Is It Ethical To Eat Meat?

 

Recently the New York Times was asking for essays defending the act of meat eating. Pop culture, health and news all have made vegetarianism their darling for many years, and the New York Times wanted to hear stories from the “other side”. This is a topic close to my heart and I was encouraged by many of my readers to submit an entry. Although my essay did not win, I still want to share it with you.

First a quick and very timely story: We recently faced the possibility of raising lambs for meat. Both of our sheep, Inga and Iona gave birth to their first lambs in the past few weeks and of course we didn’t know what the sex of the babies were going to be. But we had steeled ourselves for the possibility of males. We knew if we got any males we would be raising them for meat – on a small homestead like ours, we don’t have the infrastructure to raise rams for breeding.

We were blessed with two beautiful baby ewes and I admit we were relieved.

I don’t know how many years of farming it will take for us to not feel that sense of relief knowing that we won’t have to take any lambs to slaughter. I don’t know if that is because we weren’t raised on a farm, or if it just our nature. But what I do know is that if we ended up having to raise lambs for meat, it would have been and ethical solution. Here’s why: (Essay Submission)

Most people are out of touch with the reality of how food gets to their plate, whether animal or vegetable. For me, my meat consumption and how I source it has become a spiritual act – taking responsibility for what I consume and its consequences.

I was a vegetarian for over a decade because I love animals. In my naivety I thought by avoiding meat, I was saving animals. Opting out of the savage and merciless killing of animals that occurs every day on the large feedlots and slaughterhouses of industrial America is something we should all do. But abstaining from humanely raised meat, animal products even vegetables for that matter doesn’t keep you from the cycle of life and death. As a human on this planet, you can’t escape this simple truth.

“Sustainable” and “locavore” are buzzwords held in high esteem these days, a positive trend, yet these movements are riddled with half-truths. We know eating local and in season has the least impact on the environment. What about those of us in northern climates, with a three month growing season? Eating local humanely raised meat is a sustainable and ethical solution. Eating vegetables shipped from large organic agribusinesses out west whose farming practices destroy animal habitats even killing small burrowing animals as well as birds and insects is not. Using unsustainable resources to get those vegetables to us is not. Both systems result in animal deaths, but which is more ethical? The one in which you turn a blind eye or the one you take direct responsibility for? In that light, who are you to decide which lives are more precious?

I have heard arguments that dairy is not a “death food”. With dairy comes meat. In order for you to have dairy, animals must become pregnant and have babies. What happens to those babies? Let’s look at goat cheese as an example. There are many new goat dairies cropping up all over the place, to sustain our taste for this delicacy, farmers must have found a solution for the babies. Female offspring are easy to sell, or keep for breeding stock, males, not so much. With goats typically having twins, that is a lot of potential male babies. So what do most dairies do with males? Compost. Is that ethical? Isn’t raising an animal in love and respect to sustain another life more ethical than throwing it in the garbage? Sustainability means responsibility, finding a place in the system for all life involved in it. Animals, especially those providing nourishing food for us deserve respect, good care and the forethought necessary to make the most ethical decisions for their fate.

Livestock animals have been bred over thousands of years to have certain traits (to the detriment of others); this makes it impossible for them to survive on their own. We evolved together, we sustain each other, and the link between us cannot be severed. Even if we set them all free tomorrow, most would die from starvation. Is that ethical?

Those of us, caring for livestock humanely, live in a reciprocal and symbiotic relationship with our animals. We give them good and happy lives and in return they nourish us. There is nothing more ethical than honesty, even if it is something you don’t wish to face. But in order for us to live, things must die. All life is precious and plays a role in the nourishment of other creatures, from humans to bacteria, so we should meet it in the eye and say thank you.

To read more from me on this subject, see my series on my Homesteading blog Got Goats?(…and sheep too!) called For The Love of Horns and Hooves.

Cortido and Kraut (…and a lamb!)

This has been an exciting week on the homestead! We welcomed the first lamb ever to be born on our farm into the world on Tuesday! We named her Thorina, after the Norse God of Thunder. She was born during our first major thunderstorm of the season, which is very auspicious. Just look at this face…

…and here she is less than 48 hours later out on pasture with her mom, Inga.

