Friday, October 30, 2009

Avoiding the Post Halloween Sugar Coma

Our youngest daughter had a Halloween party at school today. That meant plates of cupcakes, fresh from the box, topped with blobs of hydrogenated icing, candy galore, and weird balls of pink taffy stuff. Blech.. The thing is, from a kid's perspective, this stuff looks pretty good.

I always try to give my kid's an alternative to what their class is eating in celebration of whatever event may be going. More importantly, however, I educate my kids on why I'm not giving them those foods, what those foods do inside our bodies, and what the foods they are eating are doing to contribute to their sharp minds, healthy bodies, and stable emotions. All of our kids probably have more knowledge on nutrition than 90% of the adults I speak with. It's important, to us, that they really understand 'why' so they can be empowered to go out there and consume foods that make them strong and vital.

Shelly, over at This Primal Life, has a great, simple (5 ingredients!), primal recipe for Almond Butter Pumpkin Brownies. They're good, I promise (I tried them last night). We don't eat roasted almond butter so I substituted that with ghee and homemade soaked walnut butter. Yumma Yumma in my Tumma.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Getting Oil from a Vegetable

I was taken aback, the other day, when I had a friend ask what vegetable oil is best to cook with. I mean, it's not that ludicrous of a question if one's source of information is radio sound bites, but this was one of my posse! This girl has endured my rants for years. I must have forgotten to give her the vegetable oil rant (or maybe she's just mastered the art of zoning me out). It got me thinking that there's probably a lot of people out there still confused about vegetable oils and whether or not they're healthy.

Vegetable oils are a highly processed food product. The raw oil, very delicate and unstable, and thus prone to oxidation, is extracted using chemical solvents. The lengthy process of taking this Omega 6 fat (something most of us don't need extra of, thank you very much) and turning it into that giant, plastic tub of oil on your supermarket shelf is nothing short of chemical mischief.
Upon arrival at the factory, the vegetable slurry, wannabe oil, is extracted with the petroleum derivative, Hexane. It is deodorized, bleached, dewaxed, treated with high heat and extreme pressure, and if it's lucky enough to be hydrogenated, it's processed with toxic Nickel catalysts.

By the time they're done with the delicate oils, there is absolutely no nutritional value left in that jug. On the contrary, what you have is a rancid, chemical-laden, nutritionally void bottle of refined oil that actually burdens your body. Add to that the fact that an extremely high percentage of vegetable oil crops are GMO. And there it sits, the toxic oil on the shelf, soaking up the estrogenic plastics from the jug it's in. Just waiting for someone to plop it into their basket and give it a nice, warm, home in their damaged arteries or maybe their fatty liver.

Suppose you buy organic, unrefined, cold-pressed oil from a health food store. These oils are extracted the old fashioned way, with a large press that squeezes the oil from the plant without the use of heat or chemical solvents. Oil of this type should also be stored in dark glass bottles to avoid oxidation. This type of oil is far superior to the commercial variety, but it is still a vegetable oil and, thus, should not be cooked with. It is also high in Omega 6 fatty acids so it should be used sparingly in the diet, more as a trickle for flavor here and there. Stick with extra-virgin, organic olive oil if you're looking for something to make your salad dressing with. Don't even bother with corn, soy, canola, or any of the other vegetable oils.

For cooking, saturated fats, stable under heat, are your best bet. Choose fat sources from healthy, pasture raised animals. Some good choices include tallow, ghee, lard, suet, extra-virgin raw coconut oil, grass-fed raw butter, and rendered fat from any grass fed animal including ducks, chickens, ruminants, and wild game.

Further reading:

Monday, October 26, 2009

Check that Chocolate

Soy lecithin via Orison Chemicals.
Soy lecithin, a common emulsifier used in food products, both organic and conventional, is allowed to be used in organic products even though the lecithin itself is not organic. Lecithin is difficult to find in organic form, or so it was when organic legislation was drafted up. The good news is there is an organic lecithin source now, the bad news is that it's so cheap to use the industrial source, and outdated organic regulations still allow it so nobody bothers. Let's let the great Cornucopia Institute explain further:
Take a look at the bar of organic chocolate in your desk drawer or the carton of organic ice cream in your freezer, and you'll likely see a little-known but very common food ingredient: lecithin.

