Sunday, January 31, 2010

Friends, Not Food

Ok, so for those of you that read this and know me... this may seem to come out of left field. I'm not sure why, but for some reason, I've had a sense of anxiousness about sharing my most recent revelations. I've only told a handful of people, so.... for those who I haven't told and have had my BBQ burgers, my chicken pot pie, Boeuf Bourginon, etc etc etc... you may gasp at what I'm about to say.

Since October, I have made the commitment to stop eating meat.

Now, this isn't something that I've taken lightly and it's certainly not something that has happened overnight... Also, understand that I'm not sharing this to convince anyone to stop eating meat... only to share my experience... so that maybe one part of it will connect (or resonate) with someone. Maybe that someone will make the decision to only eat meat from humanely raised animals or maybe go meat-free for one meal or meat-free for a full day OR maybe like me... take the plunge into the unknown ;)

So... for those who are interested... this is where I'm coming from...

For the past couple of years, we've had egg laying hens-- yes, I know all hens lay eggs-- but that's what we have them for. From them, I've learned that chickens have personalities. Of course, they are not as affectionate or compassionate as our dogs and cat... but they're individual, curious, nervous and mischievous. AND.... when they die, I feel sad. While watching "A Mighty Heart," it was said that he (Daniel Pearl) was cut into 10 pieces... I thought "Who could do that?... but wait...we do that to chickens." And I could never get that thought out of my head. Last March, I was doing research for a newsletter that I was writing for Earth Day.... in google I typed "Tips for Earth Day Everyday"... and with that I stumbled across The pictures and videos of the factory farm cruelty was all over my computer screen and like a train wreck... I couldn't look away. (WARNING: The following video is absolutely horrid.)

Months flew by and I couldn't stop thinking about what I had seen and it seemed there was always something to remind me of it. Suddenly, steaks no longer tasted good to me. (Seriously, I'm the girl who ordered my steaks medium-rare.) Then I read that "one of the best things that you can do for the environment is to give up beef." So I figured that was a good place to start.

(I took this picture at my husband's cousin's farm)

The facts-- from environmental to health standpoints-- are all over the net... and they're quite overwhelming. There are a few blogs that I read that I think sum it all up quite nicely... and, of course, are good reads:

But then as I cut out beef... I realized that this was about more than just the environment. I thought about how I justified eating animals and after everything I read and saw... those justifications didn't sit well with me. I had feelings of disconnectedness to where food comes from and what it actually was at a grocery store. What I know is that, realistically, if I walked in the grocery store (or meat market) to get meat and had to pick out a live chicken, cow, pig, turkey, be butchered, I couldn't and wouldn't do it. That's when I realized that this HAD to be more than just beef. And sure, in the middle of this epiphany, I thought about how meat tasted so darn good... I LOVE bacon... in fact, I've always said that I think it makes everything taste better... chicken pot pie/ dumplins/ soup... hamburgers... all AMAZINGLY GOOD. BUT, I remembered how I used to eat stuff like Hostess "junk" cakes, Fattie Debbie snacks, and a lot of other prepackaged crap... And you know what? They no longer taste good. With that thought, I know that meat has the same fate.

I tell myself... I can and will do this... no labeling myself... I'll take it one day/meal at a time.

I've made the decision that I'm still going to eat fish... I'm pretty thorough in choosing a sustainable fish (and often buy it from my local Farmer's Market)... am I justifying it? Probably... but I'm OK with that right now.

Have I been scared? Yes. Have I had second thoughts? Definitely. Have I backed up and said to myself that I can do this? Absolutely. Now, one of the things things I've had people asked me is, "What about the kids??" Of course, that was (and is) my biggest concern (and often my reasoning for questioning myself). I won't force my beliefs on them. They (7, 5, and 3) are great eaters... I keep thinking that I don't want to screw that up. So.... while I've taken huge steps, they're right along with me with teeny tiny baby steps. They know that I'm not cooking "cow" anymore and for the most part they're with me. However, when they want to eat chicken fingers (go figure), bacon, sausage, etc.... they eat them...BUT they are also trying (and liking) all sorts of new foods.

