What to tell the kids…?!

I’ve been reconsidering what to tell the kids when it comes to eating meat, dairy and eggs.  So far the subject has not really come up as our three girls are only 5, 3 and 2 weeks so haven’t really noticed that mum and dad avoid animal products.  But they are beginning to ask questions – not just about what we eat but about food in general.

Up until now I have always been very quick to say that Ed and I certainly don’t impose our beliefs on our children and they can eat whatever they want.  So if we’re out and they choose the chicken sandwich then we buy it.  At school we haven’t put them down as vegetarian as we wanted them to have the choice each day as to what they eat.  I didn’t want to be seen as a pushy mother imposing her ‘extreme views’ on her poor kids… but recently this has started to sit uncomfortably with me.

For example, last week we were walking down the Northcote Road past an Argentinian Steakhouse.  There was a giant cardboard cow outside promoting some offer or other and Arcadia (5 yr old) asked me why there was a cow outside the restaurant.  So I explained to her that it’s a steak house and steak comes from cows.  She asked me whether the cows were dead or alive and she asked me who killed the cows.  I explained that the cows were bred for their meat and killed at a slaughterhouse when they were big enough to eat and then the meat is bought to the restaurant where it is cooked and eaten by the customers.  She looked absolutely horrified.  And I didn’t say it with any tone in my voice whatsoever – I just explained the process to her.   She asked me why someone would want to kill a cow?  I said because they taste nice and people like eating meat.  Still she looked horrified.  I don’t want to eat cows mummy she said.  Ok well you don’t have to eat cows if you don’t want to.

Then we were watching Finding Nemo last night and again Arcadia asked me why people take fish out of the sea.  I explained to her that when people eat fish, they have been taken out of the sea or out of a fish farm where they have been bred specifically for people to eat.  Again horrified.

girl with turkey friend vegan thanksgiving Our children have zero desire to eat these animals and are horrified when they discover what they have been eating… until we brainwash them into thinking it’s ok!

You get the picture.  The problem is that by the time children start to ask questions they have already started to learn that it is ok to eat animals. because everyone at school is doing it, on tv, all around them etc.  So what sits uncomfortably with me is that already she is looking at me as if to say ‘well why have you been letting me eat fish and sausages and chicken?’.  ‘You know that I wouldn’t want to had you explained to me what they are’.  Because kids haven’t yet learned from other people the crazy illogical idea that it is ok to eat pigs and cows and sheep and lambs and chickens and pigs and other poultry but that it’s not ok to eat horses and dogs and cats etc.  They are equally horrified at the idea of eating any of them.  Until we teach them that it’s ok in some cases.

So surely as a parent, my job is to equip her with the information that she needs in order to make an informed decision and then it is up to her what she does with it and I must respect her decision whatever it is.

But when do I start this?  With my oldest clearly 5 was too late as she is already really confused as to why I haven’t explained this to her before.  So do I start explaining to Indigo what different meats are before she’s started asking me prescient questions? So when we’re ordering lunch and she says she’d like a beefburger I should say are you sure you want to order that honey?  You know that a beefburger is made from the meat of a dead cow… I immediately feel like a psycho pushy parent.  But why?  All I’m doing is explaining to her what she’s about to eat.  I’m only giving her fact.

little girl turkey compassion vegan thanksgiving Children are appalled at needless slaughter… until we deceive them by telling them it’s ok, they’re meant to be eaten, we need to eat them for protein – complete rubbish!

I’m always amused at how people bang on about how appalling it is that children these days have no idea that milk comes from cows and sausages come from pigs.  When it’s absolutely no wonder!  I’m amazed when kids (that haven’t grown up on a farm) have the slightest clue where their food comes from because most adults are in total denial of it.  Every length is gone to to deceive and mislead us – through advertising campaigns and marketing ploys.  Words such as free range, organic, grass fed etc allow us to believe these cattle are living lovely lives before being humanely slaughtered…

The truth is a little different… We might all know that beef is from a cow – but most of us don’t know the reality of the miserably short life that cow has endured.  Most beef calves are taken from their mothers immediately after birth, castrated and dehorned with no anaesthetic, transported to ‘fattening sheds’ where they are fed on high-protein cereal feeds (largely made up of soya which is responsible for most deforestation of the rainforests and a huge environmental concern – also cattle belch and fart out between 100 and 200 litres of methane a day, a gas which is 24 times more powerful than carbon dioxide and is the largest contributor to climate change – bigger than the entire transportation sector combined!!!), and then taken for slaughter between 10 and 12 months of age.  Pitifully young when you think that they would live happily for 25 odd years if left to live out their natural life in peace.  At the slaughterhouse, the cattle are stunned (often ineffectively) using a captive bolt pistol before being shackled by the leg, strung up and having their throat slit.

