Making kind choices in your everyday life.

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Chocolate

Posted by on Apr 20, 2014 in Chocolate, Palm Oil | 0 comments

“Every time you spend money you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want” – Anne Lappe

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I have missed the boat with my intended post about sourcing kind Easter eggs but as chocolate is something that I indulge in EVERY DAY OF MY LIFE, I thought a topic on this essential ingredient in life would not be amiss and would fit in with the Easter theme nicely.

Who would have thought that the seemingly innocuous, delicious taste sensation called chocolate would have such a troubled and sinister background.  Until recently, I had not given much thought to where my chocolate had come from. Hence, I have unwittingly supported child exploitation, unfair pay to cocoa farmers, land clearing and deaths of threatened species such as orangutans and gibbons, ridiculous food miles, land fill bound packaging and premature deaths of calves. Sigh.

I want to continue my daily chocolate consumption but only on the proviso that I am no longer financially supporting such dreadful consequences by asking myself………

  Is it Fair Trade Certified ?

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Most of the world’s cocoa is harvested in West Africa where child labour, exploitation and unsafe working conditions are rife.  Fairtrade International, Rainforest Alliance and UTZ certification ensure that the cocoa is sourced from farmer’s who receive a fair wage and work in good conditions. Appropriate environmental, social and economic standards must also be maintained.

Haighs, Alter Eco, Pana Chocolate, Loving Earth, Rawsome, Daintree Chocolate, Monsieur Truffle,  Cocoa Rhapsody, Bonvita, Cocolo, Spencer Cocoa and Nestle are some of the brands which rate highly in this category but an extensive list of the good, the in between and the bad, can be found here.

Click here to check out World Vision’s very clear synopsis of the big named brands and how they are faring.

World Vision’s “Chocolate’s Bitter Taste” is an interesting read about this topic.

 Is It Dairy Free ?

Not only cruelty free ( re-visit my post on the sad truth behind dairy if you need a reminder) but also the healthiest option – the darker the chocolate, the healthier it is (including lowering blood pressure, improving blood flow,  reducing cholesterol,  being high in antioxidants and improving mood). The more cocoa solids your chocolate contains, the darker it will appear (70% + cocoa content is best). Most mass produced chocolates are made with milk (labelled as milk fat, lactose, whey and other milk derivatives) which makes it creamy and palatable but it inhibits the absorption of the healthy components from cocoa. Here are some wonderful dairy free chocolate options to try ….

Sweet William,  Dark Whittakers,  Lindt Dark Chocolate,  Rawsome,  Daintree Chocolate (using Australian grown cocoa !),  Monsieur Truffle,  Cocoa Rhapsody,  Tropical Source,  Bonvita,  Noble Choice,  Pana Chocolate,  Constant Craving,  Cocolo and  Loving Earth.

Does it contain Palm Oil ?   

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Having travelled to Borneo about 8 years ago and seeing the devastation caused by the world’s greedy desire for palm oil (found in approximately 50% of products on the supermarkets shelves – with chocolate being a significant contributor) first hand, this issue is a big one for me. What used to be beautiful forests and homes to exquisite animals are now just depressing palm plantations as far as the eye can see.  Orangutans have diminshed by 50% in the past 10 years as palm oil plantations destroy their habitat. So tragic and sad.

Palm oil free chocolate includes Haigh’s Chocolate, Whittaker’s, Lindt Excellence and Lindt Creation blocks, Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate blocks – Dairy Milk, Old Gold & Dream, Cradbury Green & Black’s chocolate blocks (except Butterscotch and Raisin & Hazlenut), Choceur, Just Organics and Moser-Roth from Aldi.  Smaller companies  like Pana Chocolates  and Cocolo also need commending for their non palm oil usage.

Menz chocolates and Nestle use Sustainable Palm Oil. My first thought would have been just to boycott any product containing palm oil but, as this enlightening article explains, boycotting is not always the best answer and can sometimes be counter-productive.