Some things that I'm doing that are helping me transition to a plant-based diet are:
  • In the first couple of months, when we went out somewhere, if there was a vegetarian option... I chose it. It was an easy way to try something new without committing the whole family to it.
  • The ability to keep an open mind (and looking at packages of meat for what they truly are) is making me believe in ALL of the possibilities. Besides, it's exciting trying new foods and my taste buds are totally changing.... just like I knew they would :)
  • Cookbooks, recipe sites, blogs... it's a new way of thinking... and I know that I can't possibly do it on my own. (Thank you Mom, Tracy and Aaron for listening to my ramblings ;) )
  • I have prepared myself for the looks of "Seriously? Why would you do that?" But even so, I know that's the exact reason that I've kept this all on the down-low. **Is there anyone in this world that likes to be labeled or judged?????**
  • I look at the foods that I cooked and think about what I like to eat. More often than not there is a vegetarian version of a meal I used to eat, such as: Chicken Parm... now Eggplant Parm :)
  • I realize that not everything I cook is going to taste like the "meat" version, but I'm ok with that. One of the first couple of things that I tried were vegie dogs (the taste is uncanny to the real thing) and Tofurkey (it does not taste like Turkey, but it's not bad). I've also made vegie sloppy joes, seitan stroganoff, fish tacos (I know they're not vegetarian, but that's how I found my way to cut out beef), homemade vegie burgers, vegie chili, chickpea cutlets, tempeh (or seitan) stir-fry, quinoa...
Once you open yourself to the possibilities... trust me... they are endless.

So, I'm thinking that as I find a vegetarian dish that I absolutely LOVE, I will share the recipes and maybe inspire you to try something new :)

Want to buy sustainable and humanely raised meat? Check out:

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Thrill of the Find

 I've never been much for antiques.  Going to my great-grandmother's home as a child set me up for this.  Plastic on the couch and so many things that might as well have been labeled: "DO NOT TOUCH".  As a kid, I always remember saying, "I am never going to buy antiques... they're too stuffy."  I want to be able to use what I buy and not feel bad about it.

In my 20's this way of thinking remained.  When I got married, my husband and I bought our first house in Wilmington.  We went out and spent lots of money on furniture to "fill" our house.  Of course, we bought new.  New is always better, right?!  At 21 and 24, that's definitely what we thought.   We didn't think much about it...  we bought furniture because we needed to fill a space, it was convienent... and it fit our house.  As the years passed... I was like, "Why did we buy this stuff??  Sure it looks good in the house, but I don't even like it."  My husband, of course, concurred.  From that point forward, we made a pact that we would always try to buy something that has character-- which meant that we would look for used first, and most importantly only buy what we LOVED.... no matter how long a room set empty :)

A few years ago, when we moved back to Wilmington, we bought a lot of used pieces from an interior designer and with her help started frequenting "Ivy Cottage" (a local consignment shop).  Now, I'm not much for the "thrill of the hunt"... I quite honestly get bored looking for stuff... for me it's about the "thrill of the find" ;).   As far as shopping goes, there is nothing better than saying "Today, I have no expectations.  If I find something, 'YAY'... if I don't then it wasn't meant to be."

So, as my childhood would suggest I'm never looking for antiques per say... I just want something with character... I need not know the story or the history... because when I find what I love... I know it's right.

For instance, last Sunday we decided to take a trip to Ivy Cottage because we hadn't been in a long time and we have outgrown our breakfast table.  I was leading the way, through the tightly packed aisle-ways of furniture, paintings, mirrors, and other treasures waiting to be found... when I stopped... on my right, I saw the most beautiful bombay chest.   Then I  saw the "HOLD" tag.  My husband dismissed it and said, "Well, somebody is already getting it."  I insisted that he go ask someone because the hold time said "2:30" and it was nearly "3:30".  As my husband inquired, I stood watch over it.  We found out there was a "waiting list" for this piece... we added our names, which put us 3rd in line with others adding their names after ours.  Later that afternoon, we called back and found out that the people in front of us didn't come back.   Of course, I'm thrilled.  YAY!!
When we got it home and I was cleaning it up... I realized that we had, unknowingly, bought an antique.  I honestly didn't (and don't) care how old it is, nor where it was made, how it was made, or what it's story was-- it's used that's good enough for me... AND I immediately could see it in our house.  Now, I  don't know where it's been... I only know where it is... one of the least stuffy places I know ;)  I will use this piece of furniture and help build it's character and of course add our story to it's life.

