Happy pigs relaxing in the dirt at Urban Digs Farm. (Image: Catherine Roscoe Barr)
1. Due diligence
Whatever restaurants you eat at or grocery stores you shop from, and whatever you currently have on hand at home, ask questions.
Flip over the package, read the labels, look up websites, email the farmer, call restaurants, ask the butcher – and then double check what you’ve discovered.
One of the greatest disappointments of my life was to learn that so much of what we’re lead to believe, when it comes to what we consume, isn’t true.
In many cases, as I’ve done my research, the omissions and deceits have left me gobsmacked. Being lied to makes me furious.
When I became a food writer, I had the great privilege of interviewing some of Canada’s best chefs, chefs who deeply care about animal welfare and personally visit the farms they source meat from.
This made me wonder where the meat I bought came from, and what kind of lives the animals I was eating had had.
So I started asking questions, and one of the first butchers I spoke to, at a large chain grocer, leaned in and quietly said: “I wouldn’t eat any of the meat we sell here.” Why? The inventory was almost entirely, if not totally, factory farmed.
The more I learn about factory farming, as a journalist and conscious consumer, the more I uncover untold horrors of widespread and unconscionable animal abuse.
I encourage you to look beyond the sterile packaging that keeps us disconnected from the whole story, and do your best to trace it back to the beginning.
A great resource is Sonia Faruqi's new book, Project Animal Farm, a beautifully-written, captivating, well-researched, objective account of animal agriculture.
Money is energy, spend it wisely.
2. Support the good guys
Everybody wants a belly rub from Urban Digs Farm owners Julia Smith and Ludo Ferrari. (Image: Catherine Roscoe Barr)
When you begin your journey down the rabbit hole, as I did when I forced myself to watch incredibly-uncomfortable, heart-wrenchingly-awful undercover videos of factory farms – many of them “local” in our own British Columbian and Canadian backyards – it may shake you to your core.
How could we be deceived so greatly? How could anyone stand for this behaviour? How could anyone carry out this behaviour? How has this become the status quo? How has our food system become so broken and heartless and invisible?
After my sobs subsided and my tears were wiped away, I transformed my rage to fuel a mission of discovery.
Surely there are good choices if you choose to consume animal products? There must be compassionate farmers that rub their pigs’ bellies and scratch their cows behind the ears?
For me, two highlights thus far have been Urban Digs Farm and Sumas Mountain Farms.
Urban Digs Farm is owned and run by Julia Smith and Ludo Ferrari and located in the rich a fertile soil of south Burnaby – with a new second location in the Nicola Valley near Merrit, BC – where they raise heritage pigs (that are carbon positive!), and have partnered with like-minded farms to offer chicken, eggs, beef, lamb and vegetables at their weekly farmgate market and online store (weekly delivery is available across the Lower Mainland).
I subscribe to their Beasty Box and get a selection of beef, chicken and pork delivered right to my door.
I wrote a blog post about Urban Digs’ amazing farm and how their animals are raised – check it out here.
And check out my feature – here – on Urban Digs Farm for Montecristo magazine.
Sumas Mountain Farms' cows graze on a diet of 100-percent grass. (Image: Catherine Roscoe Barr)
Sumas Mountain Farms, near Abbotsford, is owned and run by Trevor and Kelly Newton who raise cattle, pigs, sheep and chickens on their idyllic family farm.
Erin wrote a blog post about their lovely farm, their farming practices, and how to buy their products – check it out here.
Do you know of an awesome local farm that deserves a gold star for animal welfare? Please share!
3. Chop it up
Just a couple of Urban Digs' spicy Italian sausages, squeezed out of their casings, cooked with mushrooms, onions and garlic, mixed with slow-roasted tomatoes and penne, and served on a bed of arugula, made for an absolutely delicious, company-worthy, dinner for six. (Image: Catherine Roscoe Barr)
When you stop eating cheap meat and invest in the good stuff, you might be nervous about the cost. Heck, you might be downright mad about the cost. But everything has a cost, and cheap meat means animal cruelty, plain and simple.
But here’s the thing: we don’t need to eat half a chicken or three racks of ribs or a 36-ounce steak in one sitting! Our bodies just don’t need that much.
Harvard Medical School suggests the “Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is a modest 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.”