I am on a massive learning curve regarding palm oil and which products to avoid as a result of its presence. I have found the following websites / facebook pages to be teeming with information and I am looking forward to the palm oil app (by Palm Oil Investigations) to make my shopping experience that little bit easier. Our government needs to get with the program and ensure “truth in labelling” which is lacking at the moment. Many products containing palm oil use the deceptive description of “vegetable oil”  instead on their ingredient’s list. Until such laws are passed, it is up to us all to do our homework so we can make our own informed decisions.

Palm Oil : Products on Australian Shelves that Contain Palm Oil

Shopping Guide to buying responsibly

Say No to Palm Oil

Having weighed up the plethora of information out there…… The Chocolate Winners…….. who have won my ample future patronage are :

Haigh’s :  If I was more organised / informed this year, I would have bought some dark Easter eggs from here. Palm oil free, Australian, recycled and recyclable packaging, sponsors of the bilby and  UTZ certified and dairy free options available.

Pana Chocolate : Vegan, recycled & biodegradable packaging, Australian made, uses fair trade & organic ingredients and palm oil free. Unfortunately, it will be reserved for the odd treat in my life..I am happy and expect to pay more for an ethical product but at $6.50 for 45 grams there will be no Pana Chocolate binges for me. Tantalising flavours such as Cinnamon and Fig & Wild Orange (get out !) are available. The  Ethical Consumer Guide lists them as an “outstanding product”. 

Cocolo  : Another Ethical Consumer guide “outstanding product”. We have been devouring the mint chip flavour with a vengeance in our house. At around $5-ish for 100g, it will not break the bank but it will have me questioning a 3rd square (for which my hips and thighs will thank me for). Only downside that I can find is the food miles that it clocks up as it is made in Switzerland.

Alter Eco : Vegan options, fair trade and organic certified, use coconut oil rather than palm, not crazy expensive (around $5-ish for 100g) and tried and tested to be delicious (especially the Dark Quinoa – reminds me of “Crunch” chocolate). Again, it has the downside of food miles as it is produced in Switzerland.

Funky Chocolat : This is an Australian company which ticks every single box (ie vegan, palm oil free, Australian made, environmentally friendly packaging) with the added bonus of the fact that the profits go to animal, women and child related charities world wide. It is also, however, in my case anyway, prohibitively expensive but for those who can afford it, this would have to be one of  the most eco friendly chocolate companies around.

Or…….you can always make your own ! I like the look of this one….Vegan Chocolate Vanilla Cream Easter Egg.

 

 

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Meat Free Week – it’s here again !

Posted by on Mar 22, 2014 in Recipes - Savoury | 4 comments

“For the sake of some little mouthful of flesh we deprive a soul of the sun and the light, and of that proportion of life and time it had been born into the world to enjoy” – Plutarch.

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Image from Voiceless

It is Meat Free week next week (24th – 30th March 2014). The Meat Free Week website is a wealth of information from recipes to facts on why eating meat (particularly factory farmed meat) at the rate we currently do is bad for our health, the environment and, of course, the animals involved.

To celebrate this awareness raising week, I want to share my top 3 vegetarian recipe recent discoveries . They have been tried, tested and devoured many times in our house. You can also head on over to any of my previously posted recipes for some more guaranteed uncomplicated, mouthwatering creations (my spicy lentil and zuchhini soup found in this post remains one of my quick, mid week specialties and my pad kee mao is a must) Anybody who knows me will be able to vouch for how “good on the tooth” I am so, be assured, any recipe I share will be keepers (and you will no doubt uncover my shameless, unabated love affair with garlic and quinoa).

Number One : Smokey Corn and Quinoa Chowder. Adapted from The Vegan Pantry. Serves 4.

Ingredients : 1 tablespoon oil, 3 cloves of garlic – crushed, 1 diced brown onion, 1/2 cup quinoa, 1 teaspoon of chilli flakes or ground chilli, 1 teaspoon of smoked paprika, kernels from 2 corncobs, 4 diced potatoes, 1 400g-ish tin of kidney beans, 1 400g-ish of tinned crushed / diced tomatoes, 1 tablespoon of tomato paste, 1/2 teaspoon of liquid smoke (great stuff btw, for that delicious smoky taste), 5 cups of vegetable stock, salt and pepper.

