Tuesday, January 8, 2013

We have moved!

"The time has come," the Walrus said. We have moved to a differnt site and has taken everything with us.

Go check us out at www.thenetworkfork.wordpress.com or www.thenetworkfork.com

Thanks for all of your support. I love you all 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Big Hole in My Life

Slow food with Sarah Nelson from The Network Fork

As a transplanted New Yorker to the great state of Tennessee, most of the changes that have accompanied our move have been positive, but there have been some things I really miss. Things like bagels.

Every Tennessean loves his barbecue (or so it seems), and conversely, every New Yorker loves their bagels (or so it seems). This is a stereotype that I fit right into gladly. Upon moving to Tennessee… (Read: rural Tennessee. Read: most of my neighbors have four feet and white tails.) A good bagel is not so easy to come by.

You might be wondering what my big complaint is since it is so easy for most of you to step into a grocery store and get a bag of bagels. In fact, you can get everything from generic to Sara Lee to the store’s own bakery version. Here are the problems I’ve encountered:
1.       Generic bagels taste gross. They are dense and undersized.
2.       Sara Lee is not always available at the stores I go to, but if it is, it’s expensive. Or I’m cheap. Either way, the outcome is the same: I’m not always willing to shell out the cash to get them.
3.       The bakery version is usually pretty tasty, but they only come 4 to a bag. They also begin to spoil very quickly.

It became obvious to me that I was going to need a practical, inexpensive and easy solution to my bagel problem.

There may be a group of you running around in a panic, throwing your hands in the air, and shouting, “Oh no! Carbs!!!! Not carbs!” However, the bagel offers some very nutritious components especially if you are making your own with healthy ingredients.

First of all, bagels are a high-energy food. They contain protein which actually can slow down some of those carbs from getting sucked up into your bloodstream. Bagels also are a great source of fiber. Add to that the flavorful ingredients that you can include in your recipe such as herbs, fruits, nuts and seeds, and the benefits go up and up.

The health concerns about the bagel come down to two key ingredients: salt and sugar. A store-bought bagel can contain very high levels of sodium which many people attempt to avoid. My recipe only calls for 1 and ½ teaspoons of salt. Spread out over eight bagels, that doesn’t sound too bad.

The other health culprit is sugar. Sugar can be counteracted by healthy toppings particularly those that are high in protein such as seeds or eating the bagel with peanut butter.  Again, this recipe only calls for 1 and ½ tablespoons of sugar. Considering the amounts of sugar found in most granola bars and cereals, the bagel seems like a reasonable alternative to me.

Outside the question of “is it really good for me”, the major drawback to making your bagels is the difficulty level or so I thought. I never would have even considered making my own bagels until I first made bread. It was only after tackling the bread, that I found myself brave enough to even begin researching bagels.

As I’ve confessed again and again on this site, my major considerations when cooking are that the food I am about to prepare be healthy (at least relatively so), cheap and easy so this recipe will be no different. Besides the cheapness and easiness of preparation, my favorite part is that the dough required rises quickly – in about an hour and ten minutes – so you don’t have to plan this experiment a week in advance.

Also, it was fun! Playing with….ahem…..I mean forming the dough to create the bagels was fun! It was definitely an activity that I’d recommend for those with children. Even younger children such as preschoolers would probably enjoy it.

This recipe did not come from my own brain, but I don’t know who I should credit it to. I usually pull recipes from books or the internet, throw them into a manila folder and attempt at some point. Then, I keep or toss or tweak depending on the outcome. So from the manila folder comes a great success!

2 teaspoons of active dry yeast
1 ½ tablespoons of granulated sugar
1 ¼ to 1 ½ cups of warm water
3 ½ cups of bread or high gluten flour (you can also use half bread flour and half whole wheat flour)
1 ½ teaspoons of salt

Slow food with Sarah Nelson from The Network Fork

1.       In a small bowl, combine ½ cup of warm water, the sugar and the yeast. Let sit WITHOUT STIRRING for five minutes. 