How amazing she is! Such a strong little girl – loves exploring the farm. To read more about her, check out my homesteading blog, Got Goats? (…and sheep too!).

It has been a while since I wrote about fermented foods – a staple in our house. On a daily basis, we find ourselves enjoying delicious fermented foods made at home such as yogurt, dairy kefir, water kefir, kefir cream (like sour cream) historic raw milk cheeses, quark, ginger carrots, kombucha, lacto fermented pickles, traditional sauerkraut, cortido and various fermented condiments.

Why do we love fermented foods? Well for one they are extremely good for you – a way of getting high quality probiotics into your body without having to take a supplement and whole body health really starts in the gut. Having healthy gut flora keeps the bad bugs at bay and naturally boosts you immune system. Plus they taste extremely delicious and fermenting foods is a traditional food preservation method. To learn more about this method of preservation, please read my post: Lacto Fermentation Questions Answered.

During the summer months we have an abundance of vegetables. In addition to our own ( growing every year) kitchen garden (we are now up to 12 vegetable beds and soon to be adding 4 herb beds) we also join a local CSA. This ensures that we can eat our fill of delicious fresh vegetables all summer long and have enough to preserve a large majority for winter eating . My favorite preserved vegetables are sauerkraut and cortido, a Latin American cabbage and carrot ferment. I love sauerkraut all year long, but cortido feels like summer to me! Cortido is a great condiment to eat on tacos or to serve with your favorite grilled meats.

We should all be well into garden season now, at least in the Northern hemisphere (we are in one of the coldest gardening zones – zone 3, so if we got our tomatoes in the ground, most everyone else already is harvesting veggies!) and so these are some great recipes to keep on hand for when you or your local farmers get a bumper crop of cabbage and carrots! Both are very easy to make and are not time consuming and both are a delicious way to preserve your summer abundance for the leaner winter months while naturally boosting your immune system!

Sauerkraut (from Nourishing Traditions)

INGREDIENTS:
1 medium cabbage, cored and shredded
1 TBS caraway seeds
1 TBS sea salt
4 TBS whey (or if not available an additional TBS of salt)

METHOD: In a bowl mix cabbage with caraway seeds, salt and whey (If using). Pound with a wooden pounder or meat hammer for about 10 minutes to release the juices. Place in a quart sized wide mouth mason jar and press down firmly until juices come to the top of the cabbage. The top of the cabbage should be at least one inch below the top of the jar. Cover tightly and keep at room temperature for about 3 days before transferring to cold storage. Makes one quart. It may be eaten immediately, but it improves with age. *I have had some of my jars for over a year and they are still delicious!

Cortido (from Nourishing Traditions)

INGREDIENTS:
1 large cabbage, cored and shredded
1 cup carrots, grated
2 medium onions, quartered lengthwise and finely sliced
1 TBS dried oregano
¼-1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 TBS sea salt
4 TBS whey (or an additional TBS of salt if not available)

METHOD: In a large bowl mix cabbage, carrots onions, oregano, red pepper flakes, sea salt and whey (If using). Pound with a wooden pounder or meat hammer for about 10 minutes to release the juices. Place in two quart sized wide mouth mason jars and press down firmly until juices come to the top of the vegetables in each jar. The top of the vegetables should be at least one inch below the top of the jars. Cover tightly and keep at room temperature for about 3 days before transferring to cold storage. Makes two quarts. It may be eaten immediately, but it improves with age.

Your Favorite Posts of 2011

 

I really want to take a moment to thank all of my readers and blogging friends for your support this year, both on this blog, as well as through Facebook and Twitter! As social media grows, it seems more of our interactions together take place on other websites, for example my Facebook page and Twitter account has amassed so many followers, I am just astounded and overwhelmed. I have really enjoyed getting to know many of you this way! Thank you!

It is hard to believe another year of blogging has gone by! Getting these posts together every year is always a great look back on all the wonderful food we have enjoyed. I hope all of you reading this also had a great 2011 and are all looking forward to 2012! Here are the top 10 posts from this year. If you enjoy something that I post, please click the “like” button at the top, to “like” it on facebook, also feel free to tweet about it or leave me a comment. This is very helpful to me to know what kinds of posts you all want to see!