Do : Saute garlic and onions in oil in large pot for a couple of minutes. Add everything else and simmer for 40 minutes.

You can top with many things, including sour cream (tofutti sour cream is very nice if you want to stay animal product free). I opted to top with a generous dollop of  homemade Tzatziki which I made as follows :

Ingredients : 200g Greek Yogurt (sourced from a kind dairy), 1 Lebanese cucumber – seeded and grated, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 4 cloves minced garlic, squeeze of lemon juice.

Do : Mix together.

Number Two : Beetroot falafels. Thanks to the consistently wonderful The Kind Cook. Makes about 10 balls.

Ingredients : 1 packet of falafel mix, 1 grated small beetroot, 1 handful parsley, 1 handful coriander, 2 minced garlic cloves, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, pepper to taste.

Do : Prepare falafel mix as per instructions on packet (takes 5-10 minutes). Whilst doing this grate 1/2 cup of beetroot and chop parsley and coriander. Mix everything together. Roll mixture into golf ball sized balls. Shallow fry in rice bran oil and drain on paper towel.

It is up to you what you eat them with but we have them with pitta bread, quinoa tabbouleh and spicy hummus.

Number three :  Thai Red Curry Pumpkin soup with “prawns”. Adapted from a recipe by Michelle Southan. Serves 3-4.

Ingredients : 2 tbsp peanut oil, 1 chopped brown onion, 2 tbsp red curry paste, 3 cups vegetable stock, 1.3kg butternut pumpkin chopped and peeled, 2 kaffir lime leaves, 1 cup of coconut milk, 1/3rd cup chopped corriander leaves, lime wedges to serve, 275g Lamyong Vegan Prawns (believe it or not, they look and taste like real prawns).

Do : Heat oil in large saucepan, add onion until soft and add curry paste, stirring continuously, until aromatic. Stir in stock and bring to boil. Add pumpkin and kaffir lime leaves. Reduce heat, cover and cook for 30 minutes. Remove from heat and blitz however you can (I use a handheld blender), leaving a few lumpy pumpkin bits. Place over low heat and add coconut milk, stir until heated through. On the side, fry “prawns” in  oil and add to soup. Top with coriander and a few squeezes of fresh lime juice.

Feeling inspired for some more vegi cooking ?? Subscribe to these sites, they are my top 3 vegetarian (mainly) Australian bloggers.

The Kind Cook

The Mindful Foodie

My Darling Lemon Thyme

Are you going to participate in meat free week ? Would love to know how you found it ! Do you have a favourite vegetarian recipe to share with the world – if so, please post in the comments section below x

 

 

 

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Living without eggs

Posted by on Mar 15, 2014 in Eggs | 2 comments

“The worst sin toward our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them, that’s the essence of inhumanity” – George Bernard Shaw

 

male chick

Photo from Animals Australia

 

Even with the free-est of free range eggs available as discussed in my last post, some people still choose to banish eggs from their diet. Why so ?

As with the dairy issue, the avoidance of eggs on animal welfare grounds does, at first glance, seem a bit far fetched and fanatical . Alas, as with so many of these animal and environmental issues, the more you read and educate yourself, the clearer (and less nutty!) such choices become.

The factors about egg production which have weighed on my moral, still egg eating, brow are these ones :

* Male chicks are killed in their first day of life by being gassed or ground up alive. They are considered to be waste products of the egg industry and 12 million baby chicks lose their lives like this each year in Australia. This happens in hatcheries which go on to provide chicks to backyard chook owners, battery cage “farms” and organic / free range farms. So, unless you hatch your own eggs and keep the baby chick regardless of its gender, this is what we are buying into. Rather arrogant and cruel of us.

* The egg is the end result of the hen’s menstruation cycle –  the eating of which is, therefore, a bit gross.

