Caught on Tape

We’ve all seen it advertised on the five o’clock news, “new undercover footage…” Undercover footage is a growing trend in animal rights, and more investigative research is being released and aired. This can be both good and bad. Footage of factory farms allows consumers to see the true source of their Big Macs and fried chicken. From the fecal laden environment to the brutal and cruel treatment of the animals; the truth about this food is heart breaking.

Having watched several videos, I often ask myself the same question, “how can the workers do this?” How can they work in this environment, how can they be so detached from the animals and worst of all, how can they stomp on, beat, punch and abuse the animals in so many ways? This senseless and heartless mistreatment is what really gets to me. I am not talking about the shockers (who stun cattle as they come in, prior to having their throats slit to drain their blood) or those who transfer chickens from the trucks; I am talking about the men who are seen jumping onto a defenseless and harmless pig or the men who strangle the neck of a cow while punching her into unconsciousness.

Recently I came across a video blog by vegan cook and animal advocate Colleen Patrick-Goudreau. Colleen gives a great explanation of what drives these workers to commit such acts of cruelty.

What sticks out to me the most are two points Colleen makes, “They’re as exploited as the animals,” and, “They’re disempowered, disenfranchised, desensitized people doing this work.” I believe that the stress of witnessing repeated slaughter after slaughter and hearing the frightening shrills from the enslaved animals begins to eat away at their psyche. I feel that slaughterhouse workers have a personal threshold for how much cruelty they are able to take in. It would not surprise me if a large majority of these workers suffered from work-related post-traumatic stress disorder. In addition to seeing endless innocent lives being stolen, workers may have few other work options. As Colleen states, some workers live in towns where slaughter work may be the form of employment providing the most income.

So, how do we as a society fix this? It isn’t simple and it isn’t going to disappear over night. Consumers have an option of what food sources they wish to support. Do you want to continue to support an industry that abuses and mistreats their “product” and their employees? Hopefully you all answered “no.” Don’t fret, there are plenty of other options out there to satisfy your palate.

You can guess where I’m headed. The easy solution is going vegan. As demand is reduced, fewer animals will be abused.  If you are shaking your head at me saying, “No, Danielle, there is no way I could go cold-vegan,” that’s alright. I get it, I was there once too. How about cutting back your consumption? Try eating meat/animal products for a handful of meals each week. Or why not visit local farms and find out for yourself where your food comes from? If a farm is not willing to welcome you for a tour, scratch that one off your list of friendly farmers.

Whatever level of change you decide on, please remember next time you see an undercover video the people who are committing these acts of cruelty are themselves victims of this cruel industry. Have compassion for them, as well as for the animals they abuse.

Snowed in…

I am a born and raised Minnesotan. This last weekend was by far one of the snowiest I have encountered. There is nothing more frustrating than going outside to shovel each hour, for three hours, only to see more snow. Jack Frost, Mother Nature, and the Snow Miser were all foes of mine that day. To balance out the pain and misery I decided to bake and cook! Below is a compilation of the treats and dishes I created.

Chocolate Macaroons (courtesy of Colleen Patrick-Goudreau)

  • 2 c sugar
  • 3/4 c butter
  • 1/2 c milk
  • 1/2 c unsweetened cocoa
  • 3 c quick cooking oats
  • 1 c unsweetened coconut

Heat the sugar/butter/milk, stir constantly, and bring to a boil.  Add cocoa, oats and coconut and remove from heat. Stir it all together. Then transfer teaspoon fulls onto a lined cookie sheet. Refrigerate for 15-20 minutes. It is recommended that you store them in a cool dry place (i.e fridge).
You could also add 1tsp of vanilla, I opted out though. I didn’t have unsweetened cocoa, just sweetened cocoa so I cut the sugar in half when I made it (just using 1 c sugar) and it tasted great. I used plain almond milk and earth balance butter.

Peanut Butter Banana Oatmeal Cookies (courtesy of Vegetarian About)

  • 1/3 cup peanut butter
  • 2 ripe bananas
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 tbsp soy milk
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 2 ½ cups quick cooking or rolled oatmeal
  • dash cinnamon (optional)
  • 1/4 cup flour

Mash bananas until smooth. Add peanut butter, soy milk, vanilla and maple syrup and mix well. Add remaining ingredients and stir until well combined.

Drop spoonfuls of dough onto an ungreased cookie sheet and bake 13-16 minutes at 350 degrees, or until done.

Lemon Cookies (courtesy of VegWeb)

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegan margarine
1/2 cup vegan sour cream
1/2 cup silken tofu
2 teaspoons lemon zest
2 teaspoons lemon juice or 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
1-2 tablespoons lemon juice

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a cookie sheet or line with nonstick foil. Beat margarine and sugar until creamy. Beat in the sour cream, silken tofu, lemon zest, and lemon juice or extract. Mix well.

Mix in the flour, baking powder, and salt. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto prepared cookie sheets. Bake 10-12 minutes, until the edges are lightly browned. Cool completely before glazing.

For glaze, mix the powdered sugar and enough lemon juice to reach your desired taste and consistency. Frost the cooled cookies with the glaze. It may seem drippy at first, but it will firm up in a few minutes. Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

Kale Portabella Polenta Lasagna (courtesy of Fat Free Vegan)

1 18-ounce package prepared polenta (I used sun-dried tomato, mmm)
1/2 large onion, chopped
1 large portabella mushroom, cut into 1/4-inch pieces (about 2 cups, chopped)
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1/2 bunch kale (about 8 ounces after trimming), center rib removed and chopped into bite-sized pieces (may substitute spinach or other greens)
1 teaspoon dried basil
salt and pepper to taste
Cheese sauce (below)
1 1/4 cups marinara sauce (homemade or in a jar)

Cheese Sauce (courtesy of the Veggie Table):

  • ½ c nutritional yeast
  • 3 T flour
  • 4 t corn starch or arrowroot powder
  • ½ t salt
  • 1 c water
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 2 t Dijon mustard

Combine yeast, flour, corn starch, and salt. Whisking constantly over medium heat, add water and oil. When the sauce thickens, add mustard. Continue heating for 30 seconds and then serve over pasta, veggies, or whatever else needs a good dose of warm and gooey cheese.

