Force fed Foie gras – cubic zirconia?

*  Please read the whole article. By French law foie gras has to come from force fed birds which many view as unethical, but there is another way and it depicts being an ethical omnivore – ‘choice, great food and universal respect’.

My aim is to make choices based on fact, therefore I research everything before making a judgement. I wanted to understand the origins of foie gras and how it became such a controversial topic. Foie gras means ‘fat liver’ it occurs naturally in migrating birds building up their reserves before making their long flight. Our consumption of foie gras is recorded as far back as the Egyptians with stone carvings depicting geese and ducks being hand fed corn.

The process of ‘Gavage’ is the force feeding of geese  and ducks to create the engorged fatty liver that is known today as foie gras. The birds are often restricted in individual cages during this time. The use of the words ‘force feeding’ should tell you everything you need to know.

In reality the forced version is could be viewed as faux gras. It is a manmade version of a product that naturally occurs in migrating birds as they fuel up in preparation for their long flight. It is similar to De Beers selling cubic zirconia as diamonds? This seasonal delicacy that was once sourced from a migrating geese and ducks, has become a factory farmed all year round horror show. Part of the lunacy of this is that under french law foie gras can only be called foie gras if it comes from a bird that has been force fed – ‘sacré bleu!’ This law was introduced to prevent people passing any old fatty liver off as foie gras and keep the money rolling in.

So let’s look to Spain for some sanity in this crazy topic. A producer that is passionate about food, but also has the greatest respect for nature, Sousa & Labourdette produce a superior and traditional foie gras with no force feeding. Watch this short video clip https://vimeo.com/83323736 it is very interesting and refreshing. Night and day from the torment and cruelty that force fed foie gras represents.

France produces 79% of foie gras, production is banned in the UK as it is in a lot of other countries. However the import and sale of foie gras is still legal in the UK and it is served in a lot of high end restaurants. It is an awkward moment when people in your party order foie gras. Let them know they are paying for diamonds and getting cubic zirconia. It is literally a fatty liver with very little relation to the original delicacy.

This article is about more than one product. Force fed Foie gras, battery hen eggs and milk veal have been present in ethical debate for decades, this is about the importance of questioning food production, being informed and making ethical choices about everything we consume.

Apologies if the image below is distressing (it is for the birds), it depicts a typical force fed foie gras farm and not dissimilar to any other factory farmed operation.

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World vegan day – let’s explore

Today, 1st Nov is World vegan day, open any newspaper, turn on the radio or TV and odds on you’ll hear it mentioned. In fact it is Vegan month for the whole of November go a good time to learn more.

Veganism and the trend for reducing animal based products is on the rise, but it is nothing new. The vegan movement was started in 1944 and became a registered charity in 1979.

Being a vegan involves adopting a plant-based diet avoiding all animal foods such as meat, fish, shellfish, dairy, eggs and honey – (basically any food that come from anything with a face). Veganism is considered extreme and even odd by many in our Western society, however in some cultures it is the mainstream diet and as a diet choice it is proven to give the most health benefits. The ultimate test of this being the number of top athletes that have switched their diets:

  • Heavy weight boxer David Haye
  • Tennis stars the Williams sisters
  • International rugby player Anthony Mullally
  • NBA players with John Salley (leading the charge as a long time vegan)
  • F1 champ Lewis Hamilton
  • US Ultra-marathon runner Scott Jurek
  • Arsenal right back Hector Bellerin. The list goes on…

So what does this mean to an ethical omnivore and where do the paths cross? Being ethical in our consumption choices spans all diet choices including a vegan diet. Any shift towards adopting a plant based diet, be that 100%, 90%, 50% will give you positive payback in your health, well being and your impact in the world. The aim of ethical omnivore is to link the dietary worlds and give people choice.

It is very difficult to wake up one day and say ‘right I am giving up xyz’ you don’t have to swing from eating meat or fish everyday to becoming a fully fledged vegan overnight. Experimenting, learning to cook new dishes, deciding what you enjoy, researching into the real benefits and information behind the choices is what worked in making any dietary shift.

You don’t have to pick a sides, you can venture into the world of plant based one dish at a time. I have been blown away how much I enjoy the variety of food we now eat and dare I say there is a certain smugness knowing you’ve eaten 10 of your 5 a day.

If you feel like embracing World vegan day today is the day. I’ve posted lots of recipes under the heading FOOD / RECIPES /Plant based and Vegan. Try Spud’s shepherdless pie or Spaghetti Puy-ognese.

V to victory! – the ethical omnivore.

“Fancy some bamboo shoots for dinner darling?”

Chocolate cake – vegan – really yum!

