Something’s Gotta Give: Carnivores Take Note

Industrial Agriculture

Industrially Farmed Chickens

Let me start by saying that I come at this post with my feet firmly planted on Team People.

I love animals because they’re delicious. Cute ones even more so. I strongly advocate the eating of meat and hold a special disdain for vegetarians and their evil cousins the vegans, but that’s an issue for another time. That said, as meat eaters, we have a certain responsibility to ensure that the animals that give their lives so that we can eat the food we enjoy are well treated throughout their lives, from farm to feedlot to slaughter. Sadly, I contend more through lack of education than any kind of active malice, this is a responsibility that has been largely ignored by the carnivorous public.

The industrialization of our food supply, while absolutely necessary in order to feed the burgeoning global population, has resulted in a situation where many farm animals are raised in conditions that would be considered unconscionable to any rational person.

The current state of industrial farming is analogous to the state of manufacturing during the industrial revolution, where North Americans became accustomed to readily available, inexpensive goods. Along with the benefits of industrialization came rampant pollution, child labour, indentured servitude, and horrible, unsafe working conditions. Over time, the growth of labour unions (as much as it pains me to say anything nice about a labour union, there’s no question they served an important purpose at one time) and the re-education of the public eventually moved us to the labour standards we enjoy today.

Make no mistake, the animals we eat are the line workers of the agricultural industrial process. Their job is to eat, eat some more, die and eventually end up on my plate. The farmers are the management. They ensure the animals eat enough, grow big enough and ultimately produce a good product.

The benefits of industrialized agriculture? I can buy 2 chicken breasts for $6.95, a T-Bone steak for $10 and a dozen eggs for $3.99. I can buy any of these items at any grocery store, any time I want. By lowering the price, we have democratized nutrition.

A few facts:

  • The past 40 years has seen a greater increase in food production than has been experienced over the balance of human history.
  • Industrially raised broiler chickens are housed 15 to 17 per square meter.
  • Egg laying hens (battery hens) are housed 4 to 6 in a wire cage with floor space the size of a folded newspaper. They are never let out.
  • The final weeks of a cow’s life are spent on a feedlot with up to 50,000 of their brethren.
  • Dairy cows often spend their entire lives in pens not much larger than their own bodies, making even lying down difficult.

Starting to see any parallels?  The extreme overcrowding results in the rampant spread of disease, which is countered by the use of copious amounts of antibiotics. These antibiotics, of course, eventually make it into the food we consume. Further, the objectification of livestock (even live cows are referred to as “beef”) can result in extreme maltreatment, causing suffering in these animals that the public would never accept if it were occurring to a dog or a cat. I’ve left out some of the more sensationalist extremes advanced by PETA and others of their ilk such as the de-beaking of chickens and the processing of animals while they’re still alive as these are by all accounts isolated incidents and not at all reflective of standard farming practices. Of course, the major difference between today’s industrialized agriculture and the industrialized manufacturing of the early 1800’s is that cows and chickens can’t form labour unions.

Confined Animal Feeding Operation

Industrially Farmed Cows

So what’s the solution? How do we continue to produce the same amount of meat, sell it for the same low prices we’ve all come to expect, and ensure that the animals we eat are well treated? How the hell should I know? I’m just a banker. What I do know, however, is that until people educate themselves as to the conditions the animals live in, there will be absolutely no incentive for farming operations to change their ways.

As consumers in 2012, we expect that the goods we buy were manufactured responsibly, with as much respect for the environment as is reasonably possible and in the best working conditions that are reasonably achievable. As seen when the news came out about Apple’s largest supplier, Foxconn, when we learn that this isn’t the case there is a backlash, swift and severe. Only weeks after the Foxconn story made the front page, the company increased its employees’ wages by 25% and pledged to improve working conditions. Despite this focus on corporate social responsibility, we still expect our goods to be reasonably priced and of high quality. Why the hell don’t we place the exact same expectations of corporate responsibility on the food we buy at the grocery store?