Slow food with Sarah Nelson from The Network Fork

2.       Mix flour and salt in your mixer bowl. Create a well in the center.
3.       After five minutes, stir your yeast mixture dissolving the sugar and the yeast. Pour this into the well of your flour mixture.
4.       Add an additional ½ cup of plain warm water to the well.
5.       Turn on your mixer and begin to mix the dough.
6.       You may need to add up to an additional ½ cup of warm water to get well-mixed dough. Dough should form a solid ball with nothing sticking to the walls of the bowl, but not be too sticky when you touch it.
7.       Knead by hand on a lightly floured countertop until smooth. Try to work in as much flour as possible for a stiffer consistency (less elastic dough).
8.       Coat a large glass or Pyrex bowl with oil and turn the dough in the bowl to coat the dough on all sides. Cover the bowl with a clean, damp dish towel. Let rise in a warm place for 1 hour. (HINT: I place my bowl on a heating pad to ensure getting a good rise.)
9.       After an hour, punch down the dough in the bowl and let it rest for 10 minutes.

Here comes the fun part! Go get the kids!

10.   Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball.
11.   Press a finger through the center of the ball to form a ring. Stretch and flatten the ring until it is slightly smaller than the size of a bagel. (Picture Sara Lee not generic!) Place the appropriately sized ring onto a lightly oiled cookie sheet.
12.   When all the bagels are formed, cover them with your damp towel and let them rest for another 10 minutes. While you are waiting, preheat your oven to 425 degrees and bring a large pot of water to a boil on your stove.
13.   When the ten minutes is up, reduce the heat on your boiling pot of water. Use a slotted spoon or a skimmer to lower a bagel into the water. (Confession: I used my fingers but I am very stupid and may not be counted on for advice that will not lead to the occasional burnt finger.) Depending on the size of your pot, you may be able to float one or two or three bagels at a time.
14.   The bagel needs to cook in the boiling water for at least one minute on each side. If you prefer a chewier (more authentically New York style) bagel, increase the cooking time to two minutes per side.
15.   If you want to apply a topping to your bagel, do it as soon as you remove them from the water. Topping ideas: seeds such as sesame, poppy or caraway, fresh minced garlic or onion, cinnamon and sugar, freshly grated cheese…..the list goes on. Be creative and please share in our comments section, what yummy combination you came up with!
16.   Once all the bagels have been boiled on each side and topped or not topped as is your preference, place them back on the oiled cookie sheet and bake them for twenty minutes.
17.   Cool on wire rack.

I’ve also used my bagel dough to make fried dough which is an apparently little known delicacy reserved largely to northern state fairs and my family. If you’d like to know more, please let me know in the comment section.

Also, in a future post, I’ll show you just how easy it is to make your own cream cheese!

Now that I’ve made myself hungry, I’m gonna go make more bagels.

Happy eating!

Slow food with Sarah Nelson from The Network Fork

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Twice baked potatoes

Twice baked potatoes by The Network Fork

Hey Everyone! I hope that you all have had a great Christmas. We are down with 2 holidays (Thanksgiving & Christmas) and we only have New Years left. For all of you that are thinking about doing a fancy dinner, want to make it look like you spent hours in the kitchen, or just have a craving for a potato I have the meal for you. This looks like a lot of work but it really is not. I found this meal from Foodwishes.com but I made a couple of additions.

Twice baked potatoes by The Network ForkIngredients:
  1. 4 potatoes
  2. Olive oil
  3. 1 cup of cheddar cheese (next time I will try pepper jack)
  4. 2 tablespoons of butter and more for later
  5. 1 tsp of garlic salt (more if you like garlic)
  6. 2 tsp chopped chives
  7. Bacon bits
  8. Paprika
  9. Salt & Pepper to taste
  10. Any other toppings you like on your potato
Twice baked potatoes by The Network Fork

  1. 1 medium bowl
  2. 1 Foil lined pan

  1. Preheat your oven to 400
  2. Lay you spuds on the pan and rub a little olive oil on them. Then bake them for about an hour. When you can stick a knife in them with ease they are done.
  3. When they are done baking cut off the top 1/3 of the potato. Keep the top we will use it later
  4. Next, take a spoon and scoop out the center of the potato and don’t forget to scoop out the top. Put it all in your bowl.
  5. Once you have added all of the potato guts add some butter
  6. Also salt and pepper
  7. Then all of your favorite toppings. Mix together with a fork or a potato masher.
  8. Remember the tops you cut off and didn’t throw away? Place them in the bottom of the hollowed out potato. I found out it will make the potato look like there is more in there.
  9. After you have put the tops in the potato then add the mashed taters.
  10. Add some melted butter on top. For a fancy look you can run a fork across the tops like I did.
  11. Sprinkle some paprika on top and add back into the oven for about 30 more minutes.
  12. Pull out and add it to a meal or eat them alone.


