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?”

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.

 

Eggs – how much space do the girls get?

Do you want to know the difference between the eggs systems?

I refer to systems as the defined egg production standards:

  • UK Organic soil association
  • EU and UK Organic standards
  • EU and UK Free range standards
  • EU and UK barn standards
  • EU and UK caged (enriched)

In addition to these standard there are assured schemes e.g. RSPCA and producers that define their own standards that are over and above the UK and EU standards. This can be significant or minimal so don’t just buy eggs because they have a standard labelled or fancy packaging. Any brand worth you spending extra money on, will be proud to promote their standards on their website, http://www.thetraditionalfreerangeeggcompany.co.uk if they don’t then it is marketing gloss and they don’t really have anything to say.

It is hard to work out the difference between the systems. Most of us agree that caging hens is not acceptable but it is hard to decide what is acceptable. There is a very dark side to the egg industry, it is mass production under huge cost pressure, so within each system there is a lot of variance. I have attempted to do a 5 yrs old impression of the space each bird gets and flock sizes to help give some meaning behind the labels. The figures are based on EU and UK standards and the UK Organic soil association.

The flock size is also an important consideration. The only defined maximum size is in Organic systems. Free range, barn and caged is undefined. It is hard to find typical sizes but I have found people promoting their flocks of e.g 12,000 and 16,000 as a smaller flock size and evidence of flocks as large as 32,000. This often achieved by multi tier system, shelves in effect, this means the area of ‘floor’ space is increased allowing them to house more birds in a building. It is really a loop hole in the law which states 9 birds per m2 floor space. In effect by having the floor and 3 tiers they have 4X the amount of intended birds in a space, this means that a lot of the birds never get outside, they are too hemmed in.

In caged colonies I have found information of buildings housing 150,000 caged birds, which is beyond my comprehension. If you like to think of the hen that lays your egg getting individual attention, you get the picture.

In contrast we have 3 birds that free range 2.5 acres but that won’t fit on the page! The majority of us have to buy eggs that are available in the supermarkets, look for organic eggs, I believe the difference is worth the extra cost, but if you want to go the ‘whole hog’ I will write a post about keeping hens and try to find producers that sell ‘real eggs’. In the mean time if you find a friend that has their own eggs it is worth expressing your interest in buying some.

Whatever you take from this post, I remain firm that anything is better than caged ‘enriched’ eggs. Read my other posts about 48% of UK eggs still coming from caged hen eggs. Think about ingredients and eggs served in cafes, restaurants, airlines etc. As Zammo said ‘just say NO’.

The Ethical omnivore and the girls

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Buckwheat delights

In my quest to find healthy and tasty, whole foods, to understand more about plant power and widen my range of ingredients. Buckwheat was high on the list of foods to investigate.

Discovering buckwheat

Often mistakenly thought of as a grain, buckwheat is in fact a plant, related to sorrel and rhubarb. We eat the seed, in the whole form as groats or milled as flour. It is gluten free so a good replacement for flour in any wheat based recipes. As such it is considered a pseudocereal (like a cereal or grain).

Russia is the biggest producer and consumer closely followed by China and other Asian nations, growing in popularity in UK, USA, Canada and the rest of the world. It is an ancient food that we are rediscovering. As well for food it was grown as a nitrogen rich fertilising crop, before chemical fertilisers came into use.

It is amazingly versatile and a great way to increase nutritional intake. It is a nutrient rich food. Containing many trace minerals, including manganese, magnesium and copper. A good source of the B vitamins: B6, pantothenic acid, niacin, folate, thiamin and choline. Revered as one of the best plant sources of protein, it contains eight essential amino acids. Also high in complex carbohydrates and fibre. Whilst very low in fat and low on the GI index.

How to buy

You can buy buckwheat in larger supermarkets, health food stores or online. As raw buckwheat, (slightly greenish in colour) or toasted buckwheat, called ‘Kasha’ which is brown (pictured above). On the basis it is often double the price and you can easily toast it as home, go with the raw version, then you have the ingredient for all dishes.

To get a good value organic version for more speciality products I tend to shop online for more choice. See https://www.buywholefoodsonline.co.uk/organic-buckwheat-raw-1kg.html it is cheaper per kg (£3.67) than the standard version sold at Tesco. It is also from Austria rather than China as the majority are.

You can also buy buckwheat flour, pasta, noodles (tradition Japanese soba), cereal bars, you name it!

How to cook

You can toast, steam, boil or soak buckwheat. It can be used in savoury or sweet dishes. Experiment with a few recipes until you get to grips with it. Google ‘buckwheat recipe’ and you’ll find 100’s.

