The Elephant in the Room

A while back I posted about my conflicted relationship with meat. And then, as the hours and days passed, I realized there was more to say. I had more confessions to make, more conflicts to wade through; namely dairy and eggs.

Oh, How I Love Cheese

I'm not saying I couldn't live without it, but I will say good cheese brings me much pleasure. I do love the stuff...almost any way you slice it. I love the fancy, stinky kind and if you offer me a grilled cheese composed of Wonder Bread and Kraft slices, I'll love that too, especially if it's been grilled up on a hamburger grease-slicked flattop....the odd tiny black bit of charred meat smooshed into the golden, crunchy, oily surface, a big dollop of ketchup for dipping...but I digress...

A winning selection of Canadian cheeses.

Many vegetarians eat cheese, other dairy and eggs, but here's the catch: millions (probably billions, really) of animals die each year in both these industries, and not of old age on some bucolic pasture.

Dairy - Milk, Butter, Cheese

It really doesn't matter how small or idyllic the farm is, on a dairy farm, there is no use for male calves. Just like human females, cows only lactate when they are pregnant or have just had a baby, so cows in the dairy industry are kept pregnant. When their babies are born, they're taken away from the mothers so that we can have the milk. That's a sad affair right there. But what of the male caves? Well, veal or simply a bullet to the brain right then and there. So, there you have it; dairy production isn't nice and it doesn't happen without some blood on our hands.

There's no denying it; calves are sweet. Here they are keeping warm with the pigs at Murray's Farm. Photo: www.murraysfarm.ca

What's the Ideal?

Other than veganism, I think it would be to take some surplus milk from a lactating cow once a year, when she's naturally breeding, and turn it into cheese as a way to keep it for eating later. But we want cheese all the time, so that's not going to happen. And in this modern world with nearing 10 billion mouths to feed, any talk of limiting accessibility to "affordable" foods - especially proteins - is met with serious push back.

For me it's the same question with the same answer as posed by the meat dilemma. Eat less of it. When you do eat it, buy from local, small dairy farms/creameries/cheese makers where at least there's a much better chance that the animals were handled with care and respect.

And, once again, we have to ask ourselves, are we willing to go back to per-agrarian days? For thousands of years meat and dairy have been a part of who we are, especially as northern hemisphere people who had no choice but to rely on stores of sausage and cheese and butter and animal fat. And just to make thing more complicated, we now need to juggle local, sustainable vs imported organic, and not just what's better for the individual animal but rather for the ecosystem as a whole. I believe eating an omnivore's diet from small multi-purpose farms where meat is produced holistically and in harmony with nature is better for the environment than eating a vegan diet dependent of imported produce. (This is a whole other topic for another blog.)

What About Organic?

Does that mean anything? Well, to the eater, sure. But what about the animals? To some extent the life of an animal on an organically certified industrial farm is better - there are several rules on the books about organic animal welfare - but dead is dead, and permanently pregnant and hooked up to a milker in a shed is also what it is - not particularly nice. But I always say, smaller is better. When farms are too big, bad things can happen and go unnoticed.

What About Eggs?

Ever see what happens to male chicks at the hatchery? It's sad and horrifying. Male chicks are not needed by the egg industry, so they are either ground up alive in an auger or simply dumped into plastic garbage bags to suffocate by the millions. Google it if you dare. Mercifully, new technology is on the horizon that will allow the hatchery to sex the egg/embryo very early on, allowing the egg to be discarded or re-purposed - no harm done.

But wait, you might ask, why aren't the male chicks simply raised as meat birds? Good question: because, the chicken meat industry is separate from the egg industry. The meat industry wants the fast-growing Cornish cross bird. The best egg layers are Rhode Island Reds, Leghorns, and Red Sex Links, so, males of these breeds are a waste product to Big Egg, and treated as such.

And there's the first few drops of blood on our hands.