Twice baked potatoes by The Network Fork

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Molten Lava Chocolate Cake

Molten Lava Cake Chocolate

Happy End of the world everyone :P. The Mayan calendar is ending tomorrow but as I see no one is really worried about it. I have seen more jokesters than doomsday preppers over the whole situation.  Well whatever your opinion is I still think you should try this recipe on for Christmas J. I found this meal out of the cookbooks that my smoking hot wife got me for an anniversary gift back in October. So if you really enjoy this one we can give her all the credit. 

Molten Lava Cake Chocolate
  1. 4-1 oz. semi sweet cooking squares
  2. 1 stick of butter (1/2 cup)
  3. ¼ cup heavy whipping cream
  4. ¼ cup all purpose flour
  5. ¼ cup sugar
  6. ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract
  7. 2 large eggs
  8. 2 large egg yolks
  9. Confectioners’ sugar (optional)
  10. Ice cream (optional)
  1. A medium saucepan
  2. Large bowl
  3. Muffin pan
  4. Electric mixer
  5. Whisk
  6. ¼ measuring cup
  7. ¼ teaspoon 
  8. Cupcake liners

  1. Preheat the oven to 400
  2. Also line your muffin pan with cupcake liners. I lined all of them but I only needed 9.
  3. In your saucepan add your heavy whipping cream, chocolate squares, and butter.
  4. On low heat melt all the ingredients together. Take your time with this step. Once melted take off heat add flour and sugar then set-aside for now.
  5. Next add your eggs, egg yolks, and sugar in your bowl and mix on high. Mix until you get a thick lemon colored mixture. It will take about 9-10 minutes.
  6. Once you have the thick mixture slowly add it to your chocolate in the saucepan a fourth at a time. I didn’t mix it all the way to show you exactly what this step this was. Trust me you will get a nice milk chocolate color. 
  7. Now pour your chocolate mixture in your muffin tin. I filled mine almost to the top. Then slide in the oven for about 7-8 min. You really just want the cake to just settle.
  8. After 8 minutes take out the cakes. They should still have a little jiggle to them. Don’t do what I did and think they need “another minute”. You will end up with fully cooked brownies.
  9. Allow to cook and serve. You can sprinkle them with sugar or eat them with Ice Cream.
I got this meal from a Good Housekeeping cook book my wife got me. If you like the meal she gets all the credit.


Molten Lava Cake Chocolate


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Discovering Your Inner Locavore Part 2: The Clothes We Dispose

Sarah Nelson - Slow Food Blogger

One of the topics that I became aware of while at my conference was the ways we waste and take part in large scale pollution by choosing the clothes we wear. This wasn’t a topic of the conference, but it was one of the topics in a book that I brought on my trip to read. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend “Sheepish” by Catherine Friend. I got it because it looked to be largely farming-related, and I brought it along to read between my classes. Eventually, though, I was forced to put it away because it was laugh-out-loud funny. I enjoy this type of book at home when I’m, you know, alone, but I didn’t really want to be labeled the crazy, cackling, book lady in the corner so I saved it for the privacy of my hotel room.

Prior to reading this book, my thoughts regarding my clothes fell largely into three categories: cute, comfortable or way too hideous to ever go in my closet. When I spent my days as a suburbanite pencil-pusher, I worked hard to look like I fell out of a magazine advertisement, but now a days, I find that my only major fashion rule is that I won’t go out in public in my pajamas. I guess change is possible.

So you see where my clothes came from never crossed my mind unless you meant Macy’s vs. Target. I didn’t lose sleep over pollution caused by my fashion choices, and I didn’t even lose sleep over the idea that a first-grader in Bangladesh may have sewn my newest blouse. I was basically morally and ethically checked out when it came to clothes shopping.

You wouldn’t think that the clothes we wear would affect the food we eat, but it does. If you’ll stick with me, I’ll show you how it all weaves together.

1)      Disposable clothes
We are able to buy clothes so cheaply these days that they have actually become disposable. Add to that the constantly moving target of fashion trends, and clothes go in and out of our closets faster than Clark Kent could don his cape. According to Friend’s research with the EPA’s Department of Solid Waste, Americans throw away 68 pounds of clothing per person per year.

Most of you are probably like me and have already let yourself off the hook with the knowledge that you aren’t just tossing your clothes in the landfill, your clothes go to Goodwill. Even so, Friend goes on to say that only 10 pounds of the 68 is usually recycled or reused in some way.