* With a growing population and shrinking arable farming land, how can our insatiable demand for eggs be humanely  met ? This is usually the battery hen farmers feeble argument to defend their cruel practice but there is some validity in it. In the ideal world, where all egg laying hens were free with ample room to move, where are they all going to go ?? You can help reduce humans’ greedy demand by reducing your own usage.

 * Even in the free range / organic egg world, hens are sent to slaughter when they cease being an economically viable commodity. This equates from 18 months to 3 years (when their egg production wanes) when they would, if it wasn’t for us, live to around 10 years. No matter how idyllic their free range roaming life was, the end result (ie the abbattoir)  is not a good one. And what a way to repay an animal for providing her eggs to us for her short life.

So, what on earth can little ol’ you do ??……….

Reduce / eliminate eggs from your diet. It is actually surprisingly easy to use less eggs.  When baking, I use either No Egg or Chia Seeds as a replacement. You can also use apple sauce, bananas, flax seeds or silken tofu as detailed here. All cheaper and healthy options which do work as binders very well.

You can make everything typically made with eggs……..sans eggs…….from Scrambled TofuChickpea Omelettes (have made these, big thumbs up), mayonnaise zucchini frittersegg nogfrittatas (vouched for as being delicious and eerily frittata like !) to banana bread……you can even make creme brulee. There is a wonderful ingredient known as black salt too (which is actually pink !) which you can buy from any Indian grocer. It gives everything a convincing sulfuric-y egg like flavour (and that eggy farty smell!).

Do not fear the “Vegan” options : Many of these products taste every bit of good as what you may consider the “real thing”. I have yet to try and make my own mayonnaise (languishing on the “to do one day” list) so I buy “Organic Egg Free Mayo“. I challenge you to do a taste test between this one and the normal, egg filled one as you will be struggling to tell the difference.

Buy Kindly and Thoughtfully : Be mindful when you are eating out that the vast majority of eateries will be using caged eggs in their dishes and as ingredients. Do not be coy to ask if there are any egg free options or simply ask for them to not include the egg in a particular dish (eg : Pad Kee Mao – tastes no different without eggs). Or choose to eat somewhere that gives you more egg free options……

I am a big fan of those little, thoughtful companies who do the right thing by the animals. It is much more satisfying to hand over your money to those who support cruelty free initiatives in their delicious treats than those who do not care. If you get a chance, indulge yourself with something scrumptious from one of these little, kind, local businesses :

* Mad Hatter Cup Cakery in Darlinghurst, Sydney. Divine animal product free cup cakes in cute surrounds. My fella recently rated their triple chocolate cupcake as the best he has ever had. (Update – sadly they have recently closed but “like” them on facebook and some delicious egg free baking recipes will come to you).

* Addiction Food. They make sublime brownies, truffles, slices etc and support nice charities like Sea Shepherd. Widely available, mainly in Sydney.

* Gingerbread Folk : Blue Mountains based company who make egg free gingerbread treats.

* Rubyfruit : The only bad thing about this place is that it is far from me, in Leura. I have visited here numerous times and every thing I have eaten here from pies to cupcakes is heavenly.

* Mister Nice Guy’s Bakeshop : In Melbourne (sigh) and the scene of where I learnt just how good (actually, superior), plant based baking could be.

Not food related but relevant all the same…..the Jumping for Joy series by  photographer Tamara Kenneally will bring you greeting cards or posters teeming with images of happy rescued battery hens literally leaping with joy. I have some packs of greeting cards on stand by – they are suitable for all occasions – new baby, birthdays etc and are gorgeous. Plus, they help fund Tamara’s work which involves photographing factory farmed animals to help expose this cruel, hidden world.

Label Stalk : Omigoodness, when you become a seasoned label stalker you will realise just how many products that eggs are actually in. Unless stated otherwise (exceedingly rare)….these eggs will have come from a hideous battery cage facility. Who wants to unravel all their good work by seeking out the best free range eggs or eliminating them, only to find that they are unwittingly consuming caged eggs via their mayonnaise, pastry, wine, hot cross buns, muffins, cake mix and the list goes on…. ? Try and avoid these items, and substitute with kinder options, or make your own versions, it is easier than you think !

