Monday, April 30, 2007

The Great Vegan Dinner Party

On the weekend we had some friends over for dinner and play some guitar. I meant to take a lot more photos than I did, but here are a couple.

The appetizer was Ben's Black Bean Salsa from How it all Vegan.
Aside from corn and beans etc, the more interesting ingredients are lime juice, garlic, and cilantro.
I should have stirred all this together before taking the photo, it looks like corn overload in this shot.

The main course was African Sweet Potato and Peanut Stew from Vegan Planet served with basamati rice. I totally missed getting a photo of the stew, or any photos of the group of us sitting down to dinner.

We also had two salads which I won't explain in much detail.

Dessert was a Carrot Cake. Basically it's carrots and raisins, various spices and water simmered for a while in a frying pan, then some flour and baking soda is added and the whole thing is baked for an hour.
There is also an icing made by blending tofu, lemon juice, maple syrup, vanilla and a bit more in a blender until it's all whipped up nicely.

The last dessert, or rather the end of the night "let's set something on fire" moment, was when Annalise put some pears into a frying pan, poured in some Goldschlager, and set it all on fire.
You don't see any flames in this shot, but trust me, there was indeed a fire in that frying pan at one point.

So we ate and talked about the health care system and how bad our backs were because we're old and ride bikes too much. We (the boys) drank beer. And we played some music together because four of the six of us could play guitar, and most of us could sing, and we dug up the chords for I'll Fly Away and had some fun massacring this classic.

Monday, April 23, 2007

The Lack of Media Discussion

Once a person has done the reading, and I assume most people who stumble across this blog have, it becomes obvious that there's really no reason at all to eat meat.

If you start with the fact that getting your protein from meat is unnecessary, that in many ways it is bad for you, that switching to a vegetarian diet has numerous health advantages, and then go on to examine the environmental damage caused by factory farms, and the moral issues, you're left wondering why in the world anyone would even think about eating meat.

So we all know this.

The question remains - why isn't this whole topic covered in the media more often? As most writers will tell you, people simply don't want to investigate, and know, how their food got to their plate. I think this needs to change, and think we should hound the media to devote some print & air time to the various problems associated with meat-based diets in general, but factory farming in particular.

For those of you in Ontario, you may know that Television Ontario's program The Agenda is a very intelligent current affairs program hosted by Steve Paikin. What you may not know, is that on The Agenda's website there are Viewer's Forums and a Submit a show idea forum as well. The producers view the forum, which is a very busy one, and often turn the most heated discussion threads into episodes of the show.

I have started a thread titled "Factory Farming - Intensive Livestock Operations" and it has so far received a big fat zero responses from other viewers. I'd love it if we turned this into a popular thread and got an episode of the Agenda focused on factory farming issues.

If you'd like to help with this, go onto The Agenda's website, register yourself as a user, find the factory farming thread (there is a search function if you need it, but it should still be on the first or second page), and give your two cents worth about why the Agenda should talk about this issue, and why the media in general should cover it more often.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Feeding the steers

So in the often mentioned Omnivore's Dilemma, Pollan buys a male calf and follows it through the farm system.
While he's on the "fatten them up fast" farm (i.e. where they exist before being sent to the slaughterhouse) - and incidentally, with the steroids and fat diet they give these creatures, they have them reaching kill weight in about 14 months these days, compared to 4 to 5 YEARS in the first half of the 20th century -

where was I... oh yeah, so Pollan is on the farm and visits the feed mill. They dump the corn in from one side (and cows are naturally grass eaters, and developed their famous four stomachs in order to do so. To get them eating the more quickly fattening corn diet, they have to drug them up so that their bodies can handle the corn) and the drugs etc from the other:

Around to the other side of the building, tanker trucks back up to silo-shaped tanks into which they pump thousands of gallons of liquefied fat and protein supplements. In a shed attached to the mill sit vats of liquid vitamins and synthetic estrogen beside pallets stacked with fifty-pound sacks of antibiotics - Rumensis and Tylosin. Along with alfafa hay and silage (for roughage), all these ingredients will be automatically blended and then piped into the parade of dump trucks that three times a day fan out from here to keep Poky's eight and a half miles of trough filled.

.... [corn kernels were] the only feed ingredient I sampled, and it wasn't half bad; not as crisp as a Kellog's flake, but with a cornier flavor. I passed on the other ingredients: the liquefied fat (which on today's menu is beef tallow, trucked in from one of the nearby slaughter-houses), and the protein supplement, a sticky brown goop consisting of molasses and urea. The urea is a form of synthetic nitrogen made from natural gas, similar to the fertilizer spread on a farmer's fields].

