Monday, January 16, 2012

A Few Fun Facts About Factory Farming

Ok, you got me! There really is nothing fun about these facts, but I’m a sucker for sarcasm … and alliterative sarcasm is even better yet! I decided to put together this list of things that you may not know about the process that provides meat to the vast majority of carnivores in this country. I will TRY to keep my own editorializing to a minimum as these facts pretty much speak for themselves.

  • Þ   Factory farms are actually called CAFOs Concentrated (sometimes Confined is used instead) Animal Feeding Operations. No need for editorializing, the name says it all.
  • Þ   Confinement truly means confinement. Movement is restricted and normal animal behavior is not possible. Physical alteration is also the norm, including de-beaking of poultry and docking (tail removal) of cows and pigs.
  • Þ   While the number of hog farms drops dramatically each year, hog production remains stable. 80% of hog farms have a head count of 5,000 or more. The percentage of hogs produced through contractual operations increased from 5% in 1994 to 67% in 2004 (this is significant because it means that huge profits are shifting from small, local farms to giant agribusiness corporations that control the contracts).
  • Þ   On average in CAFOs three full sized (roughly 250lb) hogs share a space approximately the same size as a twin bed. (It should be noted here that pigs are highly intelligent, social creatures. In their natural habitat, they are clean, curious, playful, and form strong social bonds. In the ranking of animal IQ, pigs rank 4th behind chimpanzees, dolphins, and elephants. It is because of this level of intelligence and social complexity that their treatment is exceptionally cruel in this environment. We would never allow dogs to be treated this way, but because we enjoy pork – and don’t eat dogs- we look the other way and continue to allow this inhumane treatment of pigs on a MASSIVE scale.)
  • Þ   Male chicks are particularly useless in the poultry business. Unfortunately, almost half of all chicks hatched are male. Because they offer no source of revenue, most are destroyed (in other words, killed rather unpleasantly). Bull calves in the dairy industry usually do not fair well either.
  • Þ   Anywhere from 50% - 80% of all antibiotics made and sold in the US are used in food production. (Real numbers are hard to come by as there is little to no regulation of antibiotic use in agriculture. No prescriptions are necessary.) A nifty little side-effect of antibiotics used in treating animals was discovered in the 1940s – treated animals grew bigger, faster. So, now animals are continuously fed low doses of antibiotics in all of their feed in order to artificially expedite growth (and increase profits). The problem with this use is that it is completely unregulated and it diminishes the effectiveness of antibiotics in their intended use – to treat illness in humans. Microbes are resilient and when exposed to the low-dose levels of antibiotics in animal feed, they become resistant, requiring stronger and stronger antibiotics to fight disease and illness. The CDC recommends the discontinuation of antibiotic use in feed, but the FDA refuses to enforce that recommendation. In fact, the FDA is set to approve the use of the most potent antibiotics currently available (our last lines of defense against microbes) for use in animal feed.

Side note: I would like to encourage you to NOT take my word as fact when reading this blog. Not that I am lying or trying to mislead you in any way, but this is an issue that is worth being concerned about. Whether you care about animal welfare, the environment, the conditions of low-wage workers, public health concerns, personal health and nutrition, rural communities, world hunger, or any of a multitude of other issues; factory farming is relevant to you and your daily life. The more that I learn about food production in this country, the more shocked I am that I lived in ignorance of the facts for so long. If it is this important, why doesn’t the news media, or our government, or someone tell us about what is going on? I’m not entirely sure, but I do know one thing – it’s not a coincidence.

Generally speaking, I’m not a conspiracy theorist, I don’t see conspiracies, government or otherwise, everywhere I look. But the deeper that I dig into this subject, the more secrecy, deception, and greed I find. It’s disturbing. Like the Ag Gag laws (as they are referred to). Their only purpose is to make it illegal to spy on the agribusinesses. Literally. These laws attempt to outlaw taking photos on a farm, shooting video, or in anyway reporting what takes place at these facilities. And the frightening thing is, these laws get passed! You should be concerned that the people who produce your food are ashamed for you to ever see the process. You should be concerned that the people who produce your food want to outlaw whistle-blowing by their employees. You should be concerned that the people who produce your food do not want the CDC to be able to send in undercover investigators. What, exactly, are they trying so desperately to hide?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Evil Empire of Agriculture (well, one of them anyway)

Monsanto. Haven’t heard of it? You’re not alone. Most Americans probably haven’t. What may surprise you is that you most likely consume their products everyday.

Monsanto touts itself as being all about promoting farmers. This is true in the same sense that a crack dealer is all about promoting crack addicts. You see, Monsanto produces a genetically engineered seed that they sell to farmers.
You may think that the resulting plant produces a seed that the farmer can then plant again in the future. You would be wrong. You see, genetically engineered crops (let’s just call them GE to spare my typing fingers) cannot be used for seed (in other words, they are not sustainable). The farmer must return to Monsanto every time they wish to plant a crop, creating a dependency between farm and company. And the farmer must pay a patent fee (every year) for the privilege of using these GE seeds. Yes, a patent fee for seeds (and here I thought God owned the patent on those!).

