I miss the days when I used to sing "Old MacDonald," then eat steak for dinner, not making the connection between the pretty cow in the book and what was on my plate.
History repeats itself, because we teach our children the same nursery rhymes from the same classic books that show happy animals on a pretty farm with a red barn amidst green rolling hills. I hear myself telling Daisy that is where milk comes from and where eggs come from. This is the message we were given and the one that we, in turn, pass on to our own children.
But, that is not the truth. No one wants to talk about the physically and ethically filthy factory farms, huge conglomerates ruling the market. Livestock and birds are packed in huge numbers into ugly, dirty cages or barns and fed garbage. For years, I have been reaching for the organic, free-roaming, wanting to provide the best quality foods for my family. As a bonus, I thought I was supporting an industry committed to safe, humane treatment of the animals that nourish us.
Accessibility and affordability continue to be a constant challenge. I will no longer be purchasing milk, eggs, cheeses from major supermarkets, despite the labels claiming honesty in sourcing organic goods.
But, even driving out of my way and paying an extra pretty penny does not guarantee a good night's sleep. The FDA defines the labels and has published a document discussing farm animal welfare. However, there is no government agency tasked to enforce standards. Even third-party certification entities fail to audit the very standards they set. Grass-fed does not mean the cow was allowed free reign over the land. It means exactly that - fed grass. Pasture-raised is more expensive, very difficult to find in metropolitan areas and makes no promise that you are getting something from those happy cows dotting the foggy hills of seaside Cambria. It really is hard to know who to trust.
Then, what is the answer? The extreme approach is to give it all up...eggs, milk, meat, the whole lot. But, this really does not address the issue very well because, the world is filled with products tested on animals and made from animal by-products, some of which are life-saving.
Medications, sutures, heart valves, buttons, shoes, handbags, briefcases, wallets, watchbands, belts, jackets, chairs, couches, pillows, cleaning products, cosmetics, Jell-O and many more are all made from animal products. Even Cheetos are fried in lard. There is no guarantee the creatures that were sacrificed to make any of these products were treated humanely.
It is easy for the consumer to feel overwhelmed and powerless, but there is so much a person can do.
Remember that the busy honey bee plays a big part. This hardworking little creature has a profound impact on the livelihood of the planet. Campaigns like Project Pollination lead the way to save the honey bee. Anyone can help just by purchasing a (very cute) T-shirt or going into the garden to plant flowers that attract bees. It is an easy and relaxing way to spend a lazy afternoon.
Then, treat yourself to a night out on the town. The culinary world has become sophisticated in its approach to supply sourcing. More restaurants proudly announce that they support sustainable farms, offering truly free-range eggs, pasture-raised meats and produce from local farms. Supporting your local farms can be a refreshing change to the old weekend routine. Take the family out for a fun day of apple-picking.
When I was a little girl, my uncle Feri lived in Switzerland. Whenever he or my aunt would visit, we knew we were going to get boatloads of delicious Swiss chocolate. Maybe the chocolate was so good because the milk came from healthy cows roaming the alpine landscape. I grew up thinking that was how all cows were raised. Alpine farm-steading has its own challenges, but is a much better approach to corporate factory farming.
There are some good resources to help locate quality meat and dairy products. The Humane Society explains food labeling. Watchdog organizations like the Cornucopia Institute maintain scorecards of meat, egg, dairy producers listed by location in neatly organized tables.
You know you got the good stuff when you pop the lid open on a dozen eggs and the shells are all different colours. The same farms that offer pasture-raised milk and eggs, also offer my beloved butter and sour cream. Most natural food grocer have everything you need to bake a cake, which is always on my agenda. Tell me your ideas!