A few reasons that I love buying used are: we're saving valuable resources, supporting local businesses, one of a kind (or more individual) pieces, and I can throw the idea of perfection out the window and accept scratches and other markings as character... I tend to look at them like my scars (each with it's own story).

Some of my favorite things that we're reusing (either bought or given):

Our dining room table (bought cheap and refinished the top), an old painting of the "Moulin Rouge" (I don't care who painted it or what it's worth... I love it), my daughter's dresser, my son's desk, an antique buffet table with loads of character (and I use it for all of my photo albums), some side tables and lamps, a chandelier for our dining room (we swiped it up from a friend that was remodeling), hmmm... I should stop there... BUT, know there's lots more... :)

By the way...

What I've learned about antiques is that it isn't the antiques that are stuffy... 

it's the people who are ;)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Box-Free Cake

Last Wednesday, for my daughters class, I made 36 chocolate cupcakes with ganache for the frosting. They were so moist, rich and beyond chocolatey.  So it got me thinking about cake mixes.

It's been 5 years since I last bought a box of cake mix.  I originally made the decision to stop buying cake mixes because of the trans-fats, but now that I've had years without "boxed" flavor... I honestly can't eat it because it never really tastes like the 'real' thing.  And quite frankly, if I'm gonna eat a piece of cake... I want to be in LOVE with it.  It better be amazing or I won't waste my taste buds time ;)  So--it could be said--as a side benefit to only eating the BEST version of cakes (or any other baked goods for that matter) is that the prepackaged ones no longer taste good.

I'm not much for reciting numbers and facts...some things are just OBVIOUS. 

Here's what I put in my chocolate (cup)cakes:

Unbleached Organic Flour, Cocoa Powder, Organic Butter, Local Buttermilk, Free-Range Organic Eggs, Sugar, Brown Sugar, Organic Sour Cream, Fair-Trade Organic Brewed Coffee, Pure Organic Vanilla, Kosher Salt

And the ganache frosting:
Chocolate chips, Organic Heavy Cream

For comparison.... just look what's in a name-brand box of devils food cake mix:

Sugar, Enriched Bleached Wheat Flour (Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Vegetable Oil Shortening (Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Propylene Glycol Mono- and Diesters Of Fats, Mono and Diglycerides), Cocoa Powder Processed with Alkali, Dextrose, Leavening (Sodium Bicarbonate, Dicalcium Phosphate, Sodium Aluminum Phosphate, Monocalcium Phosphate). Contains 2% Or Less Of: Modified Food Starch, Wheat Starch, Polyglycerol Esters Of Fatty Acids, Salt, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Cellulose Gum, Xanthan Gum, Maltodextrin, Artificial Flavors

And frosting:

Sugar, Water, Vegetable Oil Shortening (Partially Hydrogenated Soybean and Cottonseed Oils, Mono- and Diglycerides, Polysorbate 60), Cocoa Powder Processed with Alkali, Corn Syrup. Contains 2% Or Less Of: Corn Starch, Salt, Invert Sugar, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Carmelized Sugar (Sugar, Water), Caramel Color, Acetic Acid, Preservatives (Potassium Sorbate), Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Citric Acid, Sodium Citrate. 

Seriously, cake doesn't need ALL of that stuff in it to taste good.  Boxed cake mixes, along with a long list of other convenience products are engineered to sit on a shelf.  Not to mention all of the ingredients (listed in yellow) that are made from corn, which is most likely genetically engineered corn.  For me, the word engineered doesn't and shouldn't have anything to do with food.  But, if you like or need facts... do a little research or just watch Food Inc.

Wanna make a box-free chocolate cake??  Here's one recipe that I use:

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Throw It In the Compost Bin

With the onset of warmer weather, I have been itching to get my garden going... so much so that I'm even not minding the idea of pulling weeds.  Yes, I'm missing the garden that much!!  Of course, it's too early to plant anything yet... but in order to feel like I'm moving in that direction... I just have to get outside and get dirty.  So...yesterday, we pulled the finish compost out of our compost bin and added about a 2" layer of compost to our garden site.

