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!