteners or flavourings added after this process.

As someone who chooses not to consume animals, it is sometimes difficult to determine what foods and products contain animal by-products. Gelatin is used in many foods and products, not just Jell-O. It can be found in marshmallows, yogurt, gummy candy, jelly beans, jam, cereal, pop-tarts, vitamins, make-up and nail polish remover, as well as hundreds of other products.

If you would like to eliminate gelatin from your diet, look for products that contain the ingredients carrageenan, agar-agar, arrowroot, guar gum or xanthan gum, as these are used as thickening agents instead of gelatin.

My personal favourite yogurt comes from Olympic - all of their products are delicious and they are easily found in most grocery stores. They can be a little bit more expensive than other yogurts, but the taste is far superior and the fact that you aren't eating animal skin makes it worth the extra few cents. A recent new discovery is Presidents Choice Greek Yogurt with Honey - it is lower in sugar, has no fat and is very high in protein. Unfortunately it is so good that I could eat the entire container in one sitting! And for those with kids that can't go camping without having S'mores, you can find gelatin free marshmallows at Dandies Air-Puffed Vegan Marshmallows, Original Vanilla, 10 oz. Bag

I don't think any of us would choose to eat tendons and ligaments from an animal so why is it any different because it has been boiled down to form gelatin? A little research on the internet and reading of labels at the grocery store will help you be more aware of what you are eating and feeding your family.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Shark Finning

A few weeks ago I started watching a show on the National Geographic channel called Shark Men. It is a fascinating show featuring a group of men - both anglers and scientists - who actively hunt and catch sharks in order to study and learn from them. The technology used to capture these creatures is amazing and the precautions taken to prevent any harm or stress to come to them is incredible. I think most people are terrified of sharks but once you learn about them, realize how long they have been on earth, how smart they are and how endangered they have become, you begin to see them completely differently.

This got me to thinking about how many sharks are killed each year for sport or profit, particularly for the delicacy known as Shark Fin Soup, which is very popular in many Chinese restaurants. Shark fin soup is a sign of wealth and prosperity and with the middle class economy improving in China, it is becoming more popular than ever. The soup can cost up to $100 a bowl and can most often be found served at wedding celebrations so the hosts can impress their guests with their affluence.

Basically shark finning consists of the removal and retention of a shark fin. The shark is caught and hauled up on the boat. Most often it is still alive when the fin is removed and then it is thrown back in the water, where it is unable to swim so it just sinks to the bottom. It dies a slow painful death by either drowning, starvation or being eaten alive by other fish. Since the value of shark meat isn't that high, it isn't worth the time or expense it would take the fishermen to bring in the shark in its entirety.

It has been estimated that more than 100 million sharks are killed annually for their fins. These fins are used in soups or sold for medicinal purposes. The shark fin itself is tasteless but it provides a gelatinous bulk for the soup which is flavored with chicken, beef or fish stock. Because of the fin itself provides no flavor, it is easy to make imitation shark fin soup. This consists of mung bean vermicelli or gelatin which is cooked in chicken broth or, even healthier, made with Spaghetti Squash.

There have been no findings of shark fins providing any nutritional or medicinal value. It is true that sharks do not get cancer and if they could help us find a cure for cancer that would be amazing, but their fins or cartilage do not prevent cancer.

This cruel and unnecessary treatment of sharks needs to stop. You can help by visiting the Stop Shark Finning website. Here you can also find a link to which restaurants are still using shark fins so that you can avoid them. Feel free to call them and tell them the reason you aren't going to their restaurant is because of their use of shark fins. California is banning shark fin soup effective 2013 which is great because currently California has the largest demand for shark fins outside of Asia.

For those of you with kids, this National Geographic Readers: Sharks! book is great. Very educational for both adults and kids and will teach us not to be afraid of the creatures of the sea as they are usually more afraid of you than you of them!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

How Sweet It Is

Much of today's poor health and diseases that are so prevalent today can be blamed on an increase consumption of sugar and refined carbohydrates. Because these exist in so many processed foods, it is sometimes very difficult to avoid them.

In order to successfully eliminate these from your diet, you must be aware of what is in the foods that you eat, how to read ingredient labels and what foods to eat instead. By decreasing your sugar and refined carbohydrate intake, you can lose weight and increase your energy. But the most important goal in eliminating these from your diet is to promote and increase your overall health.

Many people are spoiled by the convenience of processed foods and have a difficult time following a healthy diet because of the time it takes to prepare foods from scratch. It can also be less costly to purchase pre-packaged or processed foods and many families on a budget have this to deal with as well, not thinking of the long term cost of eating processed foods.

