Saturday, November 19, 2011

Animals Were Harmed in the Making of Chocolate? Talk about a moral dilemma!

Today completes the first week of my new “put my money where my mouth is” lifestyle change. Some things went quite as I expected, but I also encountered a few oops-hadn’t-really-thought-that-one-through moments.

You see, ideally, I do not want to support the mainstream dairy industry, because said industry engages in a number of practices that I find especially disturbing. For instance, in order for cows to continuously lactate, they must be pregnant on a fairly regular basis. Because of this, calves are often an unwanted byproduct of the dairy industry. Like most byproducts, these calves are often disposed of; in some pretty horrible ways, no less. Now, to be clear, I’m not accusing every dairy in the industry to partake in this practice, but it is common enough to be cause for concern. Not to mention, the accepted practice within the industry of using growth hormones and antibiotics. Anyway, suffice it to say for the moment that “regular” dairy products are on my “try not to buy” list. No big deal, my plan was to buy organic from the supermarket until I can find a local supplier of milk and cheese. See, it’s all about making incremental changes, choosing good options when better or best are not available.
But here is the REAL kicker… oddly enough - milk chocolate is made with milk!!!!!!!! What??? I didn’t think about that one when I decided to go get all principled about my food….no chocolate? I’m still working on this one. I have a plan to begin a letter writing campaign to chocolate manufacturers urging them to put pressure on the dairy industry to clean up their act! ☺ I figure I’ll wait until the next time I’m suffering from PMS and denying myself chocolate, that way I can come up with a letter that they might take seriously!

I’m not entirely certain that I can give up chocolate cold turkey, but it did make me think….. have you ever stopped to consider that animals could very well have been harmed in the process of making something so perfectly harmless as a chocolate bar? That low-wage workers could have been exposed to health risks (from toxic fumes often found in high concentrations within the confines of industrialized farming operations) while going about their daily jobs at a dairy to produce a key ingredient of your favorite chocolaty morsel?

I don’t bring these things up to make you feel guilty about eating chocolate, but to make an important point. It’s all a part of that whole “Facing Your Food” thing (hey, that would make a great name for a blog!) Choices we make every single day matter. Whether we agree with these practices or not, our consumer dollars are going to support them. So, we have a responsibility to hold manufacturers responsible for the choices that they are making. To realize that the production of something as benign as a piece of chocolate could be having a negative impact on our environment, our health, and animal welfare is a pretty profound realization.

But, back to other things. It was a little surprising to me that I spent less on groceries and food this week then I generally do. Even though I did spend more on organic dairy products, I did not purchase any meat and ate out much less. I did not eat any meat for five days and didn’t miss it once…. (Well, ok… there was that one time when everyone ordered breakfast at work and I REALLY wanted some bacon). I enjoyed my veggie sub from Subway® and vegetable lo mein from the Chinese restaurant. At home, I ate a lot of vegetables, black beans, rice, sweet potatoes… generally found myself making healthier choices since I wasn’t filling up on large portions of meat at every meal. Yesterday, I cooked with ground deer meat (good thing about living in rural Georgia is that I know plenty of people who hunt).

Next week, I plan to get a package of humanely raised chicken, at $9/lb, it doesn’t come cheap, but using it sparingly and filling up on low cost items like rice, beans, and seasonal vegetables… it can be squeezed into even a tight budget. I plan to make some chicken stock and freeze it in ice cubes for use in cooking as needed. When paying a premium price for a quality product, it's important to get the most use out of as possible. I've been using this particular brand of chicken for a while now (can't remember the name at the moment, but will try to post that information later), but was surprised the first time I cooked it by how much more flavorful it was than the chicken I had become accustomed to from the grocery store (can you say tasteless?). The chicken breasts are also much smaller than the Dolly Parton birds you are likely to find in most of the poultry section. But the most disturbing difference that I noticed immediately was how GOOD it smelled when I simply boiled it; in contrast to that strange chemical smell that "regular" chicken from the grocery store always seems to emit. All of these differences are part of why it's so important to me to change my own eating habits and to share this information with others. To quote a report of the PEW Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production: "Food animals that are treated well and provided with at least minimum accommodation of their natural behaviors and physical needs are healthier and safer for human consumption." (I would urge you to read this report in full, it is not terribly long and easy to skim for the highlights.

Here is my "recipe" (I use this term loosely as things like using measuring devices or making something the same way twice seem to be concepts that elude me) for the Meatless Tacos pictured above.
Heat 2 cans of black beans (minus the liquid) in a pan with sauteed garlic (or onion if you prefer) and diced fresh jalepenos, season with chili and cumin powder to taste. Once bubbling, turn down and cook over low heat for about 20 mins. Serve in taco shells, flour tortillas, or take corn tortillas and pass them through a hot oil bath, turning once (tortillas should be pliable, but almost crisp). I top them with chopped avacado, tomato, jalepeno, chopped fresh cilantro (a must!!!), olives, and a dollup of sour cream.

More to come on that letter writing campaign at a later date....


  1. Uh oh. What about that sour cream?? So are there dairy products out there that specify (like the chicken you buy) that the animals are humanely treated? How do we know what we are getting when purchasing things like dairy and chocolate, etc?

  2. Well, the sour cream is a Horizon Farms product which is SUPPOSED to be organic, and even though it is a company that produces in large volumes, it claims to be a network of smaller farms with anywhere from 20 to either about 1,000 (I think was the top number) cows per facility. They also claim to not use hormones and allow cows plenty of access to pasture. This is what I would consider a BETTER option than tradition milk, but not the best option (since it's a little hard to verify their claims). The best option, of course, would be to milk the cow yourself or know the person who does... but not a lot of us can that.

    One of the big problems right now is that there is a growing trend for organic and humane products, so it's difficult to take a company's word for it and the FDA does not very clear strict or clear guidelines (nor do they really enforce the ones they do have), so you really have to do some digging around. Regarding Horizon, I did see quite a bit of negative claim, that they aren't all they're cracked up to be. But a lot of those claims are coming from groups that pretty much oppose the idea of dairies period. So, again, it is something to be taken with a grain of salt.

    The best thing we can do as consumers is make the most well-informed choices possible and then be active communicators with the companies that produce our food, so that they know that we have concerns and they know that we are paying attention. I plan to get start some letter writing started soon and will post sample letters that could be easily modified and used to help make concerns known to those who are making the decisions about what we eat.

    You can't trust FDA guidelines to protect your interests. They do not even require the use of CLONED meat products to be labeled.

    Good news is Ben & jerry's (again, as far as I can tell!) have converted all but one of their plants to the use of cage-free eggs, do not use milk products with hormones, and use dairies that practice sustainable farming. I'm not sure what that means for the unwanted calves of the industry, but I'm pretty sure that they don't dispose of them by tossing them aside to starve.

    Like I said... I don't have a lot of answers, but that's what this process is about. Learning together how to make things better for our own health, the planet, and the animals.

    Thanks for asking! (Good thing no one else knows you are my sister, they might think that was a planted question!!!)

  3. I'll put together a list of resources, but here's one to start with

    Also, the name of that chicken producer is Springer Mountain Farms, located here in Georgia.