Clothing material falls generally into two categories: natural fibers or synthetics. Natural fibers are something like cotton or wool, and synthetic fiber is, in a nutshell, plastic. Natural fibers will eventually biodegrade; however, those synthetic (i.e. plastic) petroleum-based fibers are designed NOT to break down so guess how long they live on in our landfills?

Bottom line: we’re buying (and then throwing away) way too many clothes. I need to tattoo that directly to my forehead. Although maybe the top of my right hand would be a better spot…then I couldn’t miss it when I grab my wallet.

2)      Plastic clothes
When I consider the term “plastic clothes”, I think of cheap sci-fi movies or maybe a certain blonde formerly teenaged pop princess’ music videos. I do not think of my own closet or yours, but they are in there. “Plastic clothes” is how I’m choosing to now think of synthetic fibers.

What’s so bad about synthetic fibers? Oh, let me count the ways.

I’ve already talked about how they are haunting us in our landfills, but there are other things to consider. As Friend points out, synthetics come from chemicals which come from petroleum. Hello, energy independence? How bad do we want it?

Then, we have to consider the vast amount of energy (read crude oil) expended in the production of these products. Add to that what other byproducts result from the process: “volatile organic compounds, particulate matter, and acid gases such as hydrogen chloride”. [Environmental Health Perspective]

But it doesn’t end there. After you bring home your synthetic fiber pants or shirt, you wear it, and after you wear it, you wash it. Endlessly, it seems, if you are the resident laundress of your home. Well, scientists have discovered that tiny particles sheer off of our plastic clothes and into our washing machines, and then what? I hope you aren’t a big seafood fan.
“PCBs, DDT and other toxic chemicals cannot dissolve in water, but the plastic absorbs them like a sponge. Fish that feed on plankton ingest the tiny plastic particles. Scientists from the Algalita Marine Research Foundation say that fish tissues contain some of the same chemicals as the plastic. The scientists speculate that toxic chemicals are leaching into fish tissue from the plastic they eat.
The researchers say that when a predator — a larger fish or a person — eats the fish that eats the plastic, that predator may be transferring toxins to its own tissues, and in greater concentrations since toxins from multiple food sources can accumulate in the body.”[The New York Times]
It doesn’t all end up in the ocean though. (I know. We were almost in the clear again, land-locked Tennesseans!) Another researcher, Mark Browne of University College Dublin, found that these itty, bitty plastic toxins also gather near cities particularly near sewage outfalls. These micro-plastics are also dangerous because of how they absorb other pollutants. Just like fish in the ocean gobble up the particles, I think it is fair to speculate that the particles in the city get gobbled up by mice and rats which in turn are food for cats and even possibly dogs which in turn may become food for our feedlot meat animals. Remember “The Meat We Eat”?

The particles are so small that we can’t see them, but we are ingesting them along with whatever they’ve absorbed.

3)      Natural fibers – Pollution?
Okay, so plastic is bad. Your next obvious choice is…….cotton. Zooey Deschanel and Colbie Caillat have us pretty well convinced that it is the fabric of our lives, and we feel good about it.
As Catherine Friend reports: “Cotton is the most-produced, most widely used fiber on the planet. Out of the annual world production of natural fibers of 30 million tons, 20 million are cotton.”

So, where does cotton come from? It’s a plant, and for me, that was reason enough to feel good about it. However, pollution is a problem even in what we tend to think of as a highly natural product. The production of cotton uses twenty-four percent of the entire world’s pesticides (usually petroleum-based) and eleven percent of its herbicides (also usually petroleum-based) and is grown on less than three percent of the world’s farmland. [WWF.org]

Those massive petroleum dumps then leach into ground and drinking water, and before we know it, we’re ingesting pollutants again due to what we choose to put on our body. Not to mention that these pesticides are known to cause birth defects and even cancer, and that is just what goes into GROWING cotton.

When you start looking into the manufacture thereof, you start seeing more and more scary chemicals: sodium hydroxide aka caustic soda, formaldehyde, sulfuric acid, bromines, urea resins, sulfonamides and halogens.

Sodium hydroxide is a substance that can severely burn the skin or even cause blindness in eyes. It is even corrosive to glass.

The EPA has this to say about formaldehyde: “It has also been shown to cause cancer in animals and may cause cancer in humans.  Health effects include eye, nose, and throat irritation; wheezing and coughing; fatigue; skin rash; severe allergic reactions. “
Honestly, I don’t even want to look up the rest of the chemicals because now all I can wonder about is our water treatment plants. Are they really up to the job?
4)      Cotton and water
Since we’re already talking about water, let’s consider something else: it takes 20,000 liters of water to produce a single t-shirt and a pair of jeans according to the WWF. How sustainable is that really? Because the industry needs so much water, they have begun diverting the flow of rivers to meet their needs. The result? Google images of the Aral Sea. If you go to NASA’s site (http://www.earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/WorldOfChange/aral_sea.php) you can see exactly how vast the devastation is to the Aral Sea (which is technically a lake).