The solution is not to stop eating meat. As a start, we need to demand the same manufacturing standards for our meat as we do for everything else we buy. “But”, my vegetarian readers are screaming at their computer screen, “the only way to make them change is to hit them where it hurts! Stop buying their products!” Sorry to get your knit hats in a knot but, just like the Foxconn news didn’t prompt people to stop buying Apple’s products, to think that any movement would ever be able to get enough people on Earth to stop eating meat that it would make any kind of difference is absolutely ludicrous. The backlash against Foxconn was one of shame and public disdain that was only possible because of the democratization of information through the New Media, and the ease of engagement we now have through things like YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. Absolutely no change is possible with an uneducated public, and on the topic of industrialized agriculture, that’s exactly what we’re dealing with.

So assuming you’re not planning to stop eating meat, what can you do? I don’t support going all organic because, for one, it’s too damn expensive and, secondly, organic foods bring their own set of problems so it’s not a complete solution anyway (I’ll explore the pitfalls of organic foods some other time). I will say, however, that on the occasions that you can afford to buy a local, organic free-range chicken, organic cage-free eggs or an organic grass-fed steak, do it! Not only will you be supporting smaller farmers who need all the help they can get, you’ll be buying a product that truly does taste noticeably superior to its industrially farmed counterpart. While the moral argument for animal welfare is certainly strong enough to stand on its own, as cooks and food lovers, we should also recognize that animals that have been well treated throughout their lives simply taste better!

If you’ve managed to make it all the way through this obscenely long post, you’re likely to be more educated on this subject now than the average North American. Everyone who eats meat has a moral responsibility to understand where it comes from, however the vast majority of us remain completely ignorant. Our demand for meat is what has made industrialized farming what it is today and that demand isn’t going away any time soon. It’s incumbent upon those of us who eat meat to demand that it is produced ethically, and if we can’t drive change with all the tools available to us today, then shame on us.

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Morning-After Apple Pancakes

9:23 am. The light streaming through your vertical blinds attacks your eyes like an ice pick, boring its way into the depths of your aching brain. Slowly, uncertainly, you crack one eye open, bracing yourself for the throbbing pain you’ve come to expect on Sunday morning. The light is too much to take and as you begin to roll over you catch a glimpse of long, black hair haphazardly covering the other pillow.

“What… the…”

Modern version of Aunt Jemima logo

If you use Aunt Jemima, she'll never come back and you'll be alone forever.

You follow the hair back to its source: the head of a stunningly beautiful woman, mysteriously asleep in your bed. In a rush, like a highlight reel from a morning sports show, the events of the night before flood back. Shots. Lots of shots. The black-haired woman approaches you. You begin to talk. You begin to do more than just talk. It slowly comes to you that you may just have had the best night of your life.

Now, what the hell is her name? Mary… Melinda… Marnie… Melissa! That’s it!

Even with your thoughts clouded by the booze that’s still coursing through your system, you realize that the next decision you make is utterly crucial. Do you want to see her again, or not?

Don’t care if she ever comes back? Wake her up and hand her a box of Cheerios. Milk’s in the fridge.

However, if you some day want to re-live waking up next to this beautiful woman, you’re going to have to do better than that. That’s when you turn to the Morning-After Apple Pancakes.

These things are ridiculously easy to make, but are guaranteed to make an impression.

Morning-After Apple Pancakes

Ingredients:

  • Pancake mix (Try to get a good organic one like Bob’s Red Mill. I like to use their gluten-free version because you can mix the hell out of it and your pancakes won’t get tough. It also gets nice and crispy around the edges)
  • 2 apples
  • 2 tablespoons (“T”) of Cinnamon
  • Eggs (as many as the pancake mix calls for)
  • Buttermilk (even if the pancake mix just calls for regular milk, I find the buttermilk gives them better flavour)
  • Butter
  • Fresh berries
  • Maple Syrup (real maple syrup! If you use Aunt Jemima she’ll never come back and you’ll be alone forever. Seriously.)

Preparation:

First, grate both apples, skin on, into a large bowl. Pull all the apples together into a ball and give it a good squeeze to get as much of the juice out as possible. Pour the juice down the drain. Now dump in the pancake mix and prepare according to the instructions. I usually like to use a little more buttermilk than the recipe calls for.

Add the cinnamon. It may seem like a lot, but it works great with the apples. Now give it all a mix and, if you’re using regular pancake mix, let it sit on the counter for 15 minutes so the glutens can relax. If you’re using gluten-free mix, just let it sit 5 minutes to make sure all the mix is well moistened.