Unless the ingredients list specifically states "organic soy lecithin," the lecithin was processed from hexane-extracted soybeans, which are also likely to have been genetically engineered and sprayed with pesticides in the fields-in organic food.

Currently, food manufacturers can legally add conventional soy lecithin to organic foods.

To be labeled "ORGANIC," and to carry the USDA organic seal, food has to be made up of 95% organic ingredients. The only non-organic ingredients are ones that are unavailable organically and cannot make up more than 5% of the product.

When the organic standards were developed in 1995, organic soy lecithin was not commercially available. To encourage the growth of the budding organic industry, the organic standards included a list of conventional substances/ingredients that were not available organically, and could be added to organic foods. Organic soy lecithin was not available, so lecithin made it on the list. But times have changed.

Over the years, one pioneering organic company has not only developed a truly organic soy lecithin, but has invested in the ability to supply the organic version to every food manufacturer that needs it. Organic soy lecithin is not extracted with the use of hexane, a neurotoxic and polluting solvent prohibited in organic production. And the organic version always comes from organically grown, non-GMO soybeans (genetically engineered ingredients are also banned in organics).

Now that organic lecithin is commercially available, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), the expert citizen panel that Congress set up to decide these issues, now needs to determine whether to recommend removing lecithin from this list of conventional substances that are allowed in organic foods. This is the first time in organic regulatory history that an ingredient has been petitioned to be removed from the National List.

The Cornucopia Institute urges members of the organic community to tell the NOSB members that you support the removal of lecithin from 205.605 and 205.606. If lecithin remains on the list, food manufacturers have no incentive to opt for the truly organic lecithin, and many will continue to put hexane-extracted, conventional lecithin in your organic foods-it's cheaper.

There is more at stake than simply the type of lecithin you can expect to find in your organic foods in the future. The regulations need to adapt, by removing lecithin from the list of allowed conventional substances. If the regulations do not change when companies innovate and develop new organic ingredients, why should anyone bother investing in the expensive research and development that gives rise to the availability of new organic ingredients?

We need to send a strong message to the NOSB members and the USDA that we stakeholders in the organic industry expect the regulations to change with the times. And change should be in the interest of organic consumers and innovative organic companies.

It might just be time to give your favourite organic, chocolate the once over (or any other organic prepared food you may buy). Personally, I avoid soy in all of its permutations, but it may be worth giving the manufacturer a jingle to find out the source if you're having a really hard time tossing it.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sunday Morning Breakfast

What I ate:
  • Pastured, organic egg
  • Pastured, organic bacon
  • Organic apple clafoutis
  • Homemade, raw goat milk yoghurt
Why it's good:
  • Pastured bacon brings you all the joy of bacon without the guilt of supporting industrial agribusiness confinement operations. Again, fat with vitamin A, and the overall heightened nutritional profile, from animals that have been raised on grass, in the sunshine.
  • The apple clafoutis was a take on a recipe I found on Elana's Pantry. We don't eat grains so this is a nice tart, similar to a pancake without the flour to knock us into a sleepy coma. It's made with eggs, raw goat milk, vanilla, and maple syrup that we purchased from our friend who produces the most wondrous, local, maple syrup. If you try out Elana's recipe, skip the agave in favour of raw honey or maple syrup.
  • The goat yoghurt is a tasty way to get some much needed probiotics into our guts. We aim to get some good bacteria in every meal, usually through kefir, different types of yoghurt, or fermented vegetables.
  • Most of all, our meal was good, as in 'goooooood', because it tasted delicious and I shared it with my lovely family on a slow, rainy Saturday morning. It was one of those mornings with no agenda - nothing to do, but sit and chat, sipping warm tea while the rain pitter-pattered on our roof.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Free Vegetable Culturing e-Book

Jenny, from Nourished Kitchen, has put together a beautiful e-book with some delicious recipes for cultured vegetables. You can access, "Get Cultured! Probiotic Food from the Nourished Kitchen" by clicking on the cover picture above.