Rescue some ex battery hens : If you are keen to keep a few eggs in your diet and want to do it in the kindest way possible, this would have to be the best way of doing it (and you by-pass the buying from the male chick killing hatchery dilemma). You would need to be willing to accept an unreliable and low supply of eggs and to care for the chooks for their lifespan and tend to any health issues they may come with. I am sure that the rewards of giving a few of these poor girls a taste of the good life, in exchange for the odd egg, would be plentiful. It is something I would love to do.  NSW Hen Rescue is the go to place to adopt ex battery hens in NSW. Homes for Hens is based in Brisbane and they have some great information on the page about caring for ex battery hens. My first point of call would be one of the many fantastic animal sanctuaries we have in Australia who will be able to point you in the right direction and/or enable you to adopt from them. These sanctuaries include Little Oak Sanctuary near Canberra, Edgars Mission in Victoria and A Poultry Place and Signal Hill Sanctuary in Yass, NSW.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How to buy the free-est of free range eggs

Posted by on Mar 9, 2014 in Eggs | 0 comments

“It is our choices, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities” – J K Rowling

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These photos depict some very lucky, happy chooks. They sleep in an enclosed yard with a cosy shelter and run rampant during the day on the property. They live (and supplied our morning eggs) at my favourite “escape from Sydney” getaway – Mill Paddock Cottage, in Mountain Lagoon.

If, like me, you are not lucky enough to have sufficient land and/or knowledge to house your own band of merry egg producing chooks, you need to buy eggs from the shop.  Many people (actually 60% according to a recent Choice survey) make the effort to only buy free range eggs which is a wonderful thing and shows that peoples’ views are changing as industries become exposed and we become more educated about what really goes on in the despicable world of factory farming.

However, this perplexing world we live in does not like to make things easy for us to be kind. Labeling is confusing and deceptive and uses words such as “farm fresh”, “vegetarian” and “eco”  to try and conjure up an image which is far from reality. Businesses prey on people’s desire to do the right thing. There are no standardised guidelines about what “free range” actually means.

Most of the free range eggs you see in the major supermarkets (at around the $5 – $6 a dozen price range) fit into the highly questionable box in my opinion. In fact, half of the free range eggs sold in Australia come from only 3 producers (Novo, Pace Farm and Manning Valley) and some squeeze 20,000 – 40,000 birds into a hectare despite the Model Code capping it at 1,500 birds per hectare.  Although Coles and Woolies appear to be do the right thing by banning the sale of their own branded caged eggs, they have set their own, arbitrary stocking density rates at 10,000 birds / hectare (this equates to 1 bird per square meter). At such high numbers, the vision one would expect from the description of free range is not viable.

So, to make the right choice, first check out this chart put out by Animals Australia which simplifies the egg world jargon.

egg-chart

Furthermore, there are reliable accreditation bodies which can point you in the right direction. Humane Choice and Certified Organic have the most rigorous standards – including low stocking densities, no beak or wing clipping and independent audits and are a great place to start in terms of buying genuinely free range eggs. To compare the 6 accreditation bodies so you are further informed, just click here for Sustainable Table’s great guide.

This guide – Animal Welfare Labels is very informative about many of the eggs you would of seen on the supermarket shelves.

This guide from Flavour Crusader is a fantastic one for exploring all the smaller, independent egg producers available out there.

My little family goes through about a dozen eggs in 10 days. I usually buy either Organigrow, Egganic or Organic Eggs from Clarendon Farms  (I find them at Thomas Dux supermarket) as they tick all the right boxes for me and I feel confident that I am actually getting what I pay for (which is around the $9-$10 / dozen mark). As is a running theme in my blog, the kindest options are overwhelmingly the most expensive ones (for good reason) so just eat less of a good thing – or even eat none at all. This is what Part 3 of this egg topic will be about. Why do some people choose not to eat eggs ? How does one cook without this apparently staple ingredient ? What about all the products we buy that contain caged eggs ?