Heat a pan to medium and rub a stick of butter onto the pan. Use enough to cover the whole pan; We’re not trying to be healthy here, we’re trying to impress the girl in your bed. Pour in a ladle-full of pancake batter and shake the pan a little to distribute it evenly. When the edges start to brown and bubbles start to push themselves to the surface, flip the cake over. Once both sides are nicely browned, transfer to a plate, top with fresh berries (try to pile them up in the middle of the pancake) and pour the maple syrup over top.

Serve in bed.

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Chop Your Own Damn Garlic!

Garlic doesn’t come in a jar.

Here are the ingredients in a jar of Gilroy Farms minced garlic: garlic, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, citric acid, potassium sorbate, and sodium benzoate

Here are the ingredients that should be in minced garlic: garlic.

Ever had a spoonful of potassium sorbate? Me neither. Want to try it? Me neither. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly don’t think it’s possible to avoid additives and preservatives altogether. All I’m saying is that when it comes to something as dead simple as buying a head of garlic, peeling off a few cloves and chopping them up, why would you want to consume them unnecessarily?

With a few easy-to-learn knife skills, you can have a clove of garlic peeled and chopped in just a few seconds more than it takes to pull the jar out of the fridge. The extra time is more than worth it when it comes to the flavour you get, and the preservatives you avoid.

And while we’re at it, lime juice comes from limes, not from plastic lime-shaped bottles. Fresh limes will cost you $0.50 each (or less) and keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks. Just buy a few and use them in your food as needed. An added benefit is that you’ll always have fresh limes on hand to toss in your drinks.

Bottom line: fresh is always best.

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Date-Worthy Italian Flag Pasta Recipe

So let’s get started. Here’s a recipe that looks good enough to serve to a date and is fast enough to prepare that you can throw it together for a quick dinner when you get home from class.

Italian Flag Pasta

Ingredients:

  • Any type of pasta (angel hair looks nice if it’s for a date)
  • A container of cherry tomatoes, cut into halves
  • 5 cloves of garlic, minced as fine as you can
  • A palm-full of pearl bocconcini (if all you have is bigger bocconcini, just cut it into smaller pieces)
  • A big handful of fresh basil leaves
  • Olive oil

Preparation:

Cook the pasta until it’s al dente, or just under completely cooked. Before you drain the pasta, save a bit of the cooking water by dipping a coffee cup into the pot

While the pasta is cooking, heat some olive oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat and throw in the tomatoes. Try to make sure they’re all cut side down. Now leave them alone! Don’t toss them, don’t move them, just let them cook for a few minutes. Once the tomatoes start to brown slightly, add the garlic and toss the whole thing with a spatula or a pair of tongs. Once the garlic has had a few minutes to cook and soften, turn down the heat to medium-low and use a fork to mash the tomatoes. Try to get as much juice out as you can because this is going to act as the sauce.

Now add the pasta and toss it around to coat each piece with the garlic-tomato mixture. Once the pasta is coated, throw in a palm-full of bocconcini and then tear up a big handful of fresh basil and add that to the mix. Use your tongs to toss the whole thing together, then serve it up immediately.

If you’re serving it for a guest, it’ll look best piled in the centre of a big white plate. If you’re serving it for yourself, bowl, plate, straight out of the pan… who cares?

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Be a Man: Learn to Cook

There are three things every man needs to know how to do: change a tire, read a map and cook a meal, from scratch, without a recipe. The order of importance can vary but if you’re a single guy and you don’t know how to cook, you’re missing out on one of the greatest opportunities you’ll ever have to impress a potential mate.

Women expect that you’ll have a job. They expect that you keep your manscaping needs in order. They expect that you’ll have decent manners. The beauty of knowing how to cook is that she won’t expect it. Imagine her reaction when you invite her over, crack a bottle of wine and proceed to whip up a delicious meal without ever so much as glancing at a cookbook. The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach? Not anymore… The tables have turned, my friends.

Don’t let the whole lack of a recipe thing scare you off. I’m not saying you’re never allowed to use recipes, all I’m saying is that you should have one tried and tested go-to recipe that you can pull off on a few minutes’ notice. Over time, you can build on that and once you get the hang of a few recipes and techniques, you can start to do some improvisation with the recipes you’re already familiar with.

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