Search This Blog

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Western Travels

I don't know how many people actually read my blog. I can tell how many page views HumaneFoodFinder gets, but I also know that one page click does not a reader make.

Well I got a great affirmation on our honeymoon and my poorly-planned post-honeymoon business trip to Denver that people know that I try to eat humane food.

When we arrived in Jackson Hole, our friends suggested that we eat at a vegetarian-friendly restaurant called Lotus Cafe.

Our dinner was delicious! We got:
  • Kale-Avocado Salad ~ Steamed kale, fresh avocado, & grapeseed Caesar dressing.

  • Lentil Tacos ~ Corn tortillas filled with Southwest seasoned French lentils, cilantro-lime red cabbage slaw, carrot, scallions, & ancho chile sauce. Served with brown rice, blue corn chips, salsa, & vegan sour cream.

  • Burrito Mole ~ Sautéed red pepper, zucchini, red onion, & Spinach with brown rice & black beans rolled in teff grain tortilla & topped with house made authentic mole. Served with blue corn chips.
Sadly, our dessert (the raw cinnamon roll) was less than delicious. But the rest of the meal was so yummy that it overshadowed the vegan dessert.

And Lotus Cafe stood in stark contrast to The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, which was an ode to the hunters who flock to, and call Jackson Hole their home. With stuffed heads on the wall, a giant stuffed Grizzly Bear and a picture with one of the last known big cats killed in Arizona, this bar (cough... cough... taxidermist business) did not measure up to Lotus Cafe.

While I was in Denver on a business trip immediately after that, I went to another amazing restaurant. My sister-in-law's sister (so... my sister-out-law) took me out to this AMAZING restaurant.

Watercourse Foods is a totally vegetarian restaurant with the best fake meats EVER.

I have often said that being a vegetarian is easy, and that I don't miss meat, except for a few items, one of them being buffalo wings.
While MorningStar Farms and Boca make really great products, Watercourse Foods totally blew my mind.

So we got the
Seitan buffalo wings to split as an appetizer. Then I got the Country Fried Seitan ~ A hearty breaded seitan steak served with mashed potatoes, country gravy and mixed vegetables. As you can probably tell, we didn't have room for dessert.

The only thing that really bothered me about Watercourse Foods, and some other great vegetarian restaurants where I have eaten, is that while they will serve plenty of vegan dishes, their dairy is
not humane.

It boggles my mind that restaurant owners, managers and chefs who are trying to do their best somehow forget about the millions of cows, hens, goats and sheep being tortured for our vegetarian meals that are otherwise local. The logistics of restaurants getting humane dairy may be a bit difficult at first, but there's clearly a niche here for a local food distributor to fill, whether they go through Organic Valley or cobble together a network of local farms.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Like This New Factory Farming Facebook Page

The Humane Society (one of our wedding registry donation organizations) has just created a Factory Farming facebook page.

The email I recieved from them reads:

"For too long, factory farms have remained hidden from public view, but all of that is quickly changing. In just the last year, The Humane Society of the United States has gone undercover and exposed inhumane treatment of animals at five of the largest factory farming companies in the country.

The agribusiness industry responded with bills in four states not to ban the type of rampant abuse we uncovered, but to ban our whistle-blow
ing investigations in the first place. I'm pleased to say that because of your support, your right to know what goes on behind the walls of factory farms and slaughter plants is intact.

Additionally, these animal factories cause massive air and water pollution, and cause unimaginable suffering for both the animals inside and the people outside in the community. The HSUS has been at the forefront of the fight against factory farms, and recently won a major federal court ruling declaring a notorious California egg factory farm a legal nuisance, and forcing the facility to pay the community more than $500,000 in damages.

There's so much happening in the world of farm animal protection -- such as the exciting new national agreement between The HSUS and the egg industry to pursue federal legislation to ban barren battery cages for hens. There’s also a growing national interest in reducing meat consumption. Be sure to keep up with farm animal protection news by "liking"
The HSUS's new farm animal protection Facebook page. I can't thank you enough for all you're doing to provide farm animals with a voice."

So please, like them on Facebook. The work they are doing is super important.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Do these cows have it good?

Today The Oshkosh Norwestern ran a piece on a 4,300 dairy cow operation trying to open in Coloma, WI.

The article states that a group opposing the CAFO is doing so because the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, "fails to enforce the laws of the state that would protect the environment."

But as you know, CAFOs do much more harm than ruin our environment (although they do that too).