I have big plans to try out a couple of them next week. Instead of waiting for my results, I encourage you all to try some yourselves! Let me know how it goes.

The Problems (and there's many) With Soy

Soy field encroaching on tropical rain forest in Brazil.

Soy is ubiquitous in our food supply. Processed foods are cooked in, made of, and plumped up with soy. If you think soy is a health food staple, you've been misled, along with millions of other people, by the soy marketing machine.

Soy is not a healthy food. It contains phytoestrogens that disrupt our hormonal systems. Soy lowers sperm counts in males and contains potent enzyme inhibitors prevent crucial enzymatic functions such as digestion and mineral absorption. Trypsin inhibitors in soy have been tied to pancreatic disorders and stunted growth. Soy consumption in pregnancy increases breast cancer risks in female offspring. The phytoestrogens in soy have also been shown to contribute to hypothyroidism and thyroid cancer and to inhibit iron absorption.

Soy is a cheap food that was never even considered edible until recently. Years ago, soy was only grown as crop cover, but now the soy industry is trying to convince us that it's some sort of wonder-food. The soy industry is a massive conglomerate with deep pockets. If you're curious as to how soy became so entrenched in our food supply, this article is well worth the read.

What about the argument regarding high soy consumption in Asian countries? Soy consumed in Asia is in much smaller quantities than you've been led to believe. And the soy that is eaten is typically fermented (miso, natto etc.). Fermentation breaks down many of the anti-nutrients inherent in soy.

Soy devastates our health and our land. Millions of acres of land have been mono-cropped to feed the soy machine. Farmers lose their livelihoods and the Earth forever loses fragile pieces of herself. That means millions of acres of diverse ecosystems, full of wildlife, plant species, and organisms are destroyed to make room for fields of soy. 91% of the soy planted in the US is genetically modified and that number is growing astronomically around the world.

Soy is commonly used in animal feed as a protein source (see, I told you it was ubiquitous)! This is just another reason to get to know your farmer. Find out if they're using soy in their feed. In the region I'm living in, soy is bountiful. I've been lucky to find an egg farmer open-minded enough to be willing to learn about soy. While her eggs were certified organic and pasture-raised, the organic feed the chickens were receiving had soy as the protein source. Our farmer has since switched to another formulation that is soy-free. Commercially produced animal products are all given soy in their feed ration because it's cheap. That alone should tell you something.

Happy, little soy-free egg.

The Weston A. Price Foundation has a very comprehensive page on their site with links to studies, articles, books, and other resources with factual information about soy. Sally Fallon and Mary Enig, Ph.D., have also written a thorough article siting independent scientific studies to bring you accurate information that counters the pervasive claims made by the soy industry, "The Newest Research on Why You Should Avoid Soy".

What can you do? Read labels, avoid food products and just stick with real food. Make your own snacks and treats and trust that anything you make with your own hands is bound to be infinitely better for you and your family. Most of all, arm yourself with knowledge.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

H1N1 on Ontario Turkey Confinement Operation

The Turkey Farmers of Ontario are being mum on the recent outbreak of the H1N1 virus on an Ontario turkey farm. Well, we can rest assured that the outbreak wasn't on an organic farm, for if it had been, the TFO media machine would have been using it as fodder for their ongoing mission of ensuring no bird under their watch is raised outdoors.

Well, we know where the 'outbreak' did indeed occur. It happened in one of the turkey confinement barns housing 3,500 turkeys. This particular facility is owned by "Hybrid", a breeding company in Kitchener, Ontario.

Hybrid turkey breeding operation in Kitchener Ontario. See any turkeys?

These confinement operations are under very strict controls in order to give the immune-compromised birds an actual shot at living long enough to make it to slaughter. These are birds living indoors, under "high biosecurity conditions", including a "shower in/shower out" policy. They're pumped full of growth stimulants and antibiotics without real consideration for the affect it has on their, or our, health. Never mind the issue of genetic engineering. Hendrix Genetics, Hybrid's parent company, focuses on production and engineering of poultry and swine breeds by mutating DNA sequences.