When we first moved into our home nearly 3 years ago, one of the first things we decided to do was to start composting.  At first, we didn't have a bin so everyday we saved all of our compostables-- things that will biodegrade and turn to compost-- and buried them in our future garden space.  After a couple of months, we started our garden and built a compost bin.  Now I must confess that from the moment we started composting I have had this LOVE for it!!!  The reasons vary, such as: Not having to use trash bags because I have no "wet" garbage; saving a valuable resource from going to the landfill; reduction in my overall trash; I never have to buy a soil amendment... my compost is FREE; and, of course,  experimenting!!  Every time we turn it, I am amazed at what I see...(like the time I turned the pile and saw a paper plate that looked like it had been burned or a corn-based plastic cup that had melted-- I used to have a picture, but I can't seem to find it).  I think it is so cool.... yes, it's so dorky to say;)... but it IS so cool.  I'm just amazed by the fact that we can put in all of these things... kitchen/table scraps, paper, Ben & Jerry's ice cream containers, corn-based plastics, leaves, and more.... and by the wonder of nature it turns into the most beautiful dirt (yes, in my world dirt can be beautiful).  It's so dark and rich and full of everything that our gardens-- vegies, flowers, herbs-- need to grow and thrive.

So... whenever people come to my house... it seems like they are most intrigued by the compost bin-- several friends have started their own... YAY!!  Also, when we have parties or when family and friends come to stay with us... I have to give a lesson in composting because if you come to my house... yes, you will have to partake in composting. :)

Also... let me say... don't dismiss the idea of composting just because you live in an apartment or have a small yard... trust me... you can still compost!  My friend, a super hero in disguise, LOVES vermicomposting-- oh yeah... that's worms!  She keeps a small rubbermaid tub under her kitchen sink!  And, nope... it doesn't smell.  If you just have a small yard check out the compost tumblers :)

Composting: The non-expert... keep as much as I can out of the trash can...girl that likes to experiment... throw it in and see what happens way ;)

What you can compost is very simple.  If it came from the Earth-- paper, cotton (e.g: dryer lint), vegies, fruit, leaves, etc, etc.-- give it back to the Earth.

Things I compost include (but definitely are not limited to):

All table/kitchen scraps (moldy bread, milk soaked cereal, fruit/vegies, and so on), ice cream containers (as long as they're paper... they have a plastic coating that once the paper biodegrades I can just toss into the garbage), parchment paper, butter wrappers (paper ones), dryer lint, facial tissues, Q-tips, paper (especially if it's been soiled with food and left unrecyclable), pizza boxes, plants that have died back and are disease free, plant-based plastics (I've come across cups, gift cards, salad boxes, and bread bags), egg shells, our chickens' bedding, coffee grounds, Subway wrappers and cups... basically if it has the ability to biodegrade-- or I think it has the ability to-- then I throw it on the pile and wait and see what happens.  Like I said, Experiment.

"What can't you compost?" 
Often when we have parties (or extended stay visitors), I just tell people what NOT to put in.  The list is much shorter than what can go in.  I usually stick to the phrase "No metals, no plastics."  If they get in... not a big deal... they won't break down in the pile and I just have to fish them out.  Of course, there are other things to keep out such as animal products.  They, obviously, have the ability to attract animals to your bin.... which can be annoying.  That being said... I don't really follow that rule very well.

"How do you do it?"
Think about it like this... composting is nature's way of recycling.  All you need are greens (kitchen scraps, grass clippings, etc.), browns (leaves, paper, cardboard, tissues), water and oxygen.... it's really not rocket science.  Just throw it all in a pile... keep the ratio of greens to browns fairly even... turn the pile to add oxygen and if the pile is dry... add a little water ;)

Wanna give composting a try?

You can build a bin or  buy a bin.

And, of course, I am always here to lend my experiences to help ;)

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Freshest Food

From the moment I started this blog, I have been asked when I'm going to talk about my garden.  I think I've been putting it off because my fall garden was rather lackluster this year.  Sure I had some green beans and sweet potatoes, but the weather was wacky so my lettuces, cucumbers, and squashes didn't grow... not to mention the fact that my chickens ate all my broccoli!!  But as I was going through some pictures, I came across this:

 Leeks--the only thing that actually survived my fall garden-- picked fresh on Christmas day!  The story is a simple one... I was in the middle of making scalloped potatoes when I realized that I didn't have any onions... oops!  Then I remembered that I had leeks growing right in my backyard... a Christmas miracle!  One of the greatest benefits of having a garden... the convenience.