As for wanting free range eggs when you are out and about at your favourite cafe or restaurant, the RSPCA do have their Shop Humane initiative to locate cafes who use “humanely produced” (I use this term loosely and with some reservation) animal products including eggs. I like the Organigrow link which shows which restaurants /cafes which use their genuinely free range eggs. Otherwise, unless you ask, the assumption would have to be that they use caged eggs.

I have gathered together some interesting articles which I found interesting  in case you want to be the best informed free range egg buyer around.  I would love your feedback on this topic – what do you look for when buying eggs ?

10,000 eggs to a hectare is no free range : ACCC

Plan hatched to crack row over egg labelling (SMH)

Free range egg definition change rejected  (SMH)

With Eggs, some chooks are freer than others (SMH)

– Interesting contrast of opinion between the Australian Egg Corporation Ltd and the Free Range Egg and Poultry Ass. of Australia

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Caged Eggs

Posted by on Mar 2, 2014 in Eggs, Factory Farming | 0 comments

“Imagine being trapped for your reproductive system. For your entire life. Then all the thanks you are given for it is death” – Tamara Kenneally (photographer).

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One of the beautiful girls we met at Little Oak Sanctuary

I find it very disturbing that NSW’s Primary Industries Minister Katrina  (“I’m perfectly comfortable with purchasing caged eggs”) Hodgkinson buys caged eggs. Not only would she be on a substantial income but her portfolio involves looking at all things to do with farmed animals.

I wish that she would remember that these birds are living, thinking, feeling creatures and not machines to do with what we wish. Smart, inquisitive birds squeezed on top of each other in ammonia filled sheds….standing on sloping wire 24 hours a day, having no room to stretch their wings or experience sunlight. Their sensitive beaks are clipped shortly after birth, their freedom and joy is non existent. How is this legal in our country ? (aside from the ACT that is, as of a few days ago – woohooo !).  11 to 12 millions hens in Australia currently exist like this before being ripped from their cages at around 18 months of age to be slaughtered when their egg production wanes. All in the name of our insatiable desire for cheap and plentiful eggs. Approximately 70% of eggs consumed in Australia are still produced by the systematically cruel battery cage method. There is clearly enormous room for improvement.

As per all factory farming, it is easy to forget about these hens as they are hidden from the consumers’ eyes in far away sheds. Luckily, for the curious and kind consumer, there are numerous websites to unveil what is deliberately hidden from us. This series of photos by the talented and brave photographer Tamara Kenneally is my favourite. Her photos do not need facts, figures and commentary. They speak for themselves.

As a city slicker, I have not had much experience with hens so was intrigued by meeting some on my recent visit to Little Oak Sanctuary which rescues an array of farmed animals. There was a beautiful bevy of recently rescued battery hens who’s enthusiasm for everything (bugs, our shoe laces, dirt scratching, running maniacally) was endearing. The thought of their previous lives of deprivation and pain was bitter sweet.

Meeting these ex battery hens made me all the more determined to make kind and considered choices for, amongst many things, eggs. Unfortunately, it is not quite as simple as buying a carton of free range eggs from the supermarket……we all need to consider the myriad of other quandaries :

Just how free range are your eggs ?

Are there any ethical dilemmas with buying even the kindest of free range eggs ?

What about all the foods we eat that unwittingly contains caged eggs ? By eating such foods are we really only making a token effort with our free range egg buying habits ?

Is egg free baking / cooking the real deal ?

These issues will be explored in part 2 & 3 of my posts about eggs….stay tuned ! In the meantime, please view this short clip from Animal’s Australia. The footage of the hen’s only experience of the outside world on her way to be slaughtered (at the 6 minute mark of the video) never fails to bring tears to my eyes and keeps me inspired to stay informed about the evils of factory farming and all the alternatives available to me.

Would love to hear any comments you have to make about this topic.

Want to know a bit more ?

Australian Egg Farming : The Inside Story

Battery Hens : Voiceless

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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