The CAFO would also subject the cows to inhumane treatment such as tail docking, confined quarters and over-milking.

In fact, the article features a video from another Wisconsin operation
Rosendale Dairy, and I am not sure why they posted this video, but there could be only two reasons:

1) To show how good these cows have got it. This is not a beef CAFO. They are not standing in feedlots. It is a dairy operation, which means that it is relatively cleaner (ie: they cannot be standing in shit). They even play this light, jazzy music as it shows the cows being milked.

2) To show how bad these cows have got it. There are images of cows being milked with docked tails, enormous utters (clearly someone's been taking their hormones), and sores on the back.

I will look more into this proposed-factory farm, but in the meantime, let me know if you think these cows have it good or bad. Unfortunately, their video won't embed, so check out it out here.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Transparency is clearly key

I would like to apologize that I never closed the loop regarding my initial concerns with Blue Ridge Dairy. However, I got married (yay!), went on a honeymoon (more on that later), and was in Denver for work. (Note to anyone reading this: do not plan a work trip on the heels of a will almost certainly lead to a very emotional traveling workerbee.)

To recap what happened with Blue Ridge Dairy after I last wrote:

The owner of Blue Ridge Dairy called one of our wedding weekend vendors and refused to allow them to purchase his products for my event. Yes, you read that correctly. He refused to sell them his product for my event. All because I asked a question and expected transparency from a vendor at the Dupont Circle Farmers Market --- something that most food-conscious shoppers at farmers markets also expect.

His refusal to sell for an event I was hosting obviously led to some serious skepticism about his product (what do you have to hide?), on top of sheer embarrasment for putting one of our wonderful vendors who went out of their way to buy humane dairy through such a confusing and tiresome ordeal.

I emailed Ann at FreshFarm Markets, and she politely told me that Blue Ridge Dairy was an independent operator and she could not intervene in a business deal outside of the market. I am not sure if this aversion to customer engagement and awareness raised a red flag for her as well, but I hope it did considering that transparency is the market's bread and butter.

As if that wasn't enough food drama to deal with one week before the wedding, the owner of Blue Ridge Dairy called me that evening to ask why I wanted to know the answers to all of these questions, and why I thought I had the right to know about the farm where he bought his milk. While I won't go over every detail of our conversation, as that would become HumaneFoodFinder: the book, here is what I took away from our conversation:

In order for farmers markets to work, there must be transparency. That is what sets them apart from any large supermarket chain. You can't go into a Harris Teeter or Safeway, for example, and ask if you can visit Smithfield Pork's hog farms. But you can, and many people do, ask these questions at a farmers market, and even go visit.

However, this is something that Blue Ridge Dairy lacks, for the owner specifically asked me not to contact the farm.

Yet the desire for transparency is largely what leads customers to pay a premium to shop at farmers markets across the US. It is a rare time that I don't overhear someone at any farmers market asking questions about animal treatment, or for directions to the farm. And I would guess it is just as rare for a farmer to tell those customers who ask to stop buying their products. Instead, they go into detail about their conditions, explain their open farm policy, and encourage customers to come visit the farm.

After it was already decided that Blue Ridge would not be featured during my wedding weekend festivities, the farm that I was told supplied Blue Ridge Dairy returned my initial email. The email read, "We are milking 85 cows and they do get to graze. They are not on concrete all day. We do not dock their tails." This short email was exactly what I was looking for all along: Answers to a customer's questions. Period.

So Blue Ridge is not transparent, clearly. But is that really their fault? Whole Foods doesn't look into the sources of all their products, and neither do restaurants. But FreshFarm Markets clearly states in their
rules and procedures that the vendors must provide contact information and directions to the farm. And it is this small paragraph in the 16-page document that is the holy grail for the market, and makes people willing to pay a premium to shop there.

Every farmer I have spoken with or just passed by (I don't buy lamb or pork) offers their customers a chance to come experience their farm and see how their animals are treated. You know, I used to ask all these detailed questions: do you dock the tails, how many cows, etc... But I think now the most important question you can ask is: can I come visit your farm?

And all of the vendors I have endorsed here -- Keswick, Clear Springs, Trickling Springs, Smith Meadows Farm -- have open farm policies. Does the farm that supplies Blue Ridge Dairy? Well, I don't know.

And who is accountable?

While I strongly believe that every farmer and vendor -- no matter their size -- should only buy and raise humane food, and allow people to come see the farm for themselves, I don't really think that Blue Ridge Dairy bears the sole responsibility here.

