VegWeek Day 3, Chocolate Chip Cherry Brownies

27 Sep

“The greatness of a nation… can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
-Mahatma Gandhi

Welcome to Day 3 of VegWeek!

Yesterday, I defined the different types of vegetarians, and some of the reasons people choose to limit or eliminate animal products from their diet. Today I want to address the first reason, animal cruelty. All reasons for the vegetarian lifestyle are legitimate, but to me, learning about the horrors our animals endure has been the most powerful.

Racism, Sexism – and now Carnism.

Before I get to the nitty-gritty, though, I want to share a thought-provoking article. Actually, it’s a review of a thought-provoking book that I haven’t read, but sounds interesting. The book is titled Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows. It addresses our social norms about animals, and a “belief system that supports the idea that it is normal, natural, and necessary for human beings to consume the flesh of other animals.” Dietary habits, of course, are cultural and relative. As an individual living in a connected world, with a life that impacts others, and the ability to consciously evaluate our choices, I think it’s important to look closely at those choices – especially one as profound as eating, which we do daily. Although I don’t typically get political on this blog, eating is absolutely political, and these ideas are timely. You can read the full review, “Why carnism matters,” here.

my-balogna-had-a-first-nameImage courtesy of I Can Has Cheez Burger

According to Global Patriot, “today, 54% of US food animals are concentrated on only 5% of farms. As of 2000, four companies in the United States produced 81% of our cows, 73% of our sheep, 57% of our pigs and 50% of our chickens. Globally, 43% percent of the world’s beef is raised on factory feedlots, and over half of the world’s pork and poultry is raised on factory farms.” Here’s a look into those factory farms.

Pork.

Shortly after birth, pigs born on factory farms have their ears, teeth, and tails mutilated, and are castrated without painkillers. Some bleed excessively and are left to die, just hours or days old, from these botched procedures. As they grow, they are fed a high-protein diet including growth hormone and antibiotics, that causes them to become larger than their legs and bones can support. They often cannot walk. Pigs who do not grow fast enough are brutally killed by having their heads smashed against the floor.

During transport to the slaughterhouse, pigs are so overcrowded in trucks that their limbs break from the weight of each other, and some die by heat exhaustion or freezing before they arrive. If they do survive the journey, improper stunning can mean they are conscious while having their throats slit or being boiled alive.

Source: Alec Baldwin for Peta

Beef.

Cows raised for beef do not have it any better. They endure castration and hot-iron branding without painkillers, and are beaten and abused by factory workers. In states with severe weather conditions, cows are allowed to freeze to death or die from heat stroke. On feedlots, they are crammed together in mud and feces, overfed and pumped full of antibiotics, and forced to breathe toxic fumes from their own excrement and gas. At slaughter, their throats and limbs are cut open while they are fully awake and conscious. In an interview with The Washington Post, one slaughterhouse worker said, “They die piece by piece.”

Sources: Peta and meatvideo.com

Dairy.

Like virtually all mammals, cows produce milk to feed their young. But the exclusively human habit of drinking another animal’s milk – and doing so into adulthood – has disrupted this natural life cycle. To satisfy the demand for dairy products, cows are impregnated by artificial insemination 2-3 months after giving birth, which makes them nearly constantly lactating and/or pregnant. And the normal amount of milk produced to feed a calf – roughly 16 lbs a day – has been increased to around 54 lbs a day through the use of genetic manipulation, antibiotics, and growth hormones, as well as a high-protein diet that includes other dead animals. Although a cow’s natural lifespan is 20 to 25 years, the stress and burden of this overproduction renders them useless to the industry after about 5 years, and they are slaughtered.

And what happens to the calves produced as a byproduct of this milk-manufacturing operation? They are killed or separated from their mothers at birth to be raised as beef, veal, or dairy producers. Those that keep their lives are raised on a diet that includes blood from other cows, a practice that has contributed to the spread of Mad Cow Disease.

cows milk is for baby cowsImage courtesy of Natural News

For those who are concerned about cow’s milk being unnatural for humans, never fear – science has created a solution. Genetically modified cows can now produce ‘human milk.’ Although this product hasn’t hit store shelves yet, I won’t be surprised if it does one day.

Source: Peta

Eggs.