For a 45-kilogram (100-pound) adult that works out to around 36 grams of protein per day, 50 grams for a 68-kilogram (150-pound) adult, or 72 grams for a 90-kilogram (200-pound) adult.
But “don’t read ‘get more protein’ as ‘eat more meat,’” says a post on the Harvard Health Blog. “Beef, poultry, and pork (as well as milk, cheese, and eggs) can certainly provide high-quality protein, but so can many plant foods – including whole grains, beans and other legumes, nuts, and vegetables.”
*** See bottom of post for awesome infographic on 50 sources of plant-based protein ***
What does it look like if you choose to get half your protein RDA from animals?
25 grams of protein (50% of protein RDA for 150-pound adult) ≅ 3.5 ounces ≅ 2/3 cup of beef, poultry, pork, fish, or 2.5 eggs.
Imagine 3.5 ounces as 3.5 shot glasses, or 2/3 cup fitting into the palm of your hand – for a whole day’s worth of meals – that’s not very much!
And getting a third of your protein RDA from animals would, obviously, be even less.
In my experience, when you’re making the switch to buying a little better and eating a little less, your eyeballs don’t agree with your tummy.
If you’re used to eating half a chicken, and all you see on your plate is a measly drumstick (≅ 2 ounces), you might squawk about being starved.
But if you carve up that drumstick into little pieces and pile those pieces on your plate, not only will your eyes think “this is enough food” your tummy will likely be happy too.
Nobody knows your body like you do. So play around with it, and eat what feels right to you.
With this less-meat-method in mind, I’ve added more meals to my repertoire that work well with little pieces.
Instead of the classic roast chicken and potatoes, I’ll make a ton of delicious, rainbow-coloured vegetables, mix them with something starchy like potatoes, beans, lentils or rice, and sprinkle a handful of chopped meat on top.
Chili, stir-frys and pasta lend themselves well to garnishes of meat, too.
Have some awesome recipes that fit this bill in your repertoire? Please share!
And don’t forget to check out the awesome infographic on 50 sources of plant-based protein at the bottom of this post!
4. Don't waste a single scrap
One ounce of leftover steak shaved into tiny pieces equals a decadent breakfast hash of potatoes, onions, garlic and hot sauce, topped with a poached egg. (Image: Catherine Roscoe Barr)
You’ve made the shift, you’re investing in good-quality, ethically-raised meat, and you don’t want to waste a morsel!
Frittatas, breakfast hash and soups are great ways to use up leftover bits of meat.
Eat the skin, save the fat for cooking, and don’t forget about the bones!
All of the cool kids are making bone broth these days.
Lululemon’s assistant editor, Alicia-Rae Olafsson, breaks down the benefits of bone broth and shares an easy recipe: http://blog.lululemon.com/20150221-the-benefits-of-bone-broth/
What are your tips for not wasting leftovers? Thanks for sharing!
5. Become a master of plant-based cuisine
To-die-for, basil-and-sea-salt dusted, slow-roasted tomatoes. (Image: Catherine Roscoe Barr)
In the wise words of author and journalist Michael Pollan: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
If your plant-based repertoire is limited, you’re in luck, because there are so many incredible inspirations to draw from!
Erin Ireland is my guru when it comes to knock-your-socks-off plant-based recipes.
Check out her website, www.itstodiefor.ca, follow her across social media at @ErinIreland, and have a look at her recent blog post, My Favourite Blogs and Cookbooks For Plant-based Meal Ideas, for an awesome roundup of vegan cooking inspiration.
Certain international cuisines are seriously snazzy at plant-based cooking too! Head to the Google Machine and search for Indian, Mexican and Thai vegetarian recipes.
I’m taking a plant-based South Indian cooking workshop with Feed Life next week! Check out their upcoming workshops here: http://feedlife.ca/workshops/
Now, where to get the fixings for these veggie-licious feasts?
I get the bulk of my organically-grown vegetables from SPUD.ca on a weekly basis through their Harvest Box, a selection of seasonal produce from local farms.
I love them so much that I’m a SPUD ambassador! Interested in checking them out? Use my promo code – CRVAN-ROSCAF – to get $20 off your first purchase of $50 or more!
Have a favourite plant-based recipe? I’d love to hear it!