Why hasn't FreshFarm Markets (the market manager), taken a more active role in promoting transparency? The only enforcement mechanism to ensure that customers' food is produced in the manner they hope, is whether they are allowed to visit the farm. I don't think it matters so much whether they visit, but it's essential that they be allowed to do so. I like the Louis Brandeis quote that "sunlight is said to be the best of disenfectants." It is especially apropos in light of the frequent assertion by Michael Pollan and others that if we saw how our food were produced in factory farms, we would be horrified and factory farming would end. So it seems especially important that consumers be able to visit the farms where their food is produced, since that is how to verify the difference between sustainable, humane farms and factory farms.

Moving on.... Finally.

I have stopped buying from Blue Ridge Dairy. And it's not because of any hard feelings, but because I only want to buy from farms that people can visit. If they enacted the same open-farm policy that other farmers have, I would start buying from them again in a heartbeat. In the meantime, Keswick and Clear Spring both have delicious yogurt (something I found out by simply asking), Clear Spring has butter, and Organic Valley sells mozzarella.

Transparency is king when it comes to farmers markets. It is why we pay the extra money and take the extra time out of our weeks to go. Without transparency, we would all be shopping at the Safeway Farmers Market.

As I overheard one customer say to another vendor one weekend, "I just watched No Impact Man, and he said we should go visit the farm we get our food from. Well, I've already seen your farm!"

Friday, July 8, 2011

The story of stuff and our wedding

I have editorialized (on and off this blog) before on my dislike of the wedding industry; how elements of it are insane (buying a super expensive new dress to wear once?), unnecessary (spending a thousand dollars on a cake?), and unnecessary (registering for stuff you will never use --- Chip N Dip anyone?).

So when we got married last Sunday (YES! We got married!), we decided to look at all of the wedding "norms" through a fresh lens and decide what to take and what to leave.

We had been to a few friends' weddings where they requested donations to several non-profits instead of gifts, and thought that was a great idea. This wasn't an entirely unselfish decision, but largely came out of the fact that we don't need anything. We are both 30 years old, and have enough stuff already. It wasn't as if we didn't do anything in our house before we decided to get married. We have all of the kitchen, bedroom and bathroom items we could need. And when we do need something, we do what most people do: budget for that item and buy it getting full satisfaction after working toward that financial goal. A wedding registry may make sense for people who don't have a lot of the things they want, but we weren't in that situation.

So, instead of registering for a new coffee maker (we have one), a gravy boat (while we don't have a "gravy boat" per say, we do have other vessels that could serve as one, should we ever eat gravy), new wine glasses (
Freecycle or Craigslist, anyone?) or even a Chip N Dip, we decided to ask guests to donate to causes that we care strongly about:

DC Vote: As tax-paying residents of Washington, DC, we are not afforded the rights that every other U.S. citizen enjoys: voting representation in the House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate and local control of how our tax dollars are spent. DC Vote is working to help us, and our neighbors, become full citizens.

Human Rights Campaign (HRC): Just by luck, we are allowed to get married. We also live in Washington, DC which recently legalized gay marriage. HRC is working toward equality for all across the U.S., and we support their efforts so every person, no matter their sexual orientation, can enjoy equal protection under the law.

Humane Society of the United States (HSUS): HSUS works tirelessly to advocate for those that do not a voice -- whether they are in factory farms, dog fighting rings, or killed for their fur. We support the great work they do in communities across the U.S. and on Capitol Hill to improve the lives of our furry friends.

Mentoring Today: Mentoring Today provides mentors for teenage boys in DC who will be transitioning from incarceration back into the community. Mentors meet with the teenagers in the months before they are released, and continue their friendship when they are back in the community, helping them access services and fulfill their goals.

In addition to our commitment to these causes, we essentially have enough.

There is a
great story about Kurt Vonnegut, author of Slaughter House Five, talking to Joseph Heller, author of Catch 22, at a wealthy hedge-fund manager's house. The story goes that Vonnegut asked Heller if he was bothered that the hedge-fund manager made more than he did, even though he wrote one of the great novels of our time? And Heller responded that he had something the hedge-fund manager will never have: Enough.

But our thought process goes beyond what we need and don't need. The truth is that Americans have
too much stuff. We buy new stuff, discard it way too soon, and buy newer stuff. And where does this stuff go? In our land, oceans and air. Check out this great video about The Story of Stuff:

This video changed my way of thinking about my consumerism. And I am hopeful that a lot of these most-important causes on our wedding registry will benefit from that!