Please leave a comment and let me know what kinds of posts you would like to see on this blog in 2012! Happy New Year!

 

NUMBER 10: Breakfast of Champions and my First YouTube!


 

Number 9: The BEST Gluten-Free Pancakes EVER

 

Number 8: Drying Apples For Winter Storage

 

Number 7: Raw Avocado Chocolate Pudding

 

Number 6: Coconut Milk Panna Cotta Parfaits

 

Number 5: Musings on Homesteading

 

Number 4: How to Make Kefir at Home…and Why You Should!

 

Number 3: DIY Holiday Gift Series: Dairy-Free Decadent Chocolate Truffles

 

Number 2: Making Yogurt at Home: Filmjölk

 

And your favorite post of 2011: Number 1: Got Raw Milk? Food Freedom Fighters!


The Bleater Sisters and Why I Grow My Own

(Iona and Inga, affectionately known as,”The Bleater Sisters”, getting acquainted with Claire, their new herd-mate)

If you haven’t seen my new blog, Got Goats? , please check it out. There are some great pictures and cute animal videos on there of our two Alpine Goats, Astrid and Claire as well as our two newest additions, two Shetland sheep – Iona and Inga. We have had some fun adventures getting to know them over the past week. I was joking on facebook over the weekend, that I have a new idea for an exercise video – “Getting in Shape with Sheep” – get a sheep or two, a nice big outdoor pen and a sheep lead, and then try to catch them. I promise, you will be in shape in no time!

So why all the animals? Yes, they are cute and good for your glutes, but that is not the reason we have them (well, not entirely, anyway). In the past year, since we moved to our little homestead in Northern Vermont, we have acquired 16 more animals, bringing us to a total of 19 animals under our care. For some people, it may seem like a lot. Some days, it FEELS like a lot. But it has become what we believe is vital for our health and our ability to thrive.

Moving from city or suburban life to the country has its growing pains, but for us, it was something we just had to do. Disillusioned with being a slave to the system that lets you have just enough money to pay the bills every month with no security was too risky for us. In a world becoming less and less secure every day, we decided to do away with things we didn’t really need and put that money into tangible things, practical purposes that will serve us over the long run in these hard economic times. So we have no cable, no iPods, and just one car. I cook the majority of our meals from scratch and we buy animals and seeds to feed ourselves, a small price to pay for security.

Food prices are increasing, the economy continues to plummet and they are finding everything from Staph to Ammonia in supermarket meat. Eggs, vegetables and peanut butter are getting recalled at an alarming rate.

(Delicious farm fresh egg, from our hens)

We have just had enough and have decided to take full responsibility for our health and food. As one of my heroes, Joel Salatin says, we have chosen to “opt-out” of our modern food system. This system is built on misinformation, disease – both for the animals we eat, and for us. Our food culture in the great USA, has become one based on fear, not food. Many people think is OK to eat supermarket meat with ammonia and processed foods full of additives, but raw milk, straight from the animal, is illegal in many states, and eating a raw egg from your own backyard hens or making your own lacto-fermented condiments gets people up in arms. This is pure madness and the only way I see out of it is to grow your own, or buy from local farms and businesses that you know and trust. Not only is this the best way to keep yourself healthy, but it contributes to keeping your local economy robust, and helping your neighbors to make a living doing one of the most natural things humans can do – providing fresh food.

I have been talking a lot recently about food sovereignty and the loss of our birthright to fresh, real foods. Another one of my heroes, Winona La Duke asks “How can you talk about sovereignty, if you can’t feed your people?” I believe this is why there has been an increase in young and women farmers in the past decade. People know that our food system is sick and are trying to help turn the tide by becoming active participants in making a better, more sustainable food system. In March Sedgewick, Maine became the first US town to declare Food Sovereignty for its people. What does this mean? It means that consumers there can choose to purchase local food from any food producer without the interference of government regulations. So if you want to buy eggs or raw milk from your neighbor, you can without the government stepping in, regulating it.

(My favorite local farm, Applecheek).