However, my desire (my need) for a garden goes way beyond convenience.  My Grandparents had a garden that fed their family of 13... not to mention loads of grandkids :)  I can't remember a time in my life when I thought food was so good.  Fresh everything... the sweetest carrots, tomatoes, green beans, etc, etc, etc... pickles made by my grandma... and she even made her own rhubarb jelly (ok...I wasn't much for rhubarb, but everyone else liked it).... I can close my eyes and I'm taken back to their kitchen table.  For me, there has always been something comforting about all of that.  I give 100% credit to my Grandparents for instilling in me this love for fresh food...this food that has all the flavor it's supposed to have.... this notion that
*I* can sow, grow, harvest and feed my family with only my two hands... 

that is what having a garden is all about.

Now honestly, I'm no expert.  I view my garden as an experiment and if I get something to eat out of it... the experiment worked... if I don't.... well, at least I tried!  So as spring approaches, and my garden is (hopefully) kickin' I'll post some more... until then...

Wanna grow leeks?

They're easy... I just sow the seeds in the spring.  Keep an eye on the weeds and leave them be.  They're ready to be picked in late fall all through winter...AND they even survive frost!!!

(Oh, and if you don't know what the heck to use them for... you can use them to replace onions in ANY recipe.  Seriously.)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Ingeo = Ingenious

I just finished redeeming lots of iTunes gift cards and have noticed something...

As soon as I pulled the cards off their paper "hanging" thingie... I noticed "ingeo plant-based card"!! No more PVC... I'm thinking that ingeo means "ingenious". I briefly searched to see if I can compost it... but didn't find much except that lots of companies are switching to this "new" plant-based plastic, which-- by the way-- makes me very happy.

SO... I've decided that I'm gonna chuck the cards in my compost pile and see what happens. Maybe in a few months... if all goes the way I hope it does... I'll be able to post a pic of shriveled iTunes cards.

My LOVE for iTunes is growing by the second... :)

Update on December 26, 2010:  Nearly a year after tossing my iTunes gift cards into my compost pile... the only thing that has changed is the color.  All of the writing is pretty much gone... but the cards haven't even begun to shrivel.  Still going to leave the cards in the pile and see how long it takes for them to compost... if they compost at all.  

(By the way, this year we made sure to request no gifts.)

UPDATE #2-- March 4, 2011: Not So Ingenious

Food Inc.

So I finally watched Food Inc. AND....I'm proud to say that this movie completely reaffirms ALL of my beliefs about food. I did learn a few new things, like the fact that corn is in EVERYTHING... I never would have guessed that ascorbic acid is made from corn... I totally had this notion that it was made from lemons.

Anyway, it's a good feeling to know that I've been on the right track for the past several years.

Besides signing the petition... watch the movie... go to the website... learn something new... and decide to make at least one change.

Friday, January 15, 2010

REDUCE, Reuse, recycle

For my entire adult life, I have recycled. I'm really not sure the reasons that I began recycling... possibly for a little extra cash?? Whatever the reason I started... it stuck. AND ever since I lived on the UNCW campus-- with the most convenient of recycling dumpsters-- I have been what I like to call addicted to recycling. I call it an addiction because once I started.... I couldn't stop.

Admittedly, I am a recycling junkie. I have recycling bins in my kitchen, bathrooms and garage. Nothing gets by me... I have no problem reaching in trash cans (at home or out) to pull out recyclables. Most people look at me like I'm nuts. I'm quite OK with it. I will not throw a recyclable item in the garbage... receipts, plastic bottles/cups, etc... I carry them with me until I find a recycling bin-- which is usually at my house. Yes, I feel like a trash hound... but I just can't make myself throw something away that ISN'T trash.

Now, for the past several years... I've taken a look at my "waste habits". Sure I recycled, but as I looked at my recycle bin... I thought, "I bet I could reuse some of this stuff BEFORE I recycle it." So the quest started to Reduce by Reusing before I Recycled. If it sounds complicated... it's not. The first thing that I did was start saving glass jars-- applesauce, pickles, artichokes, pimentos, jams/jellies, peanut butter,... yes, the list goes on. Oh how my pantry runneth over because I can't bear to chuck a glass jar into the bin. BUT...I've found them to be quite useful-- from storing leftovers, seashells, cookies, candies... and not to mention when I make sauces, jams, salad dressings or some sort of edible gift. I even have a maple syrup bottle that I saved and now refill with "bulk" maple syrup from the local Co-op.