By eating natural whole foods, there isn't much need to worry about ingredients labels. However, if you find it necessary to eat processed foods, the following list of sugars will help you determine whether or not the product in question contains sugar or refined carbohydrates.

Dextrose, Fructose, Galactose, Glucose, Lactose, Levulose, Maltose, Saccharose, Sucrose, Xylose, Mannitol, Sorbitol, Xytitol

Other sugars to be aware of include: Beet Sugar, Brown Sugar, Cane Sugar, Confectionary Sugar, Corn Sugar, Corn Sweetener, Corn Syrup, Dehydrated Cane Juice, Dextrin, Fruit Juice Concentrate, Granulated Sugar, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Honey, Invert Sugar, Isomalt, Malt Sugar, Maltodextrin, Maple Sugar, Maple Syrup, Molasses, Raw Sugar, Rice Syrup, Sorghum, Treacle and Turbinado Sugar

Another important ingredient to look out for is white flour. Although it’s not classified as a sugar, it’s a refined carbohydrate that’s just as unhealthy.

One of the worst culprits for hidden sugars are beverages such as soda, sports drinks, sweetened iced tea and most other flavored drinks. They are extremely high in sugar and should be avoided as much as possible. Even natural fruit juices that aren’t from concentrate and have no sugar added are still high in sugar.

Many people think that fruit juices are a healthy alternative to soft drinks. In reality, the benefits of the fruit are usually destroyed during processing therefore all that is left in the "healthy fruit juice" is the sugar from the fruit. The simplest (and healthiest) way to avoid sugar in beverages is to drink water instead. Although this can get boring, drinking water is an overall health benefit to you. It can be very refreshing to add some lemon or oranges slices to your water.

Artificial sweeteners are designed to provide the sweet taste of sugar that we all love, but without the negative impact on health. Unfortunately, these artificial sweeteners are often more of a risk to your health than sugar itself. Most artificial sweeteners, particularly aspartame and sucralose, are synthetic substances that have been found to be toxic in many ways. They’re also known to increase appetite, which is ironic considering their popularity among people looking to lose weight.

The use of artificial sweeteners is often a case of trading one problem for another and is definitely not the path to excellent health. As long as you don’t have a serious condition that prevents you from consuming sugar, and as long as you live a healthy lifestyle most of the time, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying real sugar in moderation.

If you choose to eat processed foods that are advertised as sugar free or low calorie even though you should be eating whole foods instead, avoid products that have aspartame or sucralose listed in the ingredients. Also be aware of the brand names that these artificial sweeteners may also be listed under. Aspartame is commonly available as NutraSweet or Equal and sucralose is commonly known as Splenda.

A healthy alternative for artificial sweetener is stevia. Stevia is a natural herb based sweetener that typically doesn’t affect blood sugar and is a much safer alternative than aspartame or sucralose. It’s many times sweeter than sugar, so if you decide to try it, use it in very small amounts.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Foie "Gross"

I couldn't decide what I wanted to write about this week until I was speaking with a friend of mine this afternoon and she said she had gone out for dinner to a wonderful French restaurant and ate so much Foie Gras she thought she was going to explode. That got me to thinking...I wonder how the goose must have felt as he was being forced fed to fatten up his liver. Probably like he was going to explode! These birds are born, caged, have tubes shoved down their throats and are force fed until their liver is big enough to slaughter them. That's it...that is their entire existence on this earth.

To produce Foie Gras, which literally means "fatty liver", workers shove pipes down the throats of male ducks or geese up to three times a day. They then pump as much as 4 pounds of grain and fat into their stomachs which cause their livers to bloat to up to 10 times their normal size. Many birds have difficulty standing because their livers are so engrossed. At times, they may actually tear out their own feathers and cannibalize each other due to stress. The birds are kept in tiny wire cages or tightly packed into sheds. On some farms, a single worker may be expected to force-feed 500 birds three times each day. These animals are often treated roughly and left injured and suffering. Many ducks develop foot infections, kidney necrosis, spleen damage, bruised and broken bills, and tumor-like lumps in their throats.

Foie Gras is so inhumane that in 2004, California passed a law banning the sale and production of Foie Gras from force fed birds, effective in 2012. Force feeding has also been outlawed in the United Kingdom, Austria, Germany, Czech Republic, Finland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Denmark and Israel. Over 78% of the worlds consumption of Foie Gras is produced in France.

In Canada, nearly half a million birds are killed each year for Foie Gras. There are no laws preventing force feeding of these birds for the consumption of their liver in Canada yet. Please take the time to write or call your Minister of Agriculture and demand a national ban on Foie Gras production.

Monday, April 25, 2011

How well do you know your eggs?

These days when you go to the grocery store there are so many types of eggs to choose from - brown, white, organic, free range, free run, cage free - the only ones they don't promote are conventional battery caged eggs. Suffice it to say if the producer isn't promoting the fact the eggs are free range or free run, they are most likely battery caged.