After that, it's the lives of misery these hens live in cages and their sad and premature ends that heap suffering on top of sin. I think waste is a sin, FYI.

I love this ad. Packaging can be so misleading.

Where do I stand?

Well, on a soapbox, apparently. I'll get down soon, I promise. But, I do eat butter. Every day. I don't want to give it up and I won't unless I have to for some unimaginable reason. Yup, there is blood on my hands. I guess we all have to decide for ourselves just how much we are comfortable with.

I eat cheese. Just about every week. But I choose local small farm or organic.

I keep hens, so I get my own backyard eggs, but when the ladies go on strike - as they are now! - I buy pastured eggs from a local, small farm.

The Ladies...they're on strike, so I'm temped to call this a picket line. Photo: Lindsay Burgess

But What About my Book?

Another fair question you might have - or possibly be shouting at the screen, hopefully not a portable device...on the bus - if I feel this way about it all, how could I have written a cookbook devoted to eggs? Easy! Because like I said in my past blog unpacking my meat conundrum, I'm trying to lead folks to a better, less destructive way of eating while being practical and accepting the world as it is right now, knowing I can't wave a magic wand and make all the suffering go away.

Photo: Sabrina Falone At The Taste Canada Awards Cooks the Books at The Royal Winter Agricultural Fair

What I can do is try to turn folks on to keeping some hens of their own or at the very least, spending a bit more money on buying pastured, free-run or cage-free and while you're at it, take the cage-free pledge won't you?

And yes, male chicks grow into roosters and don't make eggs so even on small, lovely farms full of happy hens running all around, they aren't as needed and you'll only see a few there to fertilize and protect the ladies. What happens to superfluous, extra-rapey (it's a thing, honest!), or vicious roosters? On a small farm, they'll end up in the pot, and that's the way of the farm. Again, I must ask you to remember, we are an agrarian society. Farms are not going anywhere, not for a very, very long time....maybe not until that big asteroid comes, kaboom.

Busted! A rooster sneaks out of Murray's Girls' hen house. Photo: Murray Thunberg

Don't Think I Don't Hear the Cries of Elitism...

...because I do; I get it. Hey, I'm a freelance writer. I've lived for many years on, under, or around the poverty line. Still do. It isn't easy, but I prioritize how I spend my hard-earned pittance. The mortgage always comes first and after that, there are no holidays, clothes and most household goods are second hand. I drive a 1997 Honda, technology is kept to a minimum and isn't replaced unless it dies. Seriously, I've had the same cell phone for almost 10 years now. It cost me $50 at 7Eleven and I buy minutes for it - about $25 every three months or so - I've been told it's called "burner". What an idiotic idea! A disposable phone! Anyhoo...I have one computer, one landline, and one TV...a second hand 13-inch jobbie. I don't have AC in summer, and in the winter I keep the house at a refreshing 64F - 68F. And, I'll still go out and spend $14 on a few ounces of local grass-fed beef or $10 on a sliver of locally made cheese. It truly is about choices. One does not need to be rich to eat well and ethically.

Photo: me

Oh, and just in case I've painted a picture of destitution and squalor, I want you to know I live in a pretty nice place - if I do say so myself - all decorated with second hand goodies and vintage finds. Even the pets here are second hand!

My second hand paradise. Only the guitar in the corner was new (a gift) and the gas fireplace insert. I'm afraid to play with second hand gas things, because, well, you know kaboom!

Just a little FYI: according to Stats Can the average Canadian family's income is $55,600; for a singleton, the low income or poverty line is around $18,000 - $19,000.

It's About Choices...

I think - and damn, it's really all very complex, isn't it? - everything we do impacts many more lives, seen and unseen, here and on the other side of the world. I believe the best we can do is know what our impact is, then, armed with knowledge, let our conscience be our guide.

I'll get down from my soapbox now. I promise the next blog will just be a tasty recipe or something! And here are some kittens in Murray's boots.

Because, kittens.

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