Before I put something in the bin... I think about whether or not it has another use. One thing that I saved from the recycling bin was at my son's school. The PTA had an ice cream party reward for one of the grades and had purchased buckets of ice cream. At the end of the party, they were rinsing out the buckets to recycle them. I, of course, double checked and asked if they were going to keep them or recycle them. The answer was "recycle." My response was: "Can I have them?" I had big plans for those buckets-- mainly strawberries, blueberries, blackberries... picked fresh from Lewis Farms. And when we picked too many to eat... we froze them and stored them in a bucket. 2 years later... those buckets are still put to good use-- including working as a compost bucket.

Here's a short list of some things that I save and reuse (or repurpose):
  • Aluminum foil-- I wash and reuse until it can be used no more.
  • Yogurt containers (the big ones)-- I use them to freeze homemade stocks/sauces, freezing and storing homemade vegie burgers, for my summer fresh berries (frozen to enjoy all winter long), ice cream... and when I'm not using them as storage containers in the freezer, I use them for unbreakable snack storage.
  • Twist ties & rubber bands (from produce)-- I have a drawer that is full. They're useful and I think it's silly to toss something that is useful.
  • T-shirts-- once they're no longer wearable, I use them to clean (mostly windows).
  • Bread bags-- when the kids have field trips and have to bring a disposable lunch :( I don't have to buy a single use disposable bag.
  • Lunch Meat Bags/ Zip-locks-- I used to laugh at my grandma for rinsing out and reusing her ziplocks... now I do the same. When I get them... I wash/scrub with soap and rinse them out and save them for later.
Things I keep for the kids art bin:

Bread bag "tabs", milk carton lids, beads, strings, popsicle sticks, old magazines/catalogues, twist ties... basically if the kids or I think it could be used for art-- which most things can-- we keep it. Oh yeah, we keep them all in a "Basmati Rice" container ;)

So... what impact has this had on our waste? Over a year ago, we eliminated trash service at our house. (The article is a little embarrassing for me... and not quite as accurate as I'd like it to be...but I figure it's out there... why not share ;))

Thinking that's impossible? It's not. I never once thought...

"today is the day that I'm going to eliminate my trash."

Honestly, it was one of those things that just happened. We made a lot of little changes and over time... all the little bits added up. We had a 95-gallon roll cart that was not even half full after a month. After months of the same near empty trash can... we decided that we would cancel our trash service.

Today, we create less trash than we did just a year ago.

I've been looking at our trash lately...

I'm thinking it's time to reduce something...

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Rethinking to Resolve

I'm not one for making New Year's Resolutions... they always seem like a fad that people just don't keep up.  Usually they have to do with adopting a healthier lifestyle.  In the past, I've made silly resolutions such as the year that I resolved to stop biting my finger nails ;)  But this year, I said something out loud-- and while not realizing it was a resolution until I shared it-- I liked the sound of it.  It's something I've been thinking about for awhile, but when I said it out loud.... I believed in it.

I will no longer buy into society's standards of what it means to be successful.

But here's the thing... this is not a New Year's Resolution... this is a Life Resolution.

What it means for my life... has yet to be determined :)

Monday, January 4, 2010

Pass (on) the Bacon?

In the winter of 2005, pregnant with my third child, my family and I decided to pack up and sell our home in NC and move back to St. Louis, MO to live by all of our family. While the move didn't work out for us... it was a year of learning about what kind of people we really are and what we wanted for the future.

Our year of living in St. Louis was coming to a close and I was looking forward to getting back home. And at the time, I had a subscription to Rolling Stone which was also coming to an end as I chose to not renew any of my magazine subscriptions. It was reading Rolling Stone that I read one of the most horrible things that stayed with me and changed my way of thinking. The article starts off...

"Smithfield Foods, the largest and most profitable pork processor in the world, killed 27 million hogs last year. That's a number worth considering. A slaughter-weight hog is fifty percent heavier than a person. The logistical challenge of processing that many pigs each year is roughly equivalent to butchering and boxing the entire human populations of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas, San Jose, Detroit, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, San Francisco, Columbus, Austin, Memphis, Baltimore, Fort Worth, Charlotte, El Paso, Milwaukee, Seattle, Boston, Denver, Louisville, Washington, D.C., Nashville, Las Vegas, Portland, Oklahoma City and Tucson."