NASA’s site states: “As the lake dried up, fisheries and the communities that depended on them collapsed. The increasingly salty water became polluted with fertilizer and pesticides. The blowing dust from the exposed lakebed, contaminated with agricultural chemicals, became a public health hazard. The salty dust blew off the lakebed and settled onto fields, degrading the soil.”

Knowing all this, what do we do? There are some good options out there.

First of all, stop buying clothes. I don’t mean altogether, but I think we can all agree that we buy more than enough. We buy to excess actually, but if you are going to buy, try a thrift, consignment or Goodwill store. If your friends get snooty with you, simply explain you are a conscientious shopper who is saving the earth one pair of jeans at a time. All hail, you queens and kings of reuse and recycle.

Second of all, organic clothing is out there. That will cut down on the amount of pollution that we’re supporting with our clothing habits. It is possible to get “good” cotton, but it won’t be wrinkle-free. It doesn’t actually grow that way; it’s a chemical process.

And thirdly, think animalistic - as in sheep, haired goats, alpacas, llamas, angora bunnies, and probably more that I’m not even thinking of. Release your inner weaver, knitter or crochet fanatic, and if you aren’t any of those, don’t feel bad. Me either. If you want to be, there is a fiber guild in Cookeville (and probably close to wherever you live), or if you prefer shopping to any of these exercises, just google it: organic knitwear, organic clothing, and go crazy. Well, not too crazy. Remember, you’ve already bought clothes to excess.

Last but not least, have you considered hosting a clothing swapping party? Get together a bunch of your friends, ask them to bring clothes that they don’t want anymore and simply swap! This is good for your wallet too! Reuse and recycle and have a party!

Again, I want to highly recommend Catherine Friend’s book “Sheepish”. Besides being laugh out loud funny, you will learn things you never knew about wool.

I’m sure there many other solutions that I haven’t even begun to think of, and if you think of them, please leave a comment. I need your great ideas too!

~ Sarah

Friday, December 14, 2012

French Bread Pizza

French Bread Pizza by The Network Fork

Happy Thursday everyone! Well this week we all survived all of the 12/12/12 posts, lol. I didn’t post anything about the topic but I do think it is pretty neat to say you lived through it. Ok so back to food now. For those that don’t know I really enjoy pizza. That is something I never grew out of from my childhood. Every so often we will have a pizza party at work. I don’t show it but I always get pretty excited to see pizza boxes laid out with a smorgasbord of toppings for my enjoyment. It takes me back to much simpler days of childhood when our classroom collected the domino dots to get a pizza party. So when I found this meal of course I had to try it. I used to buy the frozen French bread pizzas from the store. Now I cook so no more frozen pizzas for me. Check out what I found from What's cooking with Ruthie.

French Bread Pizza by The Network Fork

  1. 2 French bread loaves
  2. 2 cups of mozzarella cheese
  3. 1 jar of pizza sauce
  4. Your favorite pizza toppings. I used pepperoni and sausage. But any of your favorite toppings work.
French Bread Pizza by The Network Fork

  1. All you need for this one is a pan lined with foil. Your dishwasher will thank you for the easy load.

  1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees.
  2. Cut your loaves of French bread in half.
  3. Next add a ¼ jar of pizza sauce and a ½ cup cheese to each half
  4. Then add your favorite toppings. This is the fun part if you have kids
  5. Now just add the pizza in the oven for 6-7 minutes or until the bread is golden brown.
Take the pizza out and slice into pieces of your liking.  Be sure to visit Miss Ruthie to see whats cooking over there.

French Bread Pizza by The Network Fork

Monday, December 3, 2012

Discovering Your Inner Locavore Part 1: The Meat We Eat

When I was a teenager, I had a brief affair with vegetarianism. For this, I blame Ralph.

I have a sister who is fourteen years older than I am. (She appreciates me telling you this.) The best part about this is that she also is an animal lover, and she was the one who had a farm first. Mostly, she had horses, but other animals made appearances now and then, and really, without her, I probably wouldn’t have ever seen a duck or a llama or a goat unless I visited a zoo.

