Friday, February 6, 2015

Empathy - February 2015

                                by Fireweed, for the Island Word, February 2015 edition

      Descended from the forest-dwelling wild boars of Central Asia, pigs are considered 'smarter' by some biologists today than all other domesticated animals. Yes…including dogs. Highly social, playful and communicative beings, their ability to solve complex problems has been well-documented. It's hardly fair to rank the intelligence of different species on the basis of human-centric criteria  - every creature can only act within the realm of possibility for their own kind. But for better or worse we do tend to be impressed by, and more often feel empathy towards, those who exhibit cognitive abilities and emotional states we can relate to. Pigs have been known to save human lives, and they've saved their own lives by jumping off of trucks bound for slaughterhouses!

Esther and friends at their new home- wanting back in from the cold!
     Whenever the rare story of a farm animal's 'great escape' makes the news, a collective plea for mercy generally follows. The odd lucky one ends up in a sanctuary. Internet sensation Esther the Wonder Pig was similarly spared an early death, although her place of birth remains unknown. Since I first wrote about her adoption in this column a year ago (by an Ontario couple led to believe they were taking in an unwanted mini pig), Esther has grown into a whopping 670 pound housemate! And with over 260,000 followers now on Facebook , she may just be the most popular ambassador of her kind. She and her caregiver 'dads' are opening hearts and changing minds about the unnecessary habit of consuming sentient beings. It's clear to everyone who knows Esther that she is every bit as friendly and emotionally intelligent as the canine members of her unique family. Over 8,000 donors in 44 countries rallied to help raise the money last year for a spacious farm in Georgetown, perfectly suited for this big girl and others like her. It is now a brand new sanctuary for rescued animals opening officially this summer in her name: Happily Ever Esther.

98% of Canadian pork if from pigs kept in gestation crates
     More than 1.1 million sows are kept in commercial hog operations in Canada, where the vast majority of Esthers live their entire adult lives on slatted concrete floors in gestation crates too small to even turn around in. Public pressure has led to a ban on sow stalls in many places, but Canadian retailers have given themselves another 8 years to phase out the system here. In the meantime, millions of highly sensitive mammals will continue to suffer - eating, sleeping, urinating and defecating in the same cramped cells. Kept perpetually pregnant like dogs in puppy mills, sows are genetically selected for large litters. Most give birth every four months or so to more piglets than they have teats available to nurse from, so runts are routinely PACed. PAC is an industry term meaning Pounded Against Concrete, and CETFA (Canadians for Ethical Treatment of Farm Animals) has documented and recorded this practice right across the country. Infants not instantly killed can be left suffering for days on dead piles. According to CETFA's website, one rendering company in Ontario found it necessary to send letters to Ontario Pork producers asking them to “please ensure piglets are dead before disposing them.”

     It is in the shadow of factory farm cruelty that the lure of so-called 'humane meat' exists. No matter the scale of operation, animal agribusiness is always faced with the issues of death and 'disposal.' Case
scavenging crow
in point: on a recent walk, I came across a gathering of corvids and young eagles jockeying for position around a carcass in the field on a small-scale farm where animals are raised for human consumption. A couple of resident pigs had already established seniority, but one clever crow managed to grab a strip of flesh for himself and fly off with it to dine in a more private location. It was then that I spotted an identifying body part on the side of the road – no doubt dropped by another avian scavenger. The sign on the farm gate says 'grass-fed', but those pigs were engaged in cannibalism.

     Death is a fact of life in all animal husbandry operations, and timely disposal of 'on-farm mortalities' (either by rendering, composting or burial) is mandatory under the province of BC's Environmental Management Act. Allowing the consumption of one animal by another can lead to the spread of disease. Wildlife of all kinds are also at risk when attracted by the fetid promise of a free lunch. There is really no excuse for any farmer (not least of all those who claim to provide proper care and attention for the animals they raise for the locavore market) to miss - or neglect - what I witnessed. Days later the problem had yet to be resolved.

     It bears remembering that labels like 'grass-fed' and 'free range' are primarily marketing tools. They don't tell us much more about the quality of a pig's life than 'grain-fed' and 'fenced-in' would reveal about a dog's. Use of the word 'humane' within the world of meat marketing is even more deficient. As former animal farmer turned animal advocate Howard Brown pointed out in a recent presentation, any standard dictionary includes kindness, compassion - and mercy - in its definition of 'humane.' How well an animal may or may not have been cared for up until that moment of ultimate betrayal is beside the point. The act of extinguishing a sentient life stands in stark contrast to what it means to show mercy. 'Humane meat' is an oxymoron.

Human omnivores with the privilege of choice can easily meet all our protein and other nutritional needs on a well-balanced 100% plant-based diet. You can chow down on this hearty kale salad as a meal in itself. I'm sure Esther would approve!

Fireweed's Winter Kale Salad (serves 2 or more)

about the amount of kale to steam for one serving
6-8 large leaves of curly kale
(with thick stalks removed)
4 brown mushrooms
3 or more sun-dried tomatoes
1/4 cup raw hulled sunflower seeds
1 ripe avocado, sliced
1 T. lemon juice
1 T. olive oil
2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. Agave syrup
salt and pepper to taste
optional: 1 T. Hemp hearts

Toast the sunflower seeds in a non-stick or oiled skillet over medium heat, then remove to cool. Tear your de-stalked kale into BIG pieces. Steam lightly in a steamer or with a wee bit of water in the bottom of a lidded pot until only barely wilted. Sure, you could leave your kale completely raw, but gentle steaming changes the texture and volume…a great way to pack more nutritious greens into your diet! Remove from the steamer and when cool to the touch lightly squeeze out any H20. 'Spread' out the wilted leaves and pat dry with a kitchen towel. Now chop into bite-size pieces. Combine dressing ingredients, and toss HALF of that mix well with the kale. Season with salt and pepper. Thinly slice cleaned, firm brown organic mushrooms (I like crimini mushrooms in this dish). Finely chop your sun-dried tomatoes. Mix all ingredients together now, reserving avocado wedges and hemp hearts to add on top. Add extra dressing as required. Bon appetit!

                                     Visit Esther's Kitchen on FB HERE.
Esther peacefully napping- free from harm

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