In the UK, dairy cows are most commonly kept in pastures during the summer months and indoors in the winter. However, the practice of keeping the cows indoors all year round is becoming more popular; this is known as zero-grazing. Cows naturally produce milk after giving birth; for their children, not for human consumption. However, dairy cows are subjected to the same amount of cruelty as in any other intensive farming system so as to constantly supply humans with milk. Maximum production is paramount to the farmers and therefore, the cows produce between 20 and 50 litres of milk each day; around ten times the amount her calf would suckle. 10 TIMES!  I am breastfeeding at the moment and the thought of being rigged up to a machine and have 10 times as much milk leached out of me is unimaginable.

To take full advantage of the excess milk which cows produce immediately after giving birth, the calves are usually taken from their mothers within the first two days of birth, causing suffering, anxiety and depression for both mother and child, as the maternal bond a cow has with her calf is very strong. Under natural circumstances, the calf would suckle for anywhere between six months and a year. Like humans, cows produce milk for the benefit of their children and therefore only lactate for around ten to thirteen months after they have given birth. The cows are therefore re-impregnated approximately 60 days after giving birth to continue the cycle of milk production. In addition, the cows continue to be milked whilst pregnant; a process which causes them extreme discomfort. Once the dairy cows are so worn out that they have produced all the milk they can, they are sent to slaughter, usually at around four or five years of age; the average natural lifespan for a cow could be as long as 25 years. Their meat often ends up in low-grade burgers or pet foods.

Some of the infants that are taken from the dairy cows are, like their mothers, destined to become milking machines for human consumption and profit. However, approximately half of the calves are male. Some of them are killed as infants for cheap meat; however, as the offspring of dairy cows are not purposefully bred for meat, they are rarely suitable for beef production. Prior to the BSE outbreak, a large number of these calves were transported to continental Europe for used in the veal industry.

Anyhow – enough – I’m getting waylaid.  My point is that a lot of this was news to me and I was bought up on a smallholding in a farming community and thought I was one of the ‘educated ones’ when it came to animal agriculture.

So my new plan is to try and educate the kids in as transparent and honest a way as possible, without trying to persuade them in any way of what choices they should make.  It’s kind of hilarious that I feel like a pushy mother for considering telling my children the truth about this.  It just goes to show that the truth is pretty horrifying and it’s that I’m nervous of.  I don’t want my children to feel the same confusion and anger and sadness that I do that people continue to eat animals when there is absolutely no need for it, no excuse for it.  It is an indefensible, totally unethical and cruel practice which has no place in our society any longer.

I’m sad that they are going to see what lengths people will go to, what lies people will tell themselves, in order to not have to take a stance and go against the grain and do the right thing.  It isn’t easy and it does make you question people’s morality but it is also an extremely valuable lesson.  You cannot assume that just because ‘everyone else is doing it’ it’s ok.  You must learn to question things, carry out your own research, draw your own conclusions and continue to evolve and grow as your own person.

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Slice of Cruelty

Another week, another horrific undercover video revealing the horrific abuse and cruelty that goes on in many dairy farms around the world.  This was taken by a mercy for Animals undercover reporter who got a job at a dairy in New Mexico for several weeks.   It shows workers punching, kicking and whipping cows and shocking their genitals with electric prods, tossing calves into truck beds, using heaving equipment to force sick animals into confined spots and committing other types of abuse.

Watch here!