One of the animals she had was Ralph. Ralph was so smart. He came when you called, and his favorite thing in the world was a good back scratching. On top of that, he was a great listener. I loved Ralph. Ralph was a pig. Don’t get all swine-a-phobic on me. He didn’t smell. He was very clean, and he had lovely manners. He could have been the pig E.B. White wrote about in “Charlotte’s Web”.

Whenever I visited my sister, I got to feed Ralph and give him a vigorous back scratch, but if there was a family meal planned, then the schedule was: wash up, eat first, then go out and play with the animals. One day, our family went up for lunch. We washed up, set the table, sat down, starting eating, and that is when it happened.

My mother said: “This ham is delicious. Where did you get it?”

If you guessed Ralph, you are right.

I felt terrible. Guilt rushed in with that familiar sick to my stomach feeling. I was EATING my friend! Honestly, I’m not sure if I could have felt worse if I had been eating a human friend, but I was also 15 so I realize that teenage emotions run a little to the over-dramatic. You see, I just wasn’t prepared to think of Ralph as food.

However, I felt bad enough that I didn’t eat pork again for almost 20 years. It took much less time for me to begin eating chickens and cows again, but pigs were just too smart and too personable to be food.

So here’s my problem: I love animals, and I love the taste and the nutritional benefits of meat. So what wins? My taste buds or my principles? Is it even possible for both to win?

Commercial feed lots are not a nice place to be. You probably already know that. I tried for years not to think about it. Many animal rights advocates refer to feedlots, CAFO’s and factory farms as places of torture. Many people roll their eyes at that description, but I actually think that the advocates are right on the mark. For a good article on conditions inside these facilities, check out this article by Mike Adams:  http://www.naturalnews.com/022101_red_meat_factory_farms.html

I’ll just give you the highlights:
1)      Overcrowded conditions.
Overcrowding has more than its share of hidden dangers: cannibalism, disease, filth. Dairy cows typically stand on concrete floors in their own muck. Cows make up the largest percentile of manure producers of all animals. The WWF reports that farm animals make up to 100,000 metric tons of manure per minute so we’re talking about a lot of poo. 
Beef cattle have an average of 14 square feet to roam. The National Resources Conservation Service recommends 1.5 to 2 acres of pasture for a cow with calf.
Veal calves are chained and kept in dark stalls where they are unable to move at all.
Pigs like Ralph live in metal crates that are about 2 feet wide; that’s not large enough for the average pig to even turn around.
Chickens live in cages that are about 1 foot square. Even so-called “cage free” chickens live in over-crowded barns and usually never see sunlight until they begin their journey to the slaughterhouse.
2)      Disease.
Broiler chickens that are headed for your supermarket are laden with Salmonella enteritis and the bacteria campylobacter which results in diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain and fever when you catch it. The CDC says that this bacterium is one of the most common causes of diarrhea in the United States. The CDC goes on to report that even one drop of juice from raw chicken meat is enough to infect a person.
Swine are frequent carriers of salmonella, campylobacter, yersiniosis (another diarrhea causing bacteria) and something called toxoplasma gondii. This is a parasite that causes toxoplasmosis. According to a paper published by the London Swine Conference in 2009, 22.5% of us living in the United States have tested positive for toxoplasmosis.  For most of this, this does not manifest itself in any specific symptomatology. It is a “dormant, asymptomatic, but persistent infection”. However acute toxoplasmosis in pregnant women may lead to serious disability or even death of their unborn children. These diseases are there mainly because of the unsanitary conditions that pigs are forced to live in or the food that they are given to eat.
As for cows, have you heard of Mad Cow Disease? More on this later.
3)      Cruelty to animals.
Chickens often have their beaks removed when they start out their life in a broiler barn. Why? Overcrowding leads to cannibalism. Chickens will literally peck each other to death. In order to reduce the amount of money lost to this issue, commercial farmers simply slice off the beak. Layer hens are forced to live in constant light so that they lay more eggs. Hens that stop laying are frequently forced to go into molt by food and water deprivation in hopes that this will jolt their systems back into egg production.
Beef cows are often kept conscious as the slaughtering process begins. Some are even skinned alive. Often animals that are ready for slaughter can no longer walk on their own due to the conditions they were housed in, and so they are snared around the foot or through an ear and dragged to the slaughterhouse.
Production pigs become so frustrated in their filthy cramped conditions that they chew on the bars of their cages. We don’t think of them this way, but pigs, like Ralph, are highly social and affectionate. Lives spent in cramped, dirty conditions will literally drive them crazy.
4)      What they eat, you eat too.
Production animals are not peacefully grazing on pasture. They are fed things that really defy belief, and the frightening part is that these things make their way into YOUR body when you eat them. Common feed ingredients as reported by Adams include: plastic (fed as an artificial source of fiber), meat from their own species (that’s where Mad Cow Disease comes from), manure, animal byproducts (this can include dead horses, euthanized dogs and cats as well as road kill) and let’s not forget drugs and chemicals such as hormones.
IDAUSA reports that the animals are pumped with so many antibiotics that treating humans that contract salmonella from contaminated eggs, milk or meat is very difficult because the disease has become antibiotic resistant.
All those hormones being pumped into these animals to make them grow faster and produce more have affected us as well. My only non-farming sister is a teacher. She was telling me the other day about a third grade girl at her school that had started her period. That, my friends, isn’t normal. Well, I guess it is. It’s the new normal thanks to growth hormones in your food chain.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, these CAFO’s are responsible for large scale air pollution and water contamination. Remember, when the EPA came out with that study that blamed cows for global warming? Their theory was that all that methane from cow farts was bad for the environment. It’s not really so much all the gas being passed by cows as it is gas being passed through the engines of farm machinery and 18-wheelers and planes and trains to get your meat to market that is the problem. Remember, every food item on your table has traveled on average 1,500 miles to get there. Don’t forget about the energy being consumed in the processing, packaging and storage of these items. As if that wasn’t enough fossil fuel gobbling right there, you have to take into account the fuel being burned in growing the crops that feed these animals. (We’ll talk more about that in “The Soil We Despoil”.)