Monsanto has also developed quite a reputation for suing non-GE-seed-using farmers who are unlucky enough to have fields located adjacent or in the somewhat general location of a farmer who does use GE seeds. Why would they sue these hapless farmers? Because sometimes in nature (something Monsanto obviously has little exposure to while locked away in their evil scientist labs), pollen is carried by the wind, or birds, or insects, or other things in NATURE; and when this GE pollen is carried to a non-GE plant, sometimes there is a thing called cross-pollination that occurs. And when this happens, those plants infringe on Monsanto’s patent! Patent infringement by plants during the course of natural occurrences…. those farmers should have to pay!!! How dare they!

But what I find most disturbing about Monsanto and their GE products, is that we really have no idea of the long-term effect of these products on the environment and our bodies, because they haven’t been around long enough for us to know for sure. And perhaps, to be on the safe side, you would like to avoid these products. Good luck! The FDA does not require any type of labeling for genetically modified foods, and though you may not purchase or consume the corn, soybeans, or canola that is produced from Monsanto’s lab; you are most certainly eating the meat, that comes from the chicken, cow, or pig, that did eat those products (that is, if you eat meat from the vast majority of grocery stores or restaurants).

Please take a few minutes to watch the informative video below. If you are a skeptic, there is no need to take my word or Greenpeace’s word at face value. There is plenty of information out there about the harmful effects of genetic engineering, as well as, the detriments of a monocrop culture. The wisdom of centuries, tells us that crop rotation and animal and plant variety are essential for maintaining healthy soil. Modern scientists have decided that chemistry can replace this antiquated practice, but if there is one lesson we really should have learned by now it’s that when you mess with nature, nature has a funny way of messing back!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Beans and Rice

Growing up, I came to dislike the dreaded meal of beans and rice. My parents were missionaries, which isn't the most financially lucrative of pursuits, so mealtime budgets sometimes needed to be stretched quite thin. While I am still not overly fond of pinto beans, I have made my peace with beans and rice, and have developed my own take on it that I truly enjoy. Here is my version of the dish which is a quick and easy (and inexpensive) meal to make, and works great for those Meatless Mondays or any other meatless day of the week.
As you may know by now, I don't do "recipes", but here is the basic composition of this dish. 

Beans: 1 can, or approximately 2 cups reconstituted dried 
Rice: around 1/2 cup
Tomatoes: between 1/2 lb and 1 lb fresh tomatoes, or 1 28 oz can

I use black beans, white rice, and fresh tomatoes (when seasonally available). You can use any type of bean that you prefer (even pinto), and you can use reconstituted dried beans or canned beans. Likewise, you can choose the rice of your preference (just keep in mind that if you use brown rice it will need to cook about twice as long). 

From this base, you can add as many or as few other ingredients as you choose. I usually use these ingredients in addition.

Garlic: 1 minced clove and / or Onion: 1/2 diced
Jalapeno: 2 freshly diced (or pickled slices when fresh are not on hand)
Cilantro: 1 handful of fresh cilantro loosely chopped
And, because this recipe includes tomatoes and I listened to my mom, just a pinch of sugar

I have also added bell pepper and/or carrots diced (I am choosing to not use any additional vegetables in the dish I am preparing today, because I plan to repurpose my leftovers into a burrito dish later in the week and I have discovered that carrots are not appealing to me in a burrito).

Heat a very small amount of oil (approx 1 tsp) in pan
Saute onion, jalepeno, and any other vegetables (other than tomato) that you would like to include
When vegetables are tender, add garlic and half of the chopped cilantro
Add beans (with liquid)
Add tomatoes (with liquid)
Bring to a boil over high heat
Add rice and stir thoroughly 
Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 20 min or until rice is cooked
Add remaining cilantro, stir, and serve

Preparation time is minimal (about 10 minutes), and this dish requires very little supervision once it is covered and on low, so it is very quick and easy to cook even when things are hectic around the house.
Buen Provecho!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Sustainable Farming in Action

I loved this video and how well it helps to explain the difference between factory farming and sustainable farming, so I thought I would share it here. I also really wanted to share some of the quotes and values from the Harris family that owns and runs White Oak Pastures.
(Their website is

When we take dominion over our herd, and our flocks, and our companion animals, we accept all of the responsibilities of their stewardship
-Harris Family Core Value

As a fourth generation stockman, I offer folks some "Southern Cowboy Common Sense" on how to recognize good animal welfare: If you would like to open up a lawn chair and drink a couple of glasses of wine while you watch the animal, then you have good animal welfare. No normal person enjoys watching a hen in a battery cage or a sow in a farrowing crate, or a steer wading in its own excrement.
-Will Harris III

We want to raise our animals and steward our land in a particular manner. We cannot farm this way if enlightened consumers do not choose to buy our beef, lamb, and poultry. We value our partnership with the people who choose to honor us in this way.
- Jenni Harris

Monday, January 2, 2012

In Defense of Bambi Burger!

