August 30, 2011

Book Review: Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat

I was invited to participate in another virtual book tour being hosted by TLC earlier this summer, and having had so much fun with the previous one, I was eager to take part. This book is very different from the novel that I reviewed last summer, but the topic is one that I have pondered on my own many times over the years, especially as our family grows more of our own food, with livestock becoming a part of that move towards self sufficiency. 

Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat, by anthrozoologist Hal Herzog, is a fascinating look at the human relationship with animals. The author challenges some of our most deeply held thoughts and beliefs, exploring personal, religious and cultural biases. He plays devil's advocate while questioning why people believe what they do, without being condescending. For instance, why do many of us abhor the idea of cockfighting, yet will happily eat battery raised chicken? Herzog would argue that the fighting bird lives a much better life in its two years of "training" than a meat bird could ever dream of:

"Looked at objectively, it is hard to deny that there is less suffering caused by cockfighting than in our apparently insatiable demand for chicken flesh. It is likely that 10,000 or 20,000 chickens have their necks slashed in a mechanized processing plant for each gamecock that dies in a derby. And there is the inconvenient fact that the life of a fighting cock is fifteen times longer and infinitely more pleasurable than the life of a broiler chicken. Why then is it legal for us to kill 9 billion broiler chickens every year, but cockfighting can get you hard time in the federal penitentiary?"

Herzog is certainly not a proponent of cockfighting, he even goes to the trouble to buy humanely raised meat and free range chicken for his family, but he does a good job of holding a mirror up to our society's often distorted sense of morality. To his credit, he counts himself among the rest of us when pointing out the flaws in our collective thinking, acknowledging that "human attitudes toward other species are inevitably paradoxical and inconsistent".

He also speaks at length about vegetarianism and the attitudes behind it, as well as the phenomenon of ex-vegetarians (which outnumber their vegetarian counterparts 3 to 1 apparently, and of which I am one). It was a progression that I easily related to, and I thought he nailed the reasoning that leads to this lifestyle for many people. I was "reformed" from my vegetarianism when I realized that animals were going to die whether I ate them or not (I blame 70's Disney movies for my warped relationship with animals), and in the wild it's often a long, slow, painful death. If we give our meat animal of choice a humane life and a dignified death, that makes it okay to eat them, doesn't it? (Who am I kidding? I'm as likely to eat my chickens as I am to eat my cat, dog or rabbit).

These kinds of convenient rationalizations are the crux of Herzog's book, and while he doesn't provide us with clear answers as to why our moral relationship with animals is so murky, he lets us off the hook by acknowledging that "these sorts of contradictions are not anomalies or hypocrisies. Rather, they are inevitable. And they show we are human".

I thoroughly enjoyed Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat. It's funny and thought provoking, and I've found myself talking about it on several occasions over the past few weeks. I highly recommend it for anyone who lives with, despises, or eats animals.

Hal Herzog's website:
His blog: Animals and Us

August 26, 2011

Spilling the Beans

Sorry, this isn't the confessional post that that title would suggest.

Having been vegetarians for so long, our family has always eaten a lot of beans. We do eat meat these days, but beans are still a delicious, protein packed staple in our house.

While canned beans are a quick and easy way to incorporate legumes into your diet, you end up paying dearly for that convenience (upwards of $3 a can if you buy organic). I've also found that I often end up using a partial can, leaving the rest to dry out and get lost in the depths of my fridge. Canned beans are an all around money waster.

Black  beans after a nice, long soak.

A better idea is to buy a big bag of dried beans and cook them yourself (and if you have a pressure cooker, this is a much faster process). Lately I've been soaking and cooking large batches of black beans and chick peas at the same time (to save myself some time). These are the two kinds of beans that I use most often, but it works with any kind of dried bean.

Once they're cooked and cooled, I spread them out on a baking sheet like I do with my berries, freeze them until solid, and then I scoop them into freezer bags for safe keeping.

