Home on the free-range (Day 141)…

July 19, 2007


Of all the ethical food descriptors on the market — organic, natural, hormone-free, grain-fed, etc — the term “free-range” is probably the sketchiest. As readers of Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma know, it can often mean nothing but a tiny door in a crammed shed that allows chickens access to the outdoors, and barely any of them ever use it because the food is only offered inside. On top of this, the term in the U.S. is regulated for chickens but not eggs, and in Canada it isn’t regulated at all. Then there’s the question of whether or not there’s a difference between free-range and free-run, and, well, it gets complicated.

To the farmers’ credit, it’s not exactly easy to raise hens and chickens. They poop everywhere and it isn’t very good for the soil, plus they smell pretty bad and kick up a lot of dust. But there’s no excuse for keeping birds in tiny cages and injecting them with antibiotic cocktails, if you ask me.

Unfortunately, as PETA is quick to point out, about 98% of Canada’s 26 million egg-laying hens are kept in battery cages, and even some of the ones raised with alternative methods still kill off the male chicks at birth and send the others to slaughter after two years despite the normal aviary lifespan of about 10 to 12 years.

So from now on, I’m not only going to restrict myself to free-range eggs but make sure that if I actually buy a whole carton I know which farm they come from and have done some further research to ensure they aren’t twisting the term “free-range” into some misleading euphemism. For example, the Karma Food Coop, about a 10-minute bike ride away from me in Toronto, announced in March that they were no longer stocking Rowe’s organic eggs because they were found to be cage-raised. Now, they’re selling Green Valley free-range eggs instead, and as long as I know a grocer is keeping tabs on its suppliers like this, I’ll raise a toast — with some ethical frittata — to them.

Image by Satoshi Oka, originally on this website

A new ritual for my cat’s victuals (Day 107)…

June 15, 2007


After the Menu Foods recall and various other pet-food scares, I started to worry about what my little Sophie was eating. Her pooping schedule has also been somewhat irregular (whose isn’t these days, really?), which means more “accidents” on the bathmat, bed and living room rug… never on the hard surfaces, of course. And her dander is getting worse, too.

I tried a couple different vet-recommended brands, some with more fibre than others, then tried an organic one that she refused to touch. I kept scanning the shelves at my local pet store, reading through ingredients lists for any sketchy animal by-products. Finally, I found one, Nutra MAX Cat in roasted chicken flavour (the free-range rule doesn’t apply here, I’m afraid), which is formulated for older, indoor cats and promises to improve digestion and curb dander. The package — which was paper, not plastic — boasted of all-natural ingredients, so I went ahead and got it.

Success! She wolfed it down. But then I went to the company’s website and started panicking when I saw they’d had to recall a couple of their wet cat foods because of the Menu Foods thing. They insist none of their dry foods contain anything to worry about (like, say, melamine), but still, it bothers me that ingredients get sourced to begin with from dodgy places like the Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co., when they could be obtained locally.

I’ll commit to feeding my kitty the most natural, safe and if possible organic food from now on, but if anyone has any suggestions for brands that don’t taste like crap — seriously, I think Sophie is part French because she’d sooner sit by her bowl and starve to death than eat an uninteresting meal — feel free to comment below. It’s hard, though. I mean, just look at all these brands the FDA lists that may be contaminated. Perhaps the only truly safe thing to do is make it myself.

No steaks on a plane (Day 80)…

May 19, 2007

Recently, I confessed to booking a somewhat elaborate summer vacation that requires a fair amount of air travel (which I’ve at least offset with TerraPass). On the plus side, I made sure to take one big chunk of time off work, so for the most part the flights will be short-haul; on the down side, due to scheduling conflicts, it also means taking a lot of connecting flights (and by “a lot” I mean … um… *cough* nine).

As I’ve already committed to eating meat sparingly — and, when I do, it has to be free-range, organic and/or grass-fed — this means I’d have to pick apart all my in-flight meals, being careful not to get genetically modified pork residue on the peas.

But the reality is, whether or not I eat the meat on my plate (or rather plastic tray), it doesn’t make a difference by that point; the demand for it is created as soon as I book my ticket.

Fortunately, this greenie plans ahead. I requested that all my in-flight meals be vegetarian or nothing at all. Most airlines these days are very accommodating — besides having veg options, they usually offer kosher, low-cholesterol, gluten-free and even bland/ulcer meals.

Unfortunately, I can’t request that they leave out the plastic cutlery set or make sure that both the coffee and any chocolate in the dessert is fair-trade. But if the cutlery comes separately, I’ll pass it back (then again, if I can’t get my portable chopsticks past security, this could be a problem).

Happy Meat (Day 41)…

April 10, 2007


I’ve had an on-and-off relationship with vegetarianism since university, mostly aligning myself with the Peter Singer school of thought. I usually cave when there’s a bottle of beer in my hand and chicken wings on the table, or a glass of shiraz in my hand and filet mignon on the menu, but that’s pretty much it. I haven’t had pork in over a decade — watching the trucks full of innocent piglets turn into the abattoir on my way to work every morning (yes, for some reason there’s a slaughterhouse in downtown Toronto) makes me cry inside, plus I’ve always maintained that pig tastes like human … I know, I know, I’ve never tasted human, but just consider this next time you sink your teeth into a pork chop or ham sandwich and you will totally know what I mean.

But while I don’t want animals to suffer, I do believe in small-scale, family-operated farms with cows grazing in the fields and chickens running around spacious coops; animals who are slaughtered quickly and humanely without being transported long distances and made to walk up ramps with the smell of death everywhere. I think it’s natural to eat eggs and dairy too, as long as it’s hormone-free and not genetically modified.

My family has always tried, whenever possible, to get what we affectionately call “happy meat” — that being of the free-range, preferably organic and local variety (actually, there’s a farmer across the pond who calls it this, too). My parents have a great relationship with the cute boys down the street at Oliffe, and I always try to stop by The Healthy Butcher or Cumbrae’s. But I don’t even eat very much meat to begin with (probably only once every week, tops) because I understand its toll on the environment, from the methane to the land required for not only the animals but their feed — on a side note: there’s a fantastic documentary coming out soon called King Corn, which will make the most die-hard Big Mac addict swear off corn-fed beef for good.

So to make a long story short (too late): I’m officially restricting myself to free-range, hormone-free and, when it comes to the cows, grass-fed meat. I’ll also make an extra effort to see that it’s local. In terms of fish, I’ll ensure it’s not farmed and not endangered, but that’s about it for now. And no exceptions to any of the above for restaurants.

Most Disturbing Photo Ever from tombland at Flickr