I have talked on this blog before about why I support local farms, and why I became a homesteader. It all comes down to whether you believe that you have the right to choose for yourself and your family what foods to eat. We are raising a lot of our food now because we don’t believe that the majority of food out there, at grocery stores, chain restaurants, airports, rest stops, etc. are safe. We personally believe that un-healthy food has become so much the norm, that it has basically infiltrated the entire food system. Restaurants and grocery stores more often than not, get their food shipped in from faraway places, rather than relying on the bounty of their own town, state, region or country for that matter. To us, that is about as broken a food system as you can get. By raising our food and purchasing from local farms and businesses, we are using our dollars to vote for something else. We are voting for a strong and healthier future, physically, and economically. The sheep, the goats and the chickens are all part of that future.

(The first egg from our flock of heritage breed hens)

But in order for me to sell eggs, or in the future dairy products to my neighbors or local community, I have to be in constant fear of breaking some rule or regulation that has no place. If people are allowed to risk cancer and liver cirrhosis everyday by smoking and consuming alcohol – all legal and sanctioned by the government, why in the world should it be so bloody hard to sell milk or eggs to your neighbor? I promise that I will get back to posting recipes soon. But these issues seem to be getting worse and worse every day and it is hard to post about recipes, when there is so much at stake, things that are just basic human necessities and rights, things that are so important for our future.

If these issues are important to you, here are some suggestions:
* Check out Local Harvest to find farmers’ markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area, where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats, and many other goodies. They also have an online catalog. Many local farms provide CSAs, herd-shares or farm-shares. In most areas you can find produce, dairy products and eggs locally.

* If you live in a big city, find some farms outside the city limits and talk to them about starting a buying club. You will be surprised that many already do this. Check out your local health food store and ask them to start carrying local products and if you do shop at the grocery store and they ask you when you are checking out if you found everything you were looking for – tell them no, you are looking for local produce/milk/eggs, etc. Voting with your dollars, meaning where you chose to buy your food, makes a big impact on the food system. The more people who “opt-out” or demand local food, the more the stores will have to start catering towards that. So be heard!

* If you have a yard of any kind, you will be surprised at how much you can grow. If local ordinances allow, and many do, you can raise a few backyard chickens for eggs or pygmy goats for milk. One of the best books about that is The Backyard Homestead: Produce all the food you need on just a quarter acre!Outdoor & Recreational Area Gardening Books). But even a small container garden on a patio or balcony can keep you in fresh veggies and herbs through the warm months – which are right around the corner, so start planning! If you want to learn more about raising backyard chickens for eggs or meat (one of the easiest animals to raise for food), check out my friend Diana’s post at A Little Bit of Spain in Iowa, Urban Chicken Keeping 101. Or if produce is your thing, check out Nourished Kitchen’s guide to Cold Weather Container Crops you can grow at home!

I don’t expect everyone to start homesteading and I know many people right now don’t believe they have the resources to find or buy good food. But it is out there, most likely not too far from you, and surprisingly affordable. Buying meat in bulk or subscribing to a CSA is cheaper than buying certain cuts of organic meat or organic produce at the grocery store and it is fresher too. Farmers want your business, they want to feed their local community and many will work with you to help you get the good stuff reasonably. You never know until you ask!

You don’t have to eat a 100% local or organic diet to make a difference either. It is about baby steps and small changes. Even if you make a commitment to buy what you can locally, or to buy only US produce, it is a lot. Don’t become dogmatic about it, or make yourself crazy, but do what you can and if you do what you can every day over the course of a year those small changes will make a big difference.
* Most importantly, keep up to date on local, state and federal regulations and ordinances that affect your ability to grow your own food or buy food direct from farmers or neighbors. If you disagree with what is happening to our food system, please let your voice be heard.

 

This is post is part of Simple Lives Thursday. Link up and share all that you do to live a simple and intentional life!

Let’s Get Cultured! Dairy Kefir: Our Daily Elixir

Many of you have been asking me about kefir lately. It appears often as an ingredient on this blog . I use it as a base for ice cream and smoothies, in desserts,  as a leavening agent in baking, and an acidic soaking medium for grains . I realized recently that I had never posted about my method for making it. Let’s make this the first post of my new series: Let’s Get Cultured! In my journey to go from food writer to food producer over the next couple of years, I am going to be experimenting a lot with dairy products.