When I need a handful of black beans to sprinkle on top of nachos, or chick peas for my tabouli salad, I just take what I need, thaw them out (a microwave does this handily), and Bob's your uncle. It's a cheap and convenient solution, and the texture of the beans doesn't seem to suffer from being frozen. It's win/win.

Boy does it feel good to get that off my chest!

August 17, 2011

Saltspring Island 2011

We returned from our annual pilgrimage to Saltspring Island last week, and I thought I'd share a few photos.

Misty morning at Ruckle Park.

We shared breakfast with a hungry sea otter:

(Well, he didn't actually share, but that was just fine with me).

Spent the mornings exploring the tide pools with Grandma:

The tide pools are teeming with life. The kids love tickling the sea anemones and catching hermit crabs:

I think we got the best camp site in the park this year!

Couldn't resist taking a couple (dozen) photos of the Arbutus trees:

My son relaxing during our walk to the old Ruckle family farm.

The nearby farm has a large flock of free ranging turkeys. I just love the sweet sound they make (and no, it's not "gobble gobble"!).

I heart this old farmhouse kitchen!

Just as we were about to leave the farm, my daughter noticed that a turkey poult had escaped from the shed where his family was being kept. After about 15 minutes of trying to catch the little guy, we finally reunited him with his frantic mother:

I never get tired of this place.

August 16, 2011

Book Review: Keeping Bees

I've just had a look at a new book called "Keeping Bees", by Pam Gregory and Claire Waring (the book is part of Flame Tree Publishing's Green Guides series). Claire Waring was a contributing writer to The Beekeeper's Bible, which I read and thoroughly enjoyed last summer.

At first glance, the book appears to be very simplistic, with lots of photos and the text broken down into easily readable snippits. But, while it is clearly aimed at the rookie beekeeper, the book is in-depth and comprehensive, covering a wide range of topics, and is the perfect resource for someone just starting out. The photos are beautiful as well as educational, and the simple format makes the wealth of information easy to digest. Especially helpful are the summaries at the end of each chapter which highlight the most important points.

What I liked most about Keeping Bees was the relaxed, supportive tone. The authors never seem to take the stance that there's only one way to do things, and they actually encourage us to get information from a wide range of sources. They even provide an extensive resource list for those wishing to do further research, which is very useful, because as the authors point out, "There is a wealth of information about beekeeping. Unfortunately it ranges from the bonkers to the old-fashioned with all shades of helpful between these extremes, and it is very hard for the new beekeeper to unravel what is useful".

Keeping Bees takes a somewhat intimidating subject matter and makes it very accessible to the novice beekeeper. I can see myself drawing from it heavily when we finally make the jump into "bee farming".

For more information on Flame Tree Publishing and their books (I see that they have a Keeping Chickens guide as well!), check them out on Facebook and Twitter (@flametreetweet).

August 03, 2011

Dust Bowl

We've had such a cool, wet summer around these parts that it's been branded the "bummer summer" by some. If we ever do finally get a nice, hot day (or heaven forbid, two in a row), it's almost sure to rain within 48 hours. Needless to say, there haven't been nearly enough beach days for our liking, and I'm starting to worry that we're not going to meet our quota for this year. The upside to this is that I haven't had to water my garden once this summer, and our grass is still nice and green.

Dark Brahma sisters enjoying a bath.

Thankfully (as far as these two are concerned) our soil is so devoid of organic matter that it dries out very quickly, making the conditions perfect for a dust bath. The hens routinely dig great pits in their attempts to get "clean", and I have had to fence off several of my beds in order to give the plants a fighting chance. Sometimes I wonder what the heck I was thinking when I decided to share my garden with these chicks, but they derive so much joy from this simple activity that I don't have the heart to deny them, and have surrendered several prime planting areas to their fowl ways.

The one busy shaking herself off is Pippin' (or "eagle bait" as she's fondly referred to around here). Not only did she survive being grabbed in the head by an eagle in April, but when he came back six weeks later and tried to pick her up by the back, she just shook it off and trotted back to the coop like nothing happened.

With a "pair" like that, I think the girl is entitled to a dust bath or two.


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