Where is the common sense in all of this? Does anybody stop to think that a bird, by its very design, is intended to live outdoors? Our industrial models of food production have skewed our most basic understanding of growing and raising our own nourishment. Food is sacred, it is not a commodity.

Little hen perched in a tree.

It's acceptable to rear animals in an unnatural environment, feed them an unnatural diet, and keep them alive *just* long enough to make a little money, but, according to the Turkey Farmers of Ontario, it is NOT o.k. to let them outdoors. None of these confinement operation birds could live a few days outside without keeling over from some sort of little virus or bacteria. That should tell us all something. When I eat turkey, or any meat for that matter, it's from animals with strong, healthy genetics. Birds should thrive outdoors, soak up the sun, and eat all sorts of little buggy things. Let the TFO have their sick birds, but we deserve to have the choice to support a healthier model of farming.

H1N1 in breeder turkeys, urges farmer workers to get flu shot
By Helen Branswell Medical Reporter (CP)
TORONTO — A turkey breeding operation in southern Ontario has been hit by the H1N1 virus, the province's chief human and animal health officials reported Tuesday. It is only the second time turkeys have been reported to have been infected with the pandemic virus.
The outbreak likely poses no immediate threat to human health, and in particular should not have an impact on the safety of the food chain, the officials said, noting influenza cannot be contracted from well-cooked meat.
But experts do worry about the possibility that mutations could occur if flu viruses jump from one species to another and back again. And some also expressed concern that news of the discovery could turn some consumers off turkey, even though in terms of flu transmission people probably pose a bigger risk to livestock right now than the other way around.
"From my perspective as a veterinarian, I see the danger being to the economic well-being of the animal industry that's involved, and in food security - having food," said Dr. David Halvorson, an avian influenza expert at the University of Minnesota.
The finding was announced by Dr. Arlene King, Ontario's chief medical officer of health, and Dr. Deb Stark, the province's chief veterinarian, both of whom refused to identify the affected turkey operation.
But their efforts to shield the company turned out to be futile. An industry group, the Turkey Farmers of Canada, posted a news release on their website announcing the outbreak had been discovered on a farm near Kitchener owned by Hybrid Turkeys.
Later, the company confirmed the report. Dr. Helen Wojcinski, a veterinarian and Hybrid's manager of science and technology, said turkeys in one barn on one farm experienced a drop in egg production - the telltale symptom of influenza infection in turkeys.
The barn, which contained 3,500 turkeys, is under quarantine. Wojcinski said it is expected the outbreak should run its course in about two weeks, at which point a decision will be made about what to do with the turkeys.
The birds are not free-range, meaning they live indoors under high biosecurity conditions. Wojcinski said the most likely source of the infection was a person with access to the barn.
King said local health officials are interviewing 19 people who had contact with the operation, trying to determine who might have brought the infection in to the birds - and if anyone contracted it from them. So far one person has been identified as having had influenza-like illness, she said, though it's not yet known if the person actually had the pandemic virus. Nor is it clear whether the person's illness predated the outbreak among the turkeys or followed it.
King said the incident serves as a "clarion call" to poultry and other livestock workers that they should get vaccinated with both seasonal and pandemic flu shots in order to lower the risk of flu transmission to the animals with which they have contact.
"We want to limit the amount of circulation (of H1N1) in the human population for obvious reasons and we want to try to avoid or minimize the possibility of transmission between people and animals and back again," King said.
The finding was confirmed by the National Centre for Foreign Animal Diseases in Winnipeg, which compared amino acid sequences from three of the virus's genes to those of the pandemic virus, said Dr. Jim Clark, national manager of disease control for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's terrestrial animal health division.
Clark said the lab is currently trying to grow virus from samples taken from the turkeys to do a full comparison, but CFIA feels confident the virus that caused the outbreak is the pandemic H1N1.
The finding will be of keen interest internationally. While swine producers in a number of countries have reported finding the new H1N1 virus in pigs, the only other report of infected turkeys came from Chile, in August. Some experts have privately questioned whether that finding was real or the result of contamination of specimens.
Announcement of the outbreak comes just days after the publication of a study that suggested turkeys are not susceptible to the pandemic virus. The work, done by researchers in Italy, was published late last week in the online journal Eurosurveillance.
Well-known influenza researcher Dr. Ilaria Capua and colleagues at the OIE collaborating centre for infectious diseases at the human-animal interface in Venice tried to infect turkeys with the new H1N1 virus. The OIE is the acronym used by the Paris-based World Organization for Animal Health.
Turkeys are generally very susceptible to influenza viruses and one would expect to see illness among birds if they became infected with a flu virus, Capua said in an interview Tuesday.
But while her team exposed turkeys to massive doses of H1N1 virus, they saw no evidence of infection in the birds. Nor did they find any evidence of virus in the lungs, blood or tissues of the turkeys. Capua said teams of researchers in Britain, Germany and the U.S. have also tried to experimentally infect turkeys, also without success.
She said a lot of questions need to be answered about the new discovery in Ontario, including whether the full genetic sequence of the virus matches the pandemic virus.
"Before we say that this virus can spill into turkeys or into birds, I would really make sure that it's the right virus. And that there's no possible concern about any human error or contamination and that all the internal genes have been sequenced," said Capua.
But unpublished work from Canada suggests turkeys can catch this virus. Clark said scientists at the National Centre for Foreign Animal Diseases were able to infect turkeys with the pandemic virus.
"Since we know that the genetic makeup of the virus does have some avian components to it, it's not surprising to us that we have a poultry flock - a turkey flock - that is infected," he noted.
Halvorson, who said Minnesota has seen swine influenza outbreaks in turkey operations frequently over the last 20 years, said the new pandemic virus is posing real challenges for livestock producers.
While the female turkeys used for breeding purposes have shown themselves to be "exquisitely" sensitive to influenza viruses of both swine and avian origin, there's never before been evidence of the birds being infected with human flu viruses.
"We've never, ever found that or suspected it of happening. So this is kind of new, you know," he said. "For both the turkey industry and the swine industry, it's quite new. How do you protect your animals from a human infection?"