  • Toasted (Kasha). Using raw buckwheat. Spread it out on a flat baking tray. Add to 180c oven for 10-20 mins, keep an eye on it, so that is doesn’t burn. It is done when it is brown and a bit crunchy. You can add this to salads, in breakfast etc, it gives a lovely nutty crunch to a dish
  • Boiled raw. Wash it well in a bowl of cold water, drain and rinse. Add to a pan with double the amount of boiling liquid as buckwheat. Return it to the boil, reduce to a simmer and cover for approx 20mins. It is done when it has swelled and softened. You can serve or leave it covered off the heat to further absorb and swell, this makes for a softer fluffier version.
  • Boiled Kasha. If you have already roasted the buckwheat, follow the same process for boiling but reduce the cooking time to approximately 10 mins.

You can cook it in a stock to give more flavour if you intend to serve it a straight side dish. Or add flavours once it is a cooked, e.g. herbs and spices or cook it in a dish such a soup, broth, curry. We made buckwheat and cashew curry last night and it was amazing. For recipe see https://wp.me/p7RDjy-jl

Don’t be too hard on it, if you just boil it in water and serve it as you would rice I doubt you’ll be that impressed, you never know, but I suggest doing something more interesting, especially if you are trying to convince the rest of the family!


Understanding health benefits

As with all nutrient rice whole food there is a long list of health benefits. The nutritional profile makes is a good source of easily digestible protein and with resistance fibre is means slow release energy which is key in maintaining a healthy weight as well as aiding weight loss.

Buckwheat has several novel nutraceuticals, (basically good stuff)Rutin, quercetin and other bioflavonoids: These compounds have been shown to strengthen small blood vessels, which can prevent easy bruising, hemorrhoids and varicose veins. Rutin can also help prevent blood clots, lower LDL cholesterol and the production of histamine, which can improve airborne allergies and food intolerances.

Tannins: Tannins are astringent phenolic compounds most commonly found in tea. They are also present in significant amounts in buckwheat. Tannins have been shown to reduce bacterial and viral infections and improve diabetes. Along with the mix of insoluble and resistant fiber, the tannins in buckwheat can improve important strains of bowel flora, such as lactobacillus and bacteroidetes, while reducing yeast and harmful bacteria.

D-chiro inositol: D-chiro inositol is an exciting compound that may improve many important elements of blood sugar metabolism (such as production of glycogen and insulin sensitivity). Data suggests it may improve polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and type 2 diabetes.

Bound antioxidants: Recent data from cancer researchers has shown we may have been ignoring an important type of antioxidants. We have mostly considered the antioxidants in fruits and vegetables since most of these are readily available and easy to test in lab studies. Now, it is becoming clear a new category of antioxidants, called bound antioxidants, may be even more important. These are found in buckwheat and some grains and are activated by the bowel flora. Buckwheat is rich in bound antioxidants like glutathione and superoxide dismutase. These compounds are also heat stable and survive the cooking process with buckwheat.

Nutritional breakdown. Remember when reviewing nutrition check if it is the uncooked (dry)weight or the prepared weight. A lot of foods absorb water in cooking so the cooked weight is different from the dry weight. You will see on labels it will say ‘As sold’ or ‘as prepared’. The purpose of checking NV is not to count specifics but as a guide to the ratios a food has. This breakdown is the dry weight before it is cooked. So this is intake from 100g, that might end up as a 200g serving.

Principle Nutrient Value Percentage of RDA
Energy 343 Kcal 17%
Carbohydrates 71.50 g 55%
Protein 13.25 g 24%
Total Fat 3.40 g 17%
Cholesterol 0 mg 0%
Dietary Fiber 10 g 26%
Vitamins
Folates (B9) 30 µg 7.5%
Niacin (B3) 7.020 mg 44%
Pantothenic acid 1.233 mg 25%
Riboflavin (B2) 0.425 mg 33%
Thiamin (B1) 0.101 mg 8.5%
Vitamin A 0 IU 0%
Electrolytes
Sodium 1 mg <1%
Potassium 460 mg 10%
Minerals
Calcium 18 mg 2%
Copper 1.100 mg 122%
Iron 2.20 mg 27.5%
Magnesium 231 mg 58%
Manganese 1.300 mg 56.5%
Phosphorus 347 mg 50%
Selenium 8.3 µg 15%
Zinc 2.40 mg 22%
Amino acids
Lysine 672 mg 32%
Methionine 172 mg 24%
Tryptophan 192 mg 69%

Parting thoughts,  The majority of us need to increase our nutritional intake, whilst decreasing sugar, fat, animal based proteins and processed foods.

With space to grow food being an ongoing issue buckwheat serves both purposes. It is an efficient crop that produces a nutrient rich food for humans whilst generating animal feed and a natural (green) fertiliser. It is tasty and easy to cook with. A firm favourite in our house.

Buckwheaty marvellous – The ethical omnivore.

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