As part of my adventures into ethical food I experiment by cooking all dishes without using any animal products so I can offer alternative recipes for people trying to cut down, vegetarians and vegans.
I’ve been looking for cake recipes that don’t use butter or eggs. It is easy to make deserts without butter, but sponge cake didn’t prove so easy until I found this recipe. I enjoy a bit of baking and I love eating cake so I wasn’t going to compromise, but now I’ve tried it I can honestly say it is top of my list of cake recipes. The best news is that it is also low fat!
Image result for dark chocolate sponge cake recipes
INGREDIENTS:
  • 200 grams plain flour, sifted
  • 200 grams granulated sugar (reduce sugar to taste, I used 100 grams)
  • 75 grams pure cocoa or cacao powder, sifted
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 450 ml non dairy milk – (I used Oatly oat milk, other milk alternatives will work).
  • 2½ tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

OPTIONAL INGREDIENTS:

  • I like to add fruit to cake, for this recipe soft fruit works well, e.g. 200 grams of raspberries, strawberries, gooseberries etc. Use either fresh or frozen. If frozen defrost first and drain off excessive liquid.
  • everyone loves chocolate chunks, reduce sugar by the amount of chocolate you add. If cooking as a vegan recipe check the chocolate doesn’t contain milk.
  • Chopped nuts, give added texture and interest. Use a nut that complements other ingredients used.
  • the recipe is suitable for vegans, but you can add eggs. Use two eggs to replace 100ml of milk.
INSTRUCTIONS:
  1. Preheat the oven to 160 degrees C (320 degrees F).
  2. In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients, flour, sugar, cocoa powder, and baking powder.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk the wet ingredients, milk, vegetable oil, (eggs if using) and vanilla extract.
  4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon until just combined.
  5. (Optional – Add nuts or/and chocolate chunks if using).
  6. Pour the batter into a greased and floured 22 cm (8 inch) cake tin.
  7. (Optional – after cooking for 10 mins, add the fruit to the top of the batter, gently push in, this will help it from sinking to the bottom)
  8. Bake for 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  9. Cool the moist chocolate cake on a wire rack.
  10. Eat, enjoy, yum!

Is cheese suitable for vegetarians?

Is cheese suitable for vegetarians? I always thought it was and I’d assume most of us would say ‘yes’.

Cheese is a popular ingredient for vegetarians and meat eaters alike. In restaurants and shops vegetarian options often contain cheese. Therefore why are some cheeses labelled ‘suitable for vegetarians’ and some are not? I wanted to find the answer…Image result for vegetarian labeling uk

The truth is that lot of cheeses aren’t vegetarian. The majority of cheese contain Rennet. It is used to curdle the casein in milk to make cheese firm. Rennet is obtained from the fourth stomach of an unweaned calf, kid goat or lamb after slaughter. Rennet is complex set of enzymes that helps young mammals digest their mothers’ milk. Each species has specific enzymes see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rennet

Related image

 

So what does this mean for vegetarians, Hindus or people that prefer not to eat stomach? The good news is that there is also non-animal derived rennet. These are either vegetable, microbial or fermentation produced chymosin that is widely used in modern industrial cheese making as it is cheaper than animal rennet.

 

 

Here is our guide to buying cheese. When buying cheese how do we know if a cheese contains animal-rennet or not? Check the label and ask the question. If it doesn’t state that is it suitable for vegetarians it can be difficult to determine if it does or doesn’t contain animal-rennet as it is often not listed in the ingredients, it is safer to assume it does.

The type of cheese should also be considered. Traditional European and Old-World style cheeses often use animal-rennet. For cheeses like Parmigiano-Reggiano that are D.O. (designation of origin) protected, cheese-makers have to use an exact method and exact ingredients in order to legally be called by that name.

Here is a list of cheese types that are always or often contain animal-rennet:

  • Parmigiano Reggiano / parmesan
  • Gruyere
  • Manchego
  • Emmental
  • Pecorino Romano
  • Gorgonzola
  • Grana Padano
  • Camembert
  • Brie

Image result for cheeseI did a quick review using the Waitrose website to determine the use of animal rennet giving the number of the total and percentage that are suitable for vegetarians by type:

  • Cheddar –  46 out of 64, 72%
  • Artisan (Waitrose 1) – 12 out of 42, 28%
  • Brie and Camembert – 3 of 13, 23%
  • Soft and cottage – 44 of 48, 91%
  • Blue Cheese – 6 of 23, 26%
  • Parmesan and pecorino – 1 of 16, 0.06%
  • Mozzarella and ricotta – 18 of 19, 95%

Where do the calves, kid goats and lambs come from? Due to the fact they have to be slaughter before they are weaned the animals that are used to create the animal rennet are very young. It might seem that this is a wasteful extravagance to slaughter very young animals just for part of their 4th stomach. The irony is there is a plentiful supply of very young animal for this purpose due to the dairy industry itself. To keep a plentiful supply of milk for humans to consume, mothers give birth on a constant cycle, the baby is taken from the mothers hours or days after birth. The babies are considered a by-product of the dairy industry, the females often raised as next generation dairy herd, the males raised for veal, spring lamb, or immediately slaughter. Whether considering cheese, milk, cream, butter or yogurt, this is the reality of dairy.