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Fermenting Veggies For a Happy Tummy

There is probably little that comes close to the ease and nutritional-punch of fermenting vegetables. Cultures around the world have been fermenting food, including meats, vegetables, and dairy for centuries. It's a wonderful way to increase the nutritional value of your food while also increasing its life span.

When vegetables are fermented, their enzyme activity increases and the food becomes a source of good bacteria. There isn't many opportunities available in our processed food diet that afford us the ability to increase the healthy bacteria in our bodies and yet, our health is critically tied to the health of our guts. Indeed, 85% of the immune system is located in the gut wall. Dysbiosis, or an imbalance of gut flora (the bad guys outrun the good), can lead to a myriad of health problems including autoimmune conditions, depression, inflammation, hyperactivity etc.

If this topic is new to you, I highly recommend the book, "Gut and Psychology Syndrome" by Dr. Campbell-McBride. It's a fascinating book that delves into the science of why gut health is so important and how it can be improved.

So, with that, I give you fermented veggies! This weekend I set aside about an hour to shred, salt, and pound a few different types. There's nothing easier than making these little jars of goodness. If you've never done it before, there's some great information in Sandor Katz's book, "Wild Fermentation". But, you don't need to wait to get started.

Easy Peasy Sauerkraut (Even My Little Sister Could Make)
  • A head of green cabbage (keep it simple, make it all organic)
  • A few carrots
  • Fresh ginger, garlic and, if you like, some dried caraway and juniper berries
  • Sea salt
To make sauerkraut, simply shred all the veggies and place it all in a big bowl (you'll want to use a non-reactive plastic, glass, or ceramic bowl for fermenting). Sprinkle on sea salt and work it all in with your hands, squishing and pounding as you go. You're trying to break down the vegetables as you work in the salt. The mixture should taste salty, but not overly-salty. The salt is going to pull out the juices and get those veggies fermenting so it's important to have enough to let it do its job. You should have a nice little flow of juices in your bowl. Pack the veggies in glass jars using a tamper to really jam them in there. There should be juice coming up at this point. You want the juice to cover the veggies. Put on the lid tightly, place on a tray (they will leak a bit), and leave in a warm place for 4-5 days. I usually use the top of my fridge in the winter, and just a cupboard in the summer.