While somewhat unbelievable... that, honestly, wasn't the biggest problem for me. As I got further into the article... I learned about all of the drugs they pump the pigs with just to keep them alive long enough to slaughter them (fyi... as long as a pig can move from place to place they can be slaughtered for consumption no matter their health)... then I read about the lagoons. The places where the pig excrement is "stored"... just being near or even downwind from them can make you sick. I, of course, made the connection to why there was such an issue after Hurricane Floyd back in 1999. I had known that pigs washed up on the beaches, that swimming and fishing were prohibited... but after reading this article... it made complete sense. All of the rain dropped by Floyd had flooded all of these lagoons... warehouses of pigs... and flushed it all to the ocean. I thought,
"How can I support a business that pollutes our rivers, streams, AND the ocean I swim in and pumps my food full of drugs I wouldn't even think about taking??"

The article is disgusting... eye-opening... and 100 million percent worth the read. Boss Hog: Pork's Dirty Secret

(update 1-17-2011:  It seems as though Rolling Stone no longer has this article available online. Through some research, I found the article here:  Boss Hog)

I read the article several times... made copies to give to people we knew... and right then and there made the commitment to not buy anything from Smithfield. It was a difficult undertaking for a girl that loves BLT's. I read labels trying to figure out where the pork I was buying came from. I asked the butcher at the local meat market where their pork came from... he was confused by my prodding until I explained to him what I read and then he responded with "Iowa, but they all do it the same."

"They ALL do it the same??" Now the task was even bigger... I didn't feel comfortable eating (or feeding my family) ANY of the pork products sold. No more Johnsonville, no more Harris Teeter, no more conventionally raised pork. I made the conscious decision to only buy organic, and cruelty free bacon and sausage. Sometimes I couldn't buy it... it was OK with me... because I knew that I couldn't and wouldn't support that kind of treatment-- to animals or the environment.

Today, these thoughts have shifted to something bigger for me... I'll share that soon.

Here's what I know: My food choices affect the world I live in... including the people and animals we share it with.

Hydrogenated Wonders

Long before I cared enough about the environment to call myself "eco-conscious", "environmentally friendly" or "green", I made decisions solely for health purposes. Looking back, I can see the connection between making health changes and my current lifestyle.

During the pregnancy of my daughter, I became friends with a doctor that worked with my husband. She was a complete health nut. Buying only organic foods and shopping primarily at our local co-op-- I often thought she was insane for spending so much money on organic food. BUT... we had so many great conversations and through her I gained a knowledge and started looking a little deeper at the choices that I was making when it came to food. It was her knowledge of "partially hydrogenated oils" that led me to "weed out" all products containing it before mainstream media shed light on the problems of the partially hydrogenated oils (aka Trans Fats). I stopped buying cake mixes, Peter Pan Peanut Butter, Hostess or Little Debbie anything, chewy granola bars, pancake mixes, Cool Whip... if it had partially hydrogenated oil in the ingredient list... I passed.

I now call all of these foods "partially hydrogenated wonders" because they are an invention made to trick us into believing that they're something they're not. They are not REAL food. Take cool whip for example... it's partially hydrogenated oil made to taste like whipped cream. Hmmm... I'm wondering how eating whipped cream flavored Crisco could be good for anyone???

I'm conscious about what I put into my body and more importantly my children's bodies.

Now... I'm positive there's a link to how this all helps the environment... like losing the packaging. By making from scratch instead of buying premade, prepackaged foods... I eliminate over-packaging such as a little plastic bag contained in a paperboard box. BUT, more importantly I support good healthy food. Food that I can pronounce every ingredient... I've adopted the motto "if it's good for the planet it's good for me" because if it's bad for the health of the planet... how could it not be bad for the health of me??

Think about it, Trans Fats are a totally artificial form of fat, our bodies and those of the animals in our environment are simply not equipped to safely process these fats. Regularly we 'dump' foods and oils with Trans Fats in them into our environment - be it via the drains or the trash. Given their relative long life compared to regular fats these Trans Fats are very likely to be making into the environment....

Also, in a way, the economic effect of Trans Fats on fast food cost is causing us to choose fast foods over more environmentally friendly alternatives (such as locally grown or organic produce) - in effect it has 'distorted' the market against better foods as in order to be making money at the cheaper end of the market you almost have to be using Trans Fats.

Think outside of the boxes...start reading labels... pick up a cookbook... know exactly what you're putting in your body. Your body and the planet will thank you for it ;)

Don't just take it from me... read up :)