Over 200,000,000 male chicks are killed each year in the United States. They are sorted from valuable, egg-laying female chicks within hours of hatching, and either thrown alive into a large grinding machine, or smothered/suffocated together in a large trash bin. Female chicks are routinely de-beaked to reduce pecking each other in the overcrowded cages where they are about to spend the rest of their lives. Lack of sunlight, fresh air, and room to move creates stress in the birds, who become ill and diseased, often experiencing open sores and feather loss. Like all factory farmed animals, egg-laying chickens are abused by workers.

Source: meatvideo.com

Poultry.

Chicken and turkeys raised for meat are selectively bred to increase the size of their breasts, well beyond what their bodies are designed to handle. As a result, they often become crippled and unable to walk under their own weight, or suffer heart attacks. When they become ill or are ready for transport, they are handled violently, often sustaining bruises and broken bones. At slaughter, they are strung up by their feet and paralyzed in an electrified vat of water, fully conscious. They they have their throats cut or are drowned and scalded.

Sources: Food Inc., meatvideo.com

peepsIronically, not even Peeps are vegetarian. Marshmallows contain gelatin, which is “derived from collagen, an insoluble fibrous protein that occurs in vertebrates and is the principal constituent of connective tissues and bones.” Yummy!

Foie Gras.

The term foie gras literally means “fatty liver,” and refers to a disease that causes the liver to enlarge 10 times its normal size. Ducks and geese raised for foie gras spend their lives confined to small cages where they are unable to move, and are “fed” multiple times a day by having long, metal pipes forced down their throats, depositing the food directly into their stomachs. The pipes scrape and sometimes puncture their throats. The birds’ disease and inability to move results in open sores that are fed upon by rats. Finally, the birds are slaughtered at 3 months old by having their throats cut while they are hung upside-down and conscious. Foie gras has been banned in the UK, Israel, and Switzerland. Many restaurant owners have removed it from their menus, although unfortunately, it is still considered a delicacy to many people.

Source: Roger Moore for Peta

Fish.

Over 6 billion fish are slaughtered annually in the United States. Approximately 4/5 of these are caught by trolley nets in the wild, while the other 1/5 are raised on fish farms. During ocean fishing, nets indiscriminately catch all kinds of fish and animals, including several unintended species such as dolphins, sharks, and seals. The quick ascent from deep waters causes fish to undergo painful decompression that can burst their organs and pop out their eyes. On the surface, they suffocate or are crushed under the weight of each other. Some fish are skinned or hacked to pieces on boat decks while they’re still alive. Fish farms, like factory farms, are crowded with animals and full of disease and excrement.

Sources: Peta and meatvideo.com

People.

In addition to being cruel to animals, factory farming is cruel to the people who work in them. Conditions on these farms are dirty and extremely dangerous, despite known and feasible measures that could be taken to improve them. The volume of meat, eggs and dairy these farms produce demands fast and physically demanding labor, and risk of injury is high. Factory workers are hurt, mutilated, and sometimes killed on the job, with very little protection or recourse. The bottom-line is the bottom-dollar in these establishments, and workers are commodities as much as the animals are. Many workers are poor and desperate to keep their jobs. Many are undocumented and afraid of deportation if they speak up and organize themselves. They are threatened and intimidated.

When it comes to factory farming footage, I’ve often been the most disturbed by seeing what people are capable of doing – the senseless acts, punching cows, breaking the wings of birds, hanging pigs to slowly strangle to death – and yet, the psychological toll of this cruel job is impossible to imagine. It makes the animals crazy, it makes the people crazy.

Source: Human Rights Watch. Also check out the film Fast Food Nation.

Seeing is believing.

I will warn you: This video is emotionally painful to watch. It contains graphic footage of abuse endured by pigs, cows, chickens, and fish in factory farms. I debated for a long time on posting it, but ultimately decided to include it here because it’s important. It is easy to disassociate the hamburger at a summer BBQ and the neatly wrapped chicken breast in a bright grocery store from living, breathing animals – intelligent beings that experience pain and fear, just as we do. But our disconnect from the food we eat is the single biggest factor in keeping these practices alive.

Today’s post was extremely difficult for me to write, and I thank you for reading it. I know it was heavy. It was as heavy as it’s going to get this week – and it’s out of the way now. I hope some of this information was thought-provoking for you.