How'd you like to have all that crap in your body? And hey, the liquefied fat is beef tallow from a slaughter-house? Isn't feeding cows back to cows how mad-cow disease got started?

And I won't type much more, but Pollan goes on to explain how corn-fed beef is "demonstratably less healthy for us, since it contains more saturated fat and less omega-3 fatty acids than the meat of animals fed grass."

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Origins of food industrialization

I am SO digging The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. I love stuff like how the industrialization of food symbolically began in 1947 when a munitions plant in Alabama had a huge surplus of ammonium nitrate (used for bombs) and was switched over to making chemical fertilizers instead (the ammonium nitrate now being used for nitrogen for plants).

Accoring to Pollan, a fairly well forgotten Nobel Prize winner is the reason why two out of every five people is alive today (or put another way, why 40% of us would be dead without him).
Fritz Haber created the process of making synthetic nitrogen by bonding nitrogen and hydrogen. Synthetic nitrogen then became a fertilizer which massively increased the size of crops and drastically changed the "sheer amount of life earth could support" (pg 42).

Solid enough work to win the man the Nobel prize back in 1920. But Haber's lifestory is actually fascinating. During World War I his work with nitrates allowed Germany to keep building bombs even after their supply of natural nitrate was cut off. He invented some of the poison gases that were used in trench warfare, and he also invented Zyklon B, which Hitler would eventually use in his concentration camps (and the irony being that Haber himself was Jewish).
In 1915, while her husband's poison gases were wafting over trenches and killing the English and French, Haber's wife, who was also a chemist, killed herself over despair at what she and her husband had created. In the 1930's, even though he had converted to Christianity, the increasing Nazism in Germany caused Haber to flee the country and he died in 1934 in Basel. About a decade later, Zyklon B would kill many of his relatives.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Low sperm count? Might be your mom's fault

So, let’s not forget, the European Union has banned North American beef from its market since the late 1990’s – the reason being that American and Canadian beef producers still use antibiotics and steroids that were banned in Europe as unsafe. Some of the substances destroy your immune system, some are outright carcinogens which will give you cancer.

Here’s another problem with North American beef.

Hormone-treated beef eaten by moms linked to fertility woes in sons: Medical study. 'A large potential for concern,' scientist says
28 March 2007
Montreal Gazette

Hormone-treated beef may be linked to low sperm counts and borderline fertility among U.S. men, according to a first-ever study that appears today in a medical journal.
The paper says men whose mothers were big eaters of beef - most of which is treated with hormones in the United States to accelerate cattle growth - have lower fertility levels compared with those whose mothers ate less or no beef.
It is the first peer-assessed investigation into the effect of food on the human reproductive system, its authors believe.
U.S. farmers have been using hormones to promote muscle growth in cattle for more than half a century.
The European Union outlawed the substances in 1988 on health grounds, triggering a huge trade row with the United States. The World Trade Organization is to issue a technical ruling on the dispute on April 17, a European Commission source said.
The study looked at 387 U.S. men born between 1949 and 1983 who were interviewed about their childhood background and their history of fertility and were asked to give a sperm sample.
Sons of women who ate more than seven beef meals a week had a sperm count that was nearly 25 percent lower than men whose mothers ate less beef.
And they were nearly three times likelier to have sperm concentrations that fell below the WHO threshold of sub-fertility. The more beef the mother ate, the lower the son's sperm quality.
"These data suggest that maternal beef consumption, and possibly xenobiotics (foreign chemicals) in beef, may alter a man's testicular development in utero and adversely affect his reproductive capacity," the study says.
The paper appears in Human Reproduction, the journal of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology.
"When you disrupt hormones prenatally, you affect a whole cascade, and in particular, oestrogens and androgens affect testicular development," lead author Shanna Swan, a professor at the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Rochester, New York, told AFP.
The "plausible hypothesis," which is also supported by previous work on lab rodents, is that hormones are the cause, Swan said. She stressed, though, that this was not a definitive conclusion and that further work, such as assessing the fertility of European men born after 1988, was needed.
The present evidence "is certainly not robust enough to affect regulations or even public-health action but it is robust enough, I think, to say that we have to have further studies," she said.
"Together with animal data, it suggests there is a large potential for concern here. I don't think we can assume that these products are risk-free."
In 1979, the FDA withdrew use of diethylstilbestrol, the synthetic hormone for cattle, eight years after it was banned for use by pregnant women following evidence it damaged male and female reproductive systems.
Other hormones are still widely and legally used in United States and also Canadian meat production: three are natural steroids (oestradiol, testosterone and progesterone) and three are synthetic (zeranol, trenbolone acetate and menegestrol acetate).