It’s not easy to watch but I think it’s really important that people are made aware of what goes on behind closed doors.  People cannot be held accountable for financing these industries if they are not made aware of what it is they are directly supporting.  Most people have no idea of the cruel practices that go on in the agricultural sector.  I certainly didn’t until I undertook my own research and I am convinced that as soon as people are made aware of the horrific acts of animal abuse that are so endemic on factory farms around the world, they will stop consuming their products and lining their pockets.  Unfortunately the industry is obviously going to do everything in their powers to keep this out of public view and, such are their lobbying powers, so too are governments.  So it is left up to animal rights activists, animal welfare groups and charities to do whatever they can to raise awareness and educate people as to what kind of practices they are unwittingly supporting and therefore responsible for.  It is unfortunate that people have to deceitfully pose as employees whilst secretly filming goings on, but there is no other way of showing people the truth.  If these kinds of videos don’t make people immediately stop eating these dairy products, at least at the restaurant chains that they know these dairy farms supply, then I honestly don’t know what will.

Stop Dairy Abuse

Even if you choose to believe what Tim McIntyre, vice president of communications for Domino’s, (Leprino Foods biggest client, supplied by this dairy amongst many others), says and believe that this is an ‘isolated case of sadistic acts by employees at a single dairy farm in southern New Mexico…’ (which endless undercover footage has sadly proven to be untrue – in 2010 another Mercy for Animals undercover investigation gathered similar footage at Willet dairy in New York, also supplying Leprino Foods.  They were closed down for a few months and reopened a year later when the bad press died down.  Another video was released showing appalling abuse at a beef farm, Bettencourt Farm, in 2012, one of Burger King’s biggest suppliers – yet no arrests were made and people still eat at Burger King…) then just the faintest possibility that this might not be the case would surely get anyone questioning whether or not subscribing to this industry is at all ethical or necessary.  At the very least this should stop you eating at any of the chains that are supplied by this dairy – Domino’s Pizza, Papa John’s and Pizza Hut for starters.

Or if you want to tell yourself that these are just a bunch of evil people getting sadistic kicks out of abusing innocent vulnerable animals and this is absolutely not your typical dairy industry employee, then read the book ‘Slaughterhouse’ by Gail A Eisnitz.  Gail interviews dozens and dozens of employees working in dairy farms and slaughterhouses across the US and these personal accounts of what really goes inside those walls will leave you feeling sick to your stomach that you have ever bought and eaten meat that has been processed in factory farms.

or if you tell yourself that you don’t buy meat that comes from factory farms then ask yourself where the lamb in your Cornish pasty has come from or where your service station chicken salad sandwich came from, or where your beef stock came from, or the milk in your hot chocolate powder or cadburys flake… There are animal products in so much of what you eat.  Way beyond the joint of expensive beef you might buy for your Sunday Roast.

The horror of dairy farms

And even if you do tell yourself that this kind of cruelty is limited to factory farms far far away from your table, then look at the zillion other reasons you shouldn’t be eating animals.  Start with the environment, then look at the ethics of eating an innocent vulnerable animal that you have absolutely no nutritional need for and then look at the enormous health benefits of an animal free diet.  The arguments are so obvious, the evidence is so resounding – the only way you can continue to consume and wear animal products is if you choose to deceive yourself.  And at the back of your mind, you know you are lying to yourself and you have to live with this niggling nugget of knowledge that you are part of this horrifically cruel, unnecessary and evil practice and you really should have had the balls to do something about it.  One day your grandchild will ask you – what did you do when you found out about the abuse and cruelty?  You stopped eating animals right and tried to get others to stop too?  Yes?  Right?

This video screengrab shows a cow being dragged out of a stall. The video was shot by the animal rights group Mercy for Animals.

People cannot continue to turn a blind eye any longer.  People can no longer ignore the elephant in the room.  Even if you believe that there is such a thing as ‘humane slaughter’, producing meat on the scale that we are today cannot be done ethically or humanely.  Commodifying animal products in this way inevitably leads to enormous numbers and tiny profit margins.  Every penny is squeezed out of every animal and profits are driven through unethical means – mass scale production with more animals squeezed into smaller spaces, more gallons of milk squeezed out of mastitis engorged udders, animals being stuffed full of unnatural animal feed and dosed up on antibiotics, fattened obscenely quickly, slaughtered at a desperately young age and sold at a cheaper and cheaper price etc etc.