It's easy to be confused with all of the different egg types available to us. And most times it is easiest to just buy whichever eggs are on sale or the least expensive. But you have to take time to look at the bigger picture, decide what is best for you and your family and think about how the chicken was treated when it is laying eggs.

Here is a brief synopsis of different categories of laying hens.

Battery Caged
These egg-laying hens are kept in small barren cages that provide consistent access to food and water. The hens are always standing and laying on a wire cage floor and there are generally 3 or more birds housed in each cage and the cages are stacked on top of each other. Bird droppings fall through the cages to a a pit for disposal (so I guess the lucky birds are the ones in the top cages!) The barn temperatures are easily monitored so that the birds are in an environment that is an appropriate temperature at all times. The physical comfort of the birds is poor and often the hens experience chronic pain associated with injuries to their feet caused by standing on the wire floor. They are also known to have weak bones due in part to their lack of exercise and movement. The cages are also too small and too cramped to allow the birds proper movement including grooming, wing-flapping, perching and nest building.

Free Run
These hens are kept entirely indoors on a barn floor. Housing provides them with a deep-bedded sawdust so it is much better on their feet. This type of housing does not necessarily provide more space per hen than conventional battery cages and does not always provide nest boxes or perches. Free run hens have no access to the outdoors but some barns may be designed to allow natural light to enter. Access to food and water is good and consistent and barn temperatures can easily be maintained. As they have more room to move around, Free Run hens are able to explore their surroundings, groom themselves, flap their wings and walk around.

Free Range
Hens that are in a Free Range environment are free from battery cages and are allowed access to the outside. Because they are able to roam free, there must be adequate feeders and drinkers for the entire flock to ensure that all birds have access at all times. Hens are able to choose whether to be indoors or outdoors, in the shade or in the sun, so their comfort level is very much up to them. Warmth and shelter is always provided as is access to the outdoors.

While free range and free run eggs come from chickens that are handled in a more humane fashion, they are more difficult to gather and may have been laid in less sanitary conditions, making the labor costs and spoilage factors higher than for battery chickens. This accounts for some portion of the increased price for these eggs. In my opinion, the taste of free range and free run eggs is far superior to that of battery caged hens. The yolks are more yellow and there is a better flavour to them. Of course, the price is a bit more expensive but only by .15 to .20 an egg. That works out to less the cost of a latte a week!

Aside from being aware of the food that you consume, you should also be aware of the treatment of animals, the production of eggs, what the chickens are being fed and how they are treated while they are laying. These hens are laying eggs for our consumption - nothing more, nothing less. They at least deserve to be treated well while they are providing food and nourishment for us.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Foul or fowl?

Chicken is likely the most popular of all meats - everything from chicken nuggets, burgers, wings, fried chicken, rotisserie chicken, sandwich meats, ground chicken - you name it, they will make a meal out of it! But before you bite into that bucket of chicken or the pound of wings on special, do you ever think about where that chicken came from, how it was treated, killed and packaged for your consumption?

Each year there are more than 9 billion chickens, both males and females, are raised and killed for food in the United States alone. Worldwide over 50 billion chickens are now being slaughtered every year. Because of genetic manipulation for overgrown muscle tissue of the breast and thighs, these birds suffer miserably from painful lameness causing them to crouch and hobble in pain, from gastrointestinal and blood diseases, and chronic respiratory infections. The parents of these birds are raised in darkness and kept on semi-starvation diets to reduce the mating infirmities caused by forcing chickens bred for meat to grow too large too fast.

For the majority of theses birds, during their 45 days of life, “broiler” chickens live in semi-darkness on manure-soaked wood shavings, unchanged through several flocks of 30,000 or more birds in a single shed. Excretory ammonia fumes often become so strong that the birds develop a blinding eye disease called ammonia burn. So painful is this disease that afflicted birds rub their hurting eyes with their wings and let out cries of pain. These chickens are crowded by the thousands in cramped quarters to live out their days in pain, discomfort and fear.

Please be aware of the fact that these animals give their lives for your gastronomic pleasure. The least we can give them is some comfort and freedom for the short time they are share this planet with us. Everyone is anxious to make more money and make it faster. Pay a little bit more for chicken purchased from your local farmer where you can see them roaming free and enjoying some fresh air. Ask your butcher, grocer or favorite restaurant for organically, humanely grown chickens only. If they don't have it, go somewhere that does. The hormones that are given to these creatures to make them grow fast has to go somewhere - and that somewhere is in the meat you are consuming. That extra big juicy chicken breast doesn't grow like that naturally in just 45 days. Think about it. Be aware.