Preheat oven to 375° F. Spray the bottom and sides of a 8×8-inch baking dish with non-stick spray and set aside.

Make the cheese sauce first, then…

Sauté the onions and portabellas in a non-stick skillet until the mushrooms begin to exude their juices. Add the garlic and sauté for one more minute.

Add the kale, basil, and 1/4 cup water. Sauté until the kale is wilted and tender and the water has evaporated. Add the cheese sauce and cook, stirring, until thickened. Check seasoning and add salt and pepper if needed. Remove from the heat.

Cut the polenta into 1/4-inch thick slices. Line the bottom of the baking dish with half of the slices, overlapping slightly if possible. Spread 1/2 cup of the marinara sauce over the polenta, and then spread the kale mixture over the sauce. Spread the remaining marinara sauce over the top and sprinkle with soy parmesan.

Bake for 25 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 5 or 10 minutes before serving.

From Chick to Nugget

The reaction I get when people find out that my food is meatless never ceases to amaze me. The once normal looking nuggets on my plate now seem to have come from outer space. “So, it’s meatless? Then what’s in it?” A part of me wants to respond and criticize their food, “Do you want to know what is in your meat nuggets?” Another part of me, the part that usually wins, is reasonable and polite. This part answers that my nuggets are made up of soy and wheat protein with added flavors. This usually gets a curled lip, furrowed brow and a wrinkled nose.

Rather than tip toeing around the bloody truth, I am now going to tell you where that crispy and crunchy blob of “white meat” comes from. It all begins after birth when baby chicks are sexed. Sexing is when the underpaid worker separates males from females. Females continue down the conveyor belt, while males go into a grinder, if they are lucky, or the garbage if they’re not. Males are considered useless by the industry since they do not grow as fast or as large as hens.

Chicks are placed in pens until they reach a certain weight. As you can see in the pictures, the living conditions are gruesome. Chickens receive little, if any, medical attention. (*note the hand seen in the pictures is from a rescue/investigative worker.)

When chickens reach their slaughter weight (usually around 6-7 weeks of age) they are transferred to the slaughter house. As you will see, some never make it to slaughter…

The journey to the slaughterhouse is brutal and stressful. Chickens are crammed together into small cages which are stacked on top of each other. Cages can be broken, rusted, and otherwise totally unsuitable for transport. When it’s cold, birds may freeze to the cage. Upon arrival, these hens will be ripped from the metal bars, leaving chunks of frozen flesh behind.

Once a hen arrives at the slaughter house, she is hoisted upside down on conveyors. She is first dipped in a “stun bath” to immobilize her. Then her throat is slit. If she’s fortunate, she’ll bleed out before going into the scalding hot water that makes it easier to remove her feathers.

After that, she is now ready to be chopped apart into her component pieces for breast meat, wing meat, thigh meat and that “other” nugget meat. Nugget meat is often (but not always depending on the grower) remnants over from the meat that could not be sold as a “part.” The film below gives an excellent visual summary of this entire slaughtering process.

I think it is great that people are willing to question what is in food. Go ahead and put my soy nuggets under the microscope, but  put what’s on your plate under the scope too. Find out where your food comes from and then decide which food really came from outer space.

(Pictures obtained from Compassion Over Killing, United Poultry Concerns, Animal Liberation and Greenfield’s page on Broilers).

Thanksgiving: Fun-Filled or Frightful?

On the morning of Thanksgiving, I sent a Happy Thanksgiving text out to all of my friends. My good friend Valerie wrote back, “haha, more like Happy Vegetarian’s Nightmare Day…” I must admit, I was skeptical that I would be able to enjoy this holiday; despite the fact that all of my family was together for the first time in five years and it was my birthday. A part of me wanted to request an actual pardoning of the turkey at our traditional Thanksgiving meal. However, I am the only veg*n in my family and after reading an article posted in Dear Abby, I decided not to pursue it. My family could enjoy their feast over a bird who more than likely suffered a great deal just a few towns over (see HSUS story on Willmar turkey farm).

In an attempt to balance the injustice, I went ahead and adopted a turkey from Farm Sanctuary. His name is Harley and he is absolutely adorable. My aunt also helped a great deal by preparing separate dishes just for me, and my mother baked me a special vegan pumpkin cheesecake! The event itself had some snags. I received a few joking jabs regarding Harley’s adoption which I chose to ignore. I wanted the holiday to be about being thankful and not about arguing.

Another thing for which I was extremely thankful for this season was Compassionate Action for Animal’s annual Thanksgiving Potluck. As a vegan, being able to walk into a room and know without a doubt that you can eat everything in sight is phenomenal. Something that has always boggled me is why when people have certain dietary requests must some folks get so worked up? For example, if foods are made vegan almost everyone can enjoy them. However, when you put eggs, cheese, milk, butter, meats, fish, and so forth into foods, you automatically eliminate some individuals from being able to share that dish with you.

As holiday parties continue to take place over the next following weeks, I ask you to consider sharing a vegan friendly dish. The millions of suffering animals thank you.