The greater the demand for food the more corners are cut and not only do the animals suffer appallingly but so we do as the cholesterol pours through our veins and blocks our arteries, raises our blood pressure, brings on heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes, the list is endless!

If you don’t believe me go and do some research.  It’s like opening Pandora’s box.  Before you know it you’ll be glued to your computer with your jaw on the floor amazed at how something as ‘normal’ as eating meat, dairy and eggs can make you partly responsible for such horrific acts of violence and cruelty.

Trust me.  Do some research and see what you discover.

Care about climate change? Go vegan!

This afternoon we joined London’s march for climate action. 

Some 40,000 people turned out and marched along Embankment to a rally in Parliament Square.  The rally comes ahead of a summit on Tuesday for 125 heads of state and government at the United Nations headquarters in New York.   This meeting is the first such gathering since the unsuccessful Copenhagen conference in 2009 and will attempt to push forward political momentum towards a new universal agreement on climate to be signed by all nations at the end of 2015.

Climate change is a huge part of why Ed and I became vegan in the first place.  Most people associate veganism with animal welfare far more then they associate it with environmentalism but for anyone who cares about the environment then switching to a vegan diet is a really obvious choice to make.

Here’s a reminder why:

Global warming has been called humankind’s “greatest challenge” and the world’s gravest environmental threat. Many conscientious people are trying to help reduce global warming by driving more fuel-efficient cars and using energy-saving light bulbs. Although these measures help, science shows that going vegan is one of the most effective ways to fight global warming. A staggering 51 percent or more of global greenhouse-gas emissions are caused by animal agriculture, according to a report published by the Worldwatch Institute. Additionally, a recent United Nations report concluded that a global shift toward a vegan diet is extremely important in order to combat the worst effects of climate change. According to the United Nations, raising animals for food is “one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.” In addition, the official handbook for Live Earth, the anti–climate change concerts that Al Gore helped organize, says that not eating meat is the “single most effective thing you can do” to reduce your climate change impact. Carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide together cause the vast majority of global warming. Raising animals for food is one of the largest sources of carbon dioxide and the single largest source of both methane and nitrous-oxide emissions.

Carbon Dioxide

Burning fossil fuels (such as oil and gasoline) releases carbon dioxide, the primary gas responsible for global warming. Producing one calorie from animal protein requires 11 times as much fossil fuel input—releasing 11 times as much carbon dioxide—as does producing a calorie from plant protein. Feeding massive amounts of grain and water to farmed animals and then killing them and processing, transporting, and storing their flesh is extremely energy-intensive. In addition, enormous amounts of carbon dioxide stored in trees are released during the destruction of vast acres of forest to provide pastureland and to grow crops for farmed animals. On top of this, animal manure also releases large quantities of carbon dioxide.

You could exchange your “regular” car for a hybrid Toyota Prius and, by doing so, prevent about 1 ton of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere each year, but according to the University of Chicago, being vegan is more effective in the fight against global warming; a vegan is responsible for the release of approximately 1.5 fewer tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year than is a meat-eater.

A German study conducted in 2008 concluded that a meat-eater’s diet is responsible for more than seven times as much greenhouse gas emissions as a vegan’s diet. Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the U.N.’s Nobel Prize–winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (and a vegetarian himself), urges people to “please eat less meat—meat is a very carbon-intensive commodity.”

Methane

The billions of chickens, turkeys, pigs, and cows who are crammed into factory farms each year in the U.S. produce enormous amounts of methane, both during digestion and from the acres of cesspools filled with feces that they excrete. Scientists report that every pound of methane is more than 20 times as effective as carbon dioxide is at trapping heat in our atmosphere. The EPA shows that animal agriculture is the single largest source of methane emissions in the U.S.

Nitrous Oxide

Nitrous oxide is about 300 times more potent as a global warming gas than carbon dioxide. According to the U.N., the meat, egg, and dairy industries account for a staggering 65 percent of worldwide nitrous oxide emissions.

You Can Help Stop Global Warming!

The most powerful step that we can take as individuals to avert global warming is to stop eating meat, eggs, and dairy products.