Parting thoughts. So what’s the big deal? It might seem that this is an article for vegetarians, maybe only ‘strict’ vegetarians that choose not to eat produce that contains dead animals, but this issue should raise wider questions for us all to consider.

  • We can all gain from learning what is in our food and not making assumptions.
  • We should consider the reality of the diary industry and the not so ‘white’ reputation that is portrayed.
  • Think about wider dietary topics; for example what is Casein and why is there a need for an enzyme to break down protein that is specific to each species?

Unexpectedly the main impact of researching this topic has made me realise that dairy is intended for babies and more over babies of another species. We are the only species that consumes dairy after we are weaned. Now I think about that it raises more questions about why we eat what we eat and whether it is right (watch this space – I’ve found some very interesting literature on lactose intolerance, type 1 diabetes, breast cancer and more).

Enjoy cheese as a treat knowing the chooses you are making. Health wise we often eat too much cheese so use this as an excuse to cut down or give it up. Check the labels for the Vegetarian logo. Source organic produce (as the highest ethical standards). Take care on the cheese front next time you are cooking for your veggie friends!

Say cheese! The Ethical Omnivore.

 

Healthiest meat on the planet

Wild meat and game is the healthiest meat on the planet. It is leaner, antibiotics and chemicals free, it contains E.P.A (eicosapentaenoic acid)*, is fuller of flavour, denser of texture and lower in fat, cholesterol, and calories than most other meat. It’s also high in protein, iron and vitamin B, yet low in saturated fat. The animals are also not genetically modified or in any other way unnaturally “enhanced.”

(*E.P.A. (eicosapentaenoic acid) is a fatty acid that facilitates blood flow. Some studies link human ingestion of E.P.A. to reduced risk of heart attacks, arthritis and hardening of the arteries. E.P.A is formed in the blood of wild animals as a protective agent against cold. Farm animals just don’t make it) 

As the animal doesn’t have to handled, transported or experience the slaughter house the issue of cortisol and adrenaline being released due to stress is eliminated. Wild meat and game is the original sustainable, free-ranging, organic, natural fed meat.

The animal has a free and natural life, it has typically lived a lot longer than a farmed animal and avoiding the slaughter house makes it highest on the ethical list. The further towards the intensively farmed system you go the bigger the gap becomes.

Wild meat is an animal that was born naturally, has had not form of human intervention and has been hunted, for example wild boar, deer, wild birds etc. Game is animals raised specially the sport of shooting, they are often bred in captivity, then realised into the wild, they are provided with feeding stations to keep them from flying away, for example pheasants, partridge, grouse. Some animals are both wild meat and game. The bottom line is the same, the animal and therefore the meat is as nature intended.

The great news is that the majority of game and wild meat is reasonably priced. Unless you are in central London in a fancy butchers you should be able to find fairly priced wild meat and game in farm shops, butchers, specialists suppliers and online.

There are seasons for game so buy when it is in season. Meat freezes really well, so stock up at the right time. I found a good offer on 1KG of pheasant breast for a similar price to intensively farm chicken breast today. These meats are at the opposite ends of the scale so being close in price it is a no brainer! see https://www.wildmeat.co.uk/collections/pheasant/products/pheasant-breast-fillets

Correct cooking of wild meat and game is important. As there is often little of no fat and the age of the animal is unknown so it is best to use specific instructions for cooking. For example when I cook pheasant I braise it:

  • Heat pan with a knob of butter or oil. Add pheasants breasts and cook both sides until sealed.
  • Chop onion and garlic, place on the bottom of the dish, lay pheasant breast on tops, add stock and splash of apple juice to half cover the meat, cover tightly with a lid or an foil (no steam must escape) and cook for around 40 mins at 180C.
  • Serve or add to a dish such as Indian or Thai curry
  • Or make a stew and slow cook all the ingredients

I make a dish called ‘marry me pie’ which is mixed game in white sauce and shortcrust pastry. I’ll post the recipe.

If you are unsure of the best way to cook the piece of meat you have, try slicing off a tiny piece and frying it for a short time over a high heat. If it is chewy then it is best slow cooked, but if you find it is tender, you can cook as you would a steak or chicken breast, pan fry etc..

Parting thoughts: A lot of people don’t like the idea of shooting Bambi or watching a bird falling out of the sky, but the reality is if you eat meat it is the most ethical choose. Hunting is where our meat eating history begins and in these times of intensive farming, you are wise to choose wild meats or ethically farmed, free range or organic meat.

Remember a lot of meats you consider to be wild or game animals are also farmed so check it is wild not farmed. A good example of duck, check is states ‘wild duck’. It is unlikely that you will find wild meat in a supermarket due to the consistency in the supply chain look for a butcher of specialist supplier.

A few suppliers online:

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