You can give them a taste-test after a few days and see what you think. We prefer ours quite sour so I usually give it a week or so. Once they're done, store the jars in the fridge. That's all there is to it! Doing a few different types in one shot means weeks of delicious vegetables just raring to do some good in your tummy.
I prefer to use jars with glass lids so there is no reaction with the metal or BPA covered discs on the newer style of jars. This would be ideal, but not totally necessary.

Stay tuned for the best, authentic, Korean Kim Chee recipe I have ever tried (compliments of my dear friend Ruby).

Friday, October 16, 2009

Bacon O' Bacon, You Wonderful Thing

If you are lucky enough to find a butcher who is skilled in charcuterie AND uses meat from animals raised organically on pasture, you are one lucky person, my friend. I have had the distinct, mind-blowing, pleasure of eating bacon cured in a small smokehouse by my ultra-skilled farmer-friend, Richard. Sweet Hallelujah!

That stuff in the store, that wet-brined, over-salted stuff doesn't even compare(and I'm not even talking about the grocery store stuff, I'm alluding to the organic, supposedly higher quality stuff). I wish I could reach through the computer and place a nicely warmed piece right in front of you. Then, I would sit back and watch you cry for all of the moments you wasted doing anything, but eating Richard's bacon.

Maybe the picture can help you try to imagine.
Michael Ruhlman, the author of "Charcuterie" did a great interview you may like to read. If you don't have his book, I would highly recommend it. It's fun and totally possible to experiment with your own smaller scale projects. We made duck prosciutto last winter that was really easy to do and it tasted wonderful.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Organic Turkeys in Peril

Quick, sound the alarm! It's a turkey! OUTSIDE!
Oh Lordy, the world has gone mad! O.k., I won't be quite so dramatic. I'll keep it to "Ontario has gone mad"! More specifically, our agriculture policies are just plain corrupt.

The Turkey Farmers of Ontario(TFO), in all of their mega-controlling glory, have set forth regulations that make it mandatory to raise all turkeys inside. Because organic turkeys must have access to the outdoors, such a move on the TFOs part is a great way for them to neutralize any competition from organic farmers. Yah, that's it, instead of considering that turkeys raised outdoors may actually be healthier, and thus provide more nourishment, let's ensure that nobody has an unfair marketing advantage over the confinement, industrially farmed turkeys. Make everybody sink to the lowest denominator.
Studies done by Ontario's own Ministry of Agriculture even show the serious risk of E. coli and other contaminants in these huge, turkey confinement operations.
The Toronto Star did a great article on this issue. It's well worth checking out.

Don't like this idea all that much? The Organic Council of Ontario, is fighting to protect the rights of farmers. They offer a petition you can access directly from their site along with contact information should you feel so inclined to let a bureaucrat, or two, know what's on your mind.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Beyond Organic

Organic, confinement dairy operation. Source: The Cornucopia Institute

Organic certification is definitely a step in the right direction, but I would love to see people going "beyond organic". Did you know that organic certification still allows for animals to live inside, never seeing the light of day? And the "access" that poultry must have to the outdoors in order to be classified as organic merely means a door in a corner of a huge warehouse (a door they rarely, if ever, use). If organic farming has you envisioning a thick, lush pasture with animals running about freely in the sweet meadow air, you may be surprised.

Never mind the big business of creating organic food products (Isn't that term just great? What's in your grocery cart - food or food products?). The Cornucopia Institute has a great chart linking big businesses to the wholesome looking foods you find in your local health food store. So, if you don't think Hersheys, Coca-Cola, Nestle, or a multitude of other junk food manufacturers care a smidge about our health, you may be surprised to know that they own a lot of the products consumers are paying a premium for under the assumption that they're somehow better for you. (By the way, the Cornucopia Institute is a fabulous organization intent on promoting healthy, ecologically sustainable farming practices.)

I'm not trying to insinuate that organic certification is useless, far from it. Feeding animals an organic feed, free of chemicals, and avoiding the use of antibiotics, growth hormones and the like are all very positive farming practices, but there's more that needs to be done.