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The catch 22 of veal…

 

The cruellest foods we eat #3: Veal

 

The below article published in The Telegraph a week ago made me half want to laugh and half want to cry.  On the one hand – yes, if you’re going to eat dairy then you might as well eat veal I guess.  Thousands of unwanted calves is just one of the many necessary evils of the dairy industry that no one likes talking about.  To get cows producing milk, they’ve got to have produced a calf, but then if we want to steal her milk then we have to take the calf out of the equation.  The options – bullet, veal or export. None are very appealing but these sadly are the fate of every single calf born to a dairy cow and if you don’t want to be part of this horrid cycle then you need to stop consuming dairy.

But surely the whole blindingly obvious point is that none of these is preferable to leaving these calves alone to enjoy the milk from their mother, the milk that was intended for them, the milk that we humans do not need.

There are several gems in this article but here are a few of my favourites:

‘Brend’s animals go to the abattoir at six months, which means they don’t have to be dehorned or castrated as older beasts often are. And yes, it’s not very old – but it’s a similar age to pigs and lambs. Alice Swift, Sainsbury’s beef and dairy agricultural manager and a farmer’s daughter herself, insisted, “It’s the number of happy days that count.” ‘  Oh well that’s ok then.  SERIOUSLY?!?!

‘After all, we have to find something to do with the male calves from the dairy industry – so yes, vegetarians, you need to listen up too, as veal is a by-product of cheese, cream and milk.’ – umm… or we could just stop eating dairy altogether and hey presto, problem solved.

‘Some farmers have resorted to shooting the male calves soon after birth, which Brend insisted to me that they hated doing. “But it’s better than just leaving them to starve,”’.  Well quite… how compassionate of you Mr Brend.

Anyway – there’s plenty more illogical, nonsensical gobbledygook in the article which I’ll leave you to discover for yourself…

 

Why it’s time to welcome back veal

The production of veal got a bad name in the Eighties but higher-welfare practices mean we can now enjoy this delicate meat without the guilt trip.

When farmer Mike Brend sits in his office, the view through the picture windows is not of the Devon countryside around his farm. He looks straight into the long airy shed that houses his kindergarten of calves, some close enough to lick the window in front of his laptop. The young stirks – farmerspeak for a bull calves – are surplus from one of the 320 dairy farms that supply Sainsbury’s with their milk, and will produce the supermarket’s higher-welfare veal.

And no, before you shudder, veal isn’t cruel – not this veal anyway, which is endorsed by the RSPCA’s Freedom Food scheme. Times have changed when it comes to veal production. The vilified system of housing veal calves in crates so small they can’t even turn around was outlawed in the UK in 1990. Europe followed in 2007, although according to Compassion in World Farming, on the Continent the animals are often kept in sheds with slatted floors, rather than the higher-maintenance but more comfortable straw that Brend’s calves enjoy.

In fact, it’s time we rehabilitated the pale, delicate meat that has a long gastronomic tradition in dishes such as osso bucco and saltimbocca. After all, we have to find something to do with the male calves from the dairy industry – so yes, vegetarians, you need to listen up too, as veal is a by-product of cheese, cream and milk.

The problem is (and apologies to those of you who already know this) that to keep a dairy cow producing milk, she has to calve regularly – around every 13 or 14 months is usual. When the calf is a female, she can grow up to be a dairy cow like her mum. But the male calves fetch as little as £5 a head at market, and as adults the dairy bulls and bullocks (aka steers, castrated males) are felt not to make good beef. The carcass has a low meat-to-bone ratio, and the prime cuts, the sirloin and the fillet, are smaller. The result is that they are classified as the lowest grade, P for Poor, at the abattoir and fetch as little as a pound a kilo, not enough for the farmer to break even on feed and care costs.

Traditionally the male dairy calves would have had value as veal, as the younger animals show a decent yield. But since the anti-veal-crate protests of the Eighties, the British have rejected the meat wholesale as inhumane. Some farmers have resorted to shooting the male calves soon after birth, which Brend insisted to me that they hated doing. “But it’s better than just leaving them to starve,” he shrugged as we strolled out to meet the contented-looking black-and-white calves in the shed he spent £200,000 building to his own design. “Veal’s had a bad press. This is a chance to rebuild public perception.”