To lighten the mood, I thought I’d share this article I came across a few weeks ago, about a cow that escaped a slaughterhouse in Germany. Since reading this one, I’ve seen a few others like it from years past. It’s touching to see people respond personally and emotionally to these animals – we all want our independence.
Slate: Not even the “George Clooney of cattle” could convince Yvonne to turn herself in.

Chocolate Chip Cherry Brownies

Recipe Source: Manifest Vegan

Further reward for all that heavy reading – chocolate! This is a cool recipe, yet another take on gluten-free baking that I hadn’t tried: the primary ingredient is dates. Allyson over at Manifest Vegan was not messing around when she described the batter as thick – the brownies come out a bit dense, so you’ll want to enjoy them with a tall glass of cold milk. Er, almond milk ;)

brownie batter

The really nice thing about them is the lack of added sugar. Most of the sweetness in these brownies comes from dates, with just a little extra coming from semi-sweet chocolate chips. Sadly, I found this recipe right after cherry season ended, so I used frozen cherries. I’m not sure it made a huge difference in the flavor, though.

brownie batter

I also discovered, once I started mixing the batter, that my 8×8 baking dish had been loaned out. As a result, I ended up making “brownie pie.” Of course, my friends still gobbled them up without complaint! I found the texture of these brownies we even better after about two days. Because they are so rich and filling, I actually had the self-control to let them last that long.

brownies

12 medjool dates
1/2 cup almond milk
2 1/4 cup non-dairy chocolate chips, divided
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp salt
1 cup superfine brown rice flour
1/3 cup potato starch (I subbed corn starch)
1 cup finely chopped cherries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a glass  8 x 8 inch baking pan.

Combine pitted dates and non-dairy milk into food processor and puree until very smooth.

Over double boiler, melt 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips. Pour the melted chocolate into the date mixture and blend again until super smooth. Transfer to large mixing bowl and stir in vanilla extract and salt.

Add in brown rice flour and potato starch and mix until well combined. The batter will be very very very thick. Fold in cherries and remaining chocolate chips. I used clean hands to more or less knead the mix-ins into the batter.

Press batter into pan and spread as best you can to make a uniform surface on top. Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes. Cool completely and cut into small squares.

Eat!

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5 Responses to “VegWeek Day 3, Chocolate Chip Cherry Brownies”

  1. shanna September 28, 2011 at 2:49 pm #

    Jen,

    I am so proud of you. Proud of you for tackling a big subject, a subject that has lots of emotion around it. People eat to feel good, to feel better when they feel bad, to feel like a part of a community, or to connect to their heritage. You took a risk by putting this out on the interwebs and I applaud you.

    Many people hide behind their food choices because they don’t want to think about it, reasoning away the awful truths–no one wants to see the sausage being made. We humans are endowed with the ability to think critically and to act compassionately, but many chose to look the other way. What kind of life is it to knowingly eat the pain and suffering of another sentient being?

    Awareness, and making clear choices based on love and compassion, is the life I have chosen and those are a few of the reasons why I am a vegan. Am I perfect? No, of course not. It’s a practice–I strive to be better each day. I hope others will consider the same.

    • Jen September 28, 2011 at 3:46 pm #

      Thank you Shanna, that means so much. You’re right, and I think you’ve touched on something important with the emotion. We have such a visceral connection to food, it’s no wonder these ideas are hard to swallow. It’s radical to make a lifestyle choice based on ideals and education, and I admire everyone who does so. This life is a journey and we are all striving to be better.

  2. Lillian September 30, 2011 at 1:22 pm #

    The brownies actually look a bit like fudge. Are they that dense? I am always looking for desserts to shake up the ladies at work so maybe I will try this one. Provided I can find these ingredients in the “thriving metropolis” :)

    • Jen September 30, 2011 at 1:27 pm #

      Yes, very dense! And not super sweet. Definitely different if someone is accustomed to Betty Crocker box mix. But with an open mind… they’re not bad. Pretty subtle on the cherry flavor, they are mostly chocolatey.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. VegWeek Day 4, Spicy-Sweet Butternut Chili « Put a spork in it. - September 29, 2011

    [...] from being cruel to animals, the grand-scale farming practices of today are destroying the earth. A few stats for you, courtesy [...]

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