As some of you know, we are going to be welcoming two Shetland sheep and two Alpine dairy goats to our menagerie in March. Although I won’t be getting milk from them for at least a year or so, I plan to get ready by trying my hand at many cultured dairy recipes, from kefir to cheese and everything in between!

(My Shetlands are part of this herd, but my Alpines have yet to be born!)

We are 100% addicted to kefir in this household. If we miss drinking it for some reason, the whole rest of the day feels “off”. When we travel, we make sure to bring kefir with us. It is that important to our health. Dairy or milk kefir is a delicious probiotic, a cultured milk drink that has over 2,000 years of history, taking us back to the Caucasus Mountains, located between Europe and Asia. Shepherds there noticed that milk carried for long periods of time in leather pouches or animal hides would sometimes ferment to create an effervescent beverage.

We have been making and drinking kefir every day for about a year. During that time we have noticed some remarkable changes since using it regularly – everything from clearing up chronic skin problems, to easier digestion and better immunity. We refer to it as an elixir because it is good for so many things.

The catalyst that creates kefir are the “kefir grains”, which are not actually grains but a colony of microorganisms which exist in a complex symbiotic relationship, in balance . The grains are formed during the process of making kefir and only from pre-existing kefir grains.

What sets kefir apart from other cultured dairy, is the number of various organisms, both bacteria and yeast, present as opposed to just one microorganism like most other cultured dairy products. Which is why in this house, we never go without.

Due to the variety of microorganisms, kefir is extremely beneficial to health. Even for those who are lactose intolerant! Kefir’s abundance of beneficial yeast and bacteria provide lactase, an enzyme which consumes most of the lactose left after the culturing process.

Kefir is an immune booster, and contains a high amount of calcium, amino acids, B-vitamins, Vitamin K and folic acid. Due to all of the chemical reactions that occur when it is cultured, it is easy to digest allowing the body to absorb all of the nutrients.As a probiotic it helps to regulate and balance intestinal flora, controlling the overgrowth of yeast. All of these friendly cultures also make kefir an excellent remedy for digestive issues of all kinds, and a great elixir for people overcoming serious illness, especially if they have been treated with antibiotics. Studies have even shown that kefir stimulates peristalsis and digestive juices in the intestinal tract. This was discovered by Elie Metchnikoff back in 1908!

The best news is that kefir is extremely easy to make at home. Here is what you need.

* Milk – any variety will do, but ultra-pasteurized milk is not recommended. I recommend raw milk (if available) or full fat un-homogenized milk aka “creamline”.

* Kefir grains

* Small unbleached muslin bag

* Clean glass jar (I use a pint size)

* Non-metal strainer

* Pourable glass jar

To Make Kefir:

Place kefir grains in the muslin bag and drop into the glass jar. Pour milk into jar until it fills the jar. Place a cloth over the mouth of the jar and allow to sit out on the counter for 24-48 hours. The first few times you use your grains, it may not culture properly. So I recommend only using a cup of milk at a time in the beginning, and changing the milk every 24 hours. Around the 3rd attempt, it should culture properly. I have noticed that in the spring and summer, my kefir cultures in about 24 hours. But in the winter it can take up to 48 hours.

Once the kefir has cultured, using a non-metal strainer, pour the kefir into a pourable glass jar. You can store the kefir in this container, or pour it into a different glass container for storage.

Then rinse the muslin bag and squeeze it to make sure that if any milk has cultured in the bag it comes out. Then you are ready to start the process all over again.

Kefir will keep in the refrigerator for about a week. But you need to make your kefir regularly. As soon as one batch has cultured, clean your tools and start a new batch. If you are going away and can’t make your kefir as soon as the next batch is finished culturing, you can store your grains, in the muslin bag in about a cup of milk in the fridge. When you want to make kefir again, just discard that milk and start again as you normally would.

I highly recommend getting your kefir grains from Cultures for Health. You can also get cheese and yogurt cultures there, as well as a variety of other products to make fermented foods like sourdough, sauerkraut, and kombucha. They are a fantastic small company with very good customer service. So if you have questions, they can help.

*Parts of this post will be appearing in the 2011 Spring/Summer issue of Hex Magazine including an additional kefir recipe! So be sure to check that out when it becomes available.

Part of Simple Lives Thursday Blog Hop!