 

 

Brend is not alone with his passion to bring veal back. A small but growing number of frustrated farmers have returned to veal production, attempting to bring around the British to eating ethical veal. Most are producing rose veal, a pink-coloured meat, darker than traditional veal, made with young animals up to about eight months old, raised on beef feed. Some, but not all, will go out to pasture in the summer months, and a very small number, like those produced at Helen Browning’s Eastbrook Farm, continue to feed from a “nurse cow”, usually a retired dairy cow rather than the actual mother.

Sainsbury’s scheme is different on a couple of counts. One is that the farmers are guaranteed a price for their veal calves that is “decoupled” from the market price. This means it is based on cost of production and a reasonable profit, regardless of the fluctuating market price, something that Brend, a first-generation farmer with three children under five to support, finds reassuring.

The second difference is the one that matters to cooks. The calves are fed on a diet of just milk along with barley straw, essential for the roughage to allow their guts to develop properly. The result is a pale veal that is closer to traditional, old-fashioned veal in flavour, but without the appalling welfare issues.

Brend’s animals go to the abattoir at six months, which means they don’t have to be dehorned or castrated as older beasts often are. And yes, it’s not very old – but it’s a similar age to pigs and lambs. Alice Swift, Sainsbury’s beef and dairy agricultural manager and a farmer’s daughter herself, insisted, “It’s the number of happy days that count.”

Only a couple of thousand calves are raised this way a year, in six farms as well as Brend’s, a fraction of the total number of male calves born on Sainsbury’s farms. But the market is growing and Sainsbury’s recently hit £1  million worth of sales in the 18 months it has stocked higher-welfare veal. And looking ahead, Compassion in World Farming would like to see a movement back to mixed-use herds, where most of the cows are impregnated with beef-breed sperm, such as Angus. The resultant mixed-breed calves can be reared for beef, while the mother goes back into milk production.

Back home, I cooked up two veal escalopes, one indoor-reared rose veal from Brookfield Farm in Dorset, the other milk fed from Brend’s herd. Raw, they looked much the same colour, a muted red. But once cooked, the difference was striking. The rose veal was darker, a pale beef colour, with a pronounced grain. The milk fed was pale as chicken breast, and fine-grained, velvety textured. Both were delicious, the rose with a clean beefy flavour, while the milk fed was delicate, sweet and, yes, milky – closer to chicken than beef.

So, take your choice. Outdoor-reared rose is probably the gold-standard welfare choice, but bear in mind that in winter at least it is likely to be indoor reared anyway. For flavour, the rose veal is excellent simply cooked but will stand up to stronger sauces too. But for the veal that Escoffier would recognise, for the classic French dishes, the milk fed is the one.

As for the welfare, Helen Browning, chief executive of the Soil Association as well as a farmer, was pragmatic. “This may be a halfway house, but it is a good place all the same.” Just make sure it is British.

Saltimbocca with spring herbs recipe

A classic saltimbocca is a veal escalope with a single sage leaf pressed on to the soft pink meat, then wrapped in a slice of air-dried ham, before frying in butter. It’s excellent, salty, savoury and sage-y. At this time of year the young top leaves from the traditional hard herbs – rosemary, sage, thyme and bay – have a less powerful flavour, so you can afford to be a little more generous. If you don’t have herbs growing on the windowsill or in the garden, then the tender pots from the supermarket will do very well. Lemon thyme is particularly good.

For each person:

A veal escalope, around 1cm/ ⅜in thick

Two slices of prosciutto

4 or 5 leaves, or tiny sprigs from the very tops of sage, rosemary, lemon thyme or bay – tender and soft

1 tsp unsalted butter

2 tbsp white wine

 

Lay the veal on a chopping board and, with the base of a saucepan, bash it until it is about the thickness of a pound coin. Cut the escalope in half and press the leaves on to the veal, spacing them well. Wrap each piece in prosciutto – depending on the size of your escalope and ham, you may need only half a slice per half escalope. Chill, covered, until you need them.

To cook, drop the butter into a hot frying pan, and when it is foaming add the saltimboccas. Cook until lightly browned on each side – be very careful not to overdo the meat. Lift the saltimboccas on to a warm plate, then add the wine to the pan, stirring and scraping as it bubbles. Pour over the meat and serve with Jersey royals and purple sprouting broccoli, plus a lemon wedge to squeeze over.