Enter small, mixed farmers looking to heal the land while raising animals outside, on pasture. Cows chew their cud, chickens scratch, pigs dig... animals being what they were intended to be.
Happy Jersey, coming in to be milked before she heads back outside for some more juicy grass.

Animals raised in confinement, on grain, are a God-send for the industrial agri-producers, but they are detrimental to the environment and to your health. I've handled beef that was from an animal raised on grain and I've handled the same meat from a beef animal raised solely on grass. I wish everybody had the chance to do the same. The differences were disturbing. The grain fed meat was sour smelling, likely due to acidosis, it was greasy with an odd texture. The grass-fed animal had meat that was of firm texture, it smelled earthy and pleasant and it lacked the greasy finish. I saw this again and again in the different carcasses I handled. Acidosis is a real problem arising from the unnatural practice of feeding grain to a ruminant.

The best way to find good, healthy meat and poultry is by getting out there and meeting farmers in your area. Check out Eat Wild to help you in your search. Frequent your local farmers market. Ask questions! Ask the farmer how he raises his animals, whether he feeds and finishes on grass or if he supplements with grain. Find out what kind of food the animals are fed in the winter. Are they kept indoors? Is their feed sprayed? What age is the animal brought to slaughter?

You may also want to educate yourself on the different breeds of beef cattle. Some 'finish' better than others on grass leaving you with a more tender, nicely marbled animal. I've had some meat from bigger beef breeds, intended for confinement/grain-fattening operations that were fed on grass. I found the meat disappointing compared to the lovely Dexter meat of my beloved Alberta farmers (and other smaller framed animals I've had the pleasure of devouring). Most farmers have sampler packs. It may be well worth it to try out a few pounds before investing in a large quantity.
Sweet, little Dexter cattle. They're so fun to watch - they're so spritely!

The point is to get to know your farmers. Visit their farms, see how they are growing and raising the food you are going to consume. Some of our most treasured relationships have developed as a result of us spending time learning about our farmer's practices, what their challenges and value systems are, and how we can support them. The only way to fix our broken food system, which encourages the production of toxic food products, is to vote with our wallets. Start with your local farmers.

Further reading:
  • A thorough, well documented report on the corporate take-over of organic milk production by Mark Alan Kastel, sponsored by the Cornucopia Institute
  • The Stockman Grass Farmer reports on the futility of cage-free, organic, omega 3 or any other silly marketing name they attach to eggs. If the chicken are not outside, eating grass, you're wasting your money.
  • Jo Robinson, of Eat Wild, weighs in on why grass is better than a "certified organic" label.

Learning to Farm

Hello, Mr. Happy Bison
Anyone that knows me is aware that it's my dream to have my own small, mixed farm. So, that's where I've been... learning, and learning, and learning. I've spent much of my free time this summer working on some local, organic farms. I'm trying to soak up every last bit of knowledge before I actually make the leap and buy my own land (that will happen within the next two years or so).

I was lucky enough to spend a few weeks in Alberta learning a whack of things about livestock from some pretty amazing farmers out there. O.k., so these illustrious two happen to be some of my favourite people in the whole world, but I'm really not biased when it comes to their model of farming. They are true stewards of the land, raising bison, cattle, and sheep on pasture. I was lucky to have spent time there learning from my friends, Kathy and Richard.

Oh, and the food.... My oh my, we ate the most tender bison, sticky ox-tail, succulent lamb, authentic tongue tacos made by an authentic Mexican, and unbelievably juicy chicken. We also feasted on fat cracklins and fresh, raw cream and butter. I ate eggs that were deep yellow because they came from chickens that live in the sunshine, eating grass and bugs. My body rejoiced at receiving meat and fat rich with Omega 3s, CLA, Vitamin A and a whack of other nutrients because they came from animals that eat and live the way they're supposed to - outside, in the sunshine, eating prairie grasses. Good food with good people is a blessed event.
A bison steak good enough to bring tears to my eyes.
I'll let you in on some of the things I've learned and continue to learn about farming over the next couple of weeks. Until then, check out this great site for all sorts of information about the health and environmental impacts of grass fed meat.
Beautiful Big Sky Country