All that manure is no laughing matter however. It’s not just that these animals are producing 1.4 billion metric tons of manure per year. The real problem is that so many of them do it in one localized area. The farm (if you can call it that) where these animals are being raised in over-crowded conditions have nowhere to put all this poo. Enter water pollution, algal blooms and acid rain.

If you are anything like me, when you read this, it doesn’t make you feel good. Both my conscious and my stomach are upset, but what’s the alternative? Many people, including me at one brief point in my life, would say vegetarianism or veganism.

Here’s the problem: we’re built to be omnivores. We biologically need meat. We need the oils and fats found in meat for the health of our hair, skin and joints. They also aid in cognitive function and help fight those nasty free radicals that can cause cancer.  A human who doesn’t eat meat can, and probably will have, protein and mineral deficiencies. Protein is a major component of what makes our bodies run. If you only get your protein from eggs and soy beans, you run the risk of biotin deficiency. Protein in veggies doesn’t have the same amino acids as are found in meat, and it is much more difficult (and sometimes impossible) for our bodies to break them down in an effective manner.

So how does this really affect us? Wounds won’t heal as quickly. Your skin will look dull. Your muscles won’t grow and what muscles you already have may become weaker, and it is actually harder to think! If you don’t believe me, check out www.healthguidance.org – they’ll back me up.

Another side effect of vegetarianism according to healthguidance.org is weight gain. I know. I was shocked by this. According to them, vegetarians eat more carbohydrates to compensate for the lower levels of protein in their bodies and voila! Weight gain.

Vegetarians are also missing out on vitamin B12 – in order to make up for that loss, they have to take supplements. Which would you rather have: food or a pill?

I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer here, but for many of us, we’re caught in this quagmire. We like meat, but we feel guilty about how we’re getting it. I, personally, don’t want to be part of the program that tortures animals. So what’s our option?

Enter the small, local farmer.

I don’t intend to make every small, local farmer sound like Mother Teresa because they aren’t.  There are likely poultry farmers in your area who have sold out to the commercial industry, and they’ve got those poor broilers stacked in their barns from wall to wall. However, there are farmers who are doing it right, and they are who you should be looking for and buying from.

A small farmer is going to be breeding his animals towards certain genetic strains, and in many cases, will be trying to either keep his breed pure or establish a new breed. He will be concerned with good mothering skills, perhaps coloring or other physical attributes and yes, production of either meat or eggs or fiber. Fiber farmers (as in where your 100% natural materials – like wool – come from) are concerned with the density, coarseness and color of their fiber. It’s hard to manage all that information when animals are packed together in a too small area. Actually, it’s hard to even get those kinds of results naturally in that environment.

And remember the poo? Well, a small farmer has to have somewhere to put it. He wants to avoid angry neighbors complaining about the stench so he has to have a composting plan or a source for disposal. Your average small farmer would have the ASPCA on him in a second if his animals were wallowing knee or even hip deep in excrement.