I currently have a neatly wrapped little package of ground venison thawing in my kitchen. The fact that I eat deer meat often surprises people who know me. As anyone who knows me, knows that I love animals and am outspoken about the need to care for them responsibly. Because I am an animal lover, people assume that I would naturally be opposed to hunting.

Let me explain why that assumption is quite wrong. First of all, I think it is important to acknowledge that any form of meat production involves the killing of an animal. An obvious thing to point out, I realize, but important nonetheless. When you consider the entire lives of the animals involved (from birth to slaughter), wild game is perhaps the most humane choice out there. A deer that is shot by a hunter at least had the opportunity to be born free and live out its days in a natural environment engaging in its own natural behaviors. This in contrast to factory-farmed cattle which spend (at the very least) their final months in confinement in a feedlot, their final hours filled with stress. Factory-farmed pigs and poultry are even less fortunate than cattle as they spend their entire lives in confinement and a high stress environment, never able to fully engage in their natural animal behaviors. It’s a very simple decision for me as to which method is more humane.

Many animal rights advocates argue strongly against hunting, but I do not agree. I do, however, believe that hunting should be done responsibly and as part of an overall population management plan. As I have stated before, I do not have a problem with animals being killed for meat; but I do believe that we have a moral obligation to see that it is done in the most responsible way possible. There are those who would argue that eating meat at all is unethical, but again, I would disagree. Not killing animals for meat would have a host of unintended consequences. As there are few natural predators left here in North America, deer populations would explode exponentially; there would be no need to raise cattle in a domesticated environment (if we were not killing them for meat) and they are ill suited to survive in the wild; additionally, there is not enough undeveloped land to support all of that herbivorous wildlife that would be running around all over the place (just a few of the minor inconveniences that would develop if we ceased to eat meat).

Hunting is relatively humane, it’s sustainable, environmentally friendly, relatively inexpensive, and a healthy source of protein. I am fortunate enough to know plenty of people who hunt and share their bounty with those of us who do not. It got me to thinking about those of you who may not be so fortunate. So, I did a little research and found a company out of Texas that can ship game meat directly to you! Isn't that convenient? They have developed a method of field harvesting that enables them to sell meat that was not farmed or domesticated in any way; it is free-range, wild game.  It is shot, skinned, and processed (in a mobile unit) all under the watchful eye of a government inspector. Their website has all kinds of fascinating information. Check it out at, .

Venison is a great source of protein, the Vitamin Bs (B12, B2, B3, B6), Iron, and Selenium (which, when incorporated in protein helps fight cancer and heart disease). It is low in fat and nutrient dense.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

It's Resolution Time, Have You Made Yours?

Happy New Year! I hope you are as excited about 2012 as I am! Not only am I glad to see 2011 in the rearview mirror, but I can’t wait to see all the good things that are coming our way in 2012. I hope this new year brings you great peace, prosperity, happiness, and success!

The new year is typically a time when we are particularly aware of renewal, rejuvenation, renovation, and of course, RESOLUTION! As you consider your resolutions for this new year, I ask you to throw two more into the mix.

The first resolution that I ask to you consider embracing this year is to remove meat from your diet one day per week. Whether you choose to do Meatless Monday or choose any other day of the week (like Vegetarian Wednesday or Spill-No-Blood Sunday – sorry, that one was a bit graphic!), just be sure to set aside a specific day each week. To make it easier to keep this resolution, you should choose the day carefully… make it a day that is easy to prepare ahead for and is generally pretty routine. Eating satisfying meatless meals is a simple enough thing to do, but it will take some planning and preparation. For more reasons about why you should consider going meatless just one day per week and helpful suggestions on how to do it… check out

The second resolution that I propose, is to make a conscious effort to buy food locally as much as possible. And the local grocery store doesn’t necessarily count. J Try to find food that is grown and produced in your area. Meat that comes from a local farm is healthier for you, good for your local economy, and great for the environment. It’s a win-win-win situation. How often do those come around? A great place to start your search for locally produced food is at the farmer’s market. However, not all communities have one and not all markets are available year-round. An excellent online source for finding locally produced food in your area is You don’t have to go all out, start small. Find a dairy or meat product that is the most convenient for you to buy locally and start with that one thing.

I’m not going to lie to you, it isn’t easy to fully commit to a life without factory farmed products. I’m learning that as I write this. Literally. That is, of course, the point of this blog… to share with you my experiences as I try to do just that. And I’m not there yet, but I’m taking steps in that direction. And, further more, I believe that it is possible, not only for me to do it but for us to make the changes necessary to do it (dare I say) as a nation. I hope you will join me on my continued journey this year and I ask you to consider taking steps (as small and as few, or as large and as many as you care to) away from factory-farmed goods and toward sustainable, humane, and wholesomely produced foods.


(The photo above was taken from horseback, the cows we ride past are always so curious and want to see the horses up close. It is my hope that more cows in 2012, get to live out their lives in pastures as God intended instead of ending up in feedlots prior to slaughter.)