Another reason that small farmers avoid over-crowding is feeding. As a small farmer myself, I can tell you that a very good reason to raise pasturing and foraging animals is that I don’t have to feed them as much actual feed. Less feed equals less overhead. I want those babies eating as much grass and herbs and weeds and, in the case of the chickens, bugs as possible! This is healthier for them and for me. This will come up again in the “Soil We Despoil” article. Small farmers understand that their resources are limited. I have the same seven and a half acres to work with year after year no matter what. I have to take care of it!

As I’ve already mentioned most of the diseases that our meat animals carry stem from dirty or overcrowded conditions or what they are ingesting. If a farmer is maintaining a clean environment where animals have plenty of room to roam, this often takes care of itself. As I reported in an earlier article (“I Have Egg-sellent News”), the risk of contracting salmonella from eggs is about one in two million when those eggs come from pastured birds.

Most farmers, who have chosen their profession, love animals. I wouldn’t have chosen this lifestyle if I didn’t enjoy it, and it stands to reason that if I love animals, I wouldn’t mistreat them. When I was at a farming convention recently, I was talking to a farmer who was relating some of the criticism she faced about raising animals to become the meat we eat. With her eyes welling up, she said, “I can feel good about what I do. My cows know their names, and they get cookies (cow treats) every day of their lives. When I load them on the trailer (that is headed for the slaughterhouse), I can look them in the eye.”

Another farmer when discussing the butchering methodology she uses for her chickens said, “There is dignity in the death I give them.” In other words, we aren’t out there like a bunch of crazy animal serial killers. We don’t get off on kicking dogs or drowning kittens. We care. We know the cost of a life lost. We struggle to help our baby livestock survive, and sometimes, we cry when they don’t. More than our bank account is invested in what we do.

I had someone who didn’t like the fact that I raised chickens for meat talk to me once, and like I’ve already said, vegetarianism is a viable, principled opinion. I used to be a “meat is murder” kind of girl myself. So I asked, “Are you a vegetarian then?” Well, no. “Oh, well, where do you get your chicken?” She named a large, commercial producer: Perdue.

Despite his good guy persona in his commercials, I can guarantee that Frank isn’t out there spending quality time with his chickens every day. They are raised just like all the other CAFO animals are: overcrowded, dirty and cruel. You can check out a complaint filed against Perdue Farms, Inc. here: http://www.animallawcoalition.com/farm-animals/article/1485.

Knowing this, I asked this lady, “Wouldn’t you feel better knowing that the chickens you eat are like mine? Having a good life before they are slaughtered? They are out every day in the sunshine, eating bugs and running around. Doesn’t that seem like a better quality of life?”

I guess that is fundamentally my question. If you aren’t willing to be a vegetarian, don’t you bear some responsibility for where your food comes from and how those animals are treated and what it is ultimately doing to our planet?

So how can you be really sure about the quality of life for these animals that you eat and the quality of meat that you are purchasing? Be informed. Ask a lot of questions. Don’t worry about being rude. If you call me, you can ask what my animals are fed. You can ask where they live. You can ask me about hormones and antibiotics. Actually, if you call me, you’ll probably get an invite to come see for yourself! I can always use an extra set of hands during chores. If a farmer isn’t willing to let you see his farm, I’d be very concerned. Likewise, if you do go see it and don’t like what you see, keep shopping!

Here’s the thing: I eat meat from the animals I raise, and I feel confident about what I’m putting in my body. I don’t feel that way strolling down the meat aisle at the grocery store anymore. I’m afraid of what goes in there.

A friend and I were actually talking about the (try not to laugh) zombie apocalypse the other day. She said that her husband asked her if things got really bad, would she be able to eat her dog. She said no. The sad truth is she might already be eating a dog because euthanized pets are in the feed fed to commercially raised animals. Try looking your Labradoodle in the eye right now. It’s uncomfortable, isn’t it? I do not want to support cruelty to animals.

I do not want to recycle, reduce and re-use but avoid one simple lifestyle change that could be a crushing blow to pollution. Remember the introduction to this series? Barbara Kingsolver said that if each person in the U.S. “ate just one meal a week….composed of locally and organically raised meats and produce, we would reduce our country’s oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week.” I want that. I want energy independence, and I can be part of the solution.

These are all very good reasons to eat locally and knowledgeably.

So, I’ve got to ask you, what’s in the meat you eat?

~ Sarah

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