They put what in animal feed?!?!?!

Like many working moms, I was constantly bombarded by the commercials that state that I am way too busy to make anything myself.  And to be honest, I bought into that and I was spending hundreds of dollars a month and thousands a year buying nutritionally deficient ready made food because I was indoctrinated into thinking that yes, I am way to busy.  I remember I had my freezer stocked with ready made eggplant Parmesan, lasagna, mozzarella sicks, chicken nuggets and a pantry full of a dozen condiments, boxes of broth, canned tomatoes and canned tomato sauce.  And since I am way to busy, my fridge was well stocked with bags of salads. I mean come on, I am way too busy to cut my own vegetables.  What do you mean buy a full chicken and cut it up?  Are you kidding, that would take a full 10 minutes out of my very busy day.  And when I got so busy that I couldn’t even open a bag of salad and put eggplant Parmesan in the oven for my family to eat, we had the wonderful world of takeout.  We had takeout more often than not.  I remember when we moved out to the country, my husband and I lamented on the fact that no takeout place was close enough to us to offer delivery.  Our woes knew no bounds. I am just glad that we woke up before the ready made frozen sandwiches became all the rage!

When we woke up to the fact that we were both now obese and my husband developed type II diabetes and has high cholesterol and sleep apnea. It was time to do something.  So in addition to changing our buying habits and moving away from the conglomerate grocery stores, I started thinking about what is it that we are putting in our bodies.  So I started searching meats.  My husband doesn’t consider that he ate dinner unless there was some type of meat on the table.  I was horrified at what I found.  I am appalled that no one in government considers what happens to these animals on the factory farms as “Animal Cruelty”.

Did you know that the beaks of chickens, turkeys and ducks are often removed in factory farms to reduce the excessive feather pecking and cannibalism seen among stressed, overcrowded birds? Did you know that animals headed for slaughter that become too sick or injured to walk unassisted are forced onto slaughter trucks, often with a bulldozer? Did you know that egg-laying hens are sometimes starved for up to 14 days, exposed to changing light patterns and given no water in order to shock their bodies into molting, a usually natural process by which worn feathers are replaced? It’s common for 5-10% of hens to die during the forced molting process. Did you know that from birth to slaughter at five months, calves used to produce “formula-fed” or “white” veal are confined to two-foot-wide crates and chained to inhibit movement? The lack of exercise retards muscle development, resulting in pale, tender meat.

And if this is not bad enough, many ingredients that are used to feed these poor animals are not the kind of food the animals are designed to eat.  So what is in their feed? Same species meat and other diseased animals!  Do you remember mad cow disease?  How did you think it came about?  Under the current laws, animal feed legally can contain rendered road kill, dead horses, euthanized cats and dogs.  Rendered feathers, hair, skin, hooves, blood and intestines can also be found in feed under the category so fondly known as “animal protein products”.  This is not to mention manure, swine waste and poultry litter.  And if you think this is still not bad enough, how about plastics?  Yes, plastics.  Many animals need roughage to move food through their digestive system.  But instead of using plant-based roughage, animal factories often turn to pellets made from plastics to compensate for the lack of natural fiber in factory feed.

So when it was all said and done, I thought to myself, I would rather be vegetarian than put this garbage in my body.  If an animal is fed these things, then all this filth is in every tissue, fiber, and cell of that animal.  So what I am eating and what I am feeding my family is literally nothing but filth.  So what to do?  You would be surprised how many small farms you have around you.  Eve if you live in an urban setting.  All you need to do is do a little searching.  During my research period, I decided that probably going to a kosher or halal butcher was sufficient.  And Again I was wrong.  The animal may be butchered correctly, but where do you think these butchers get their animals?  So here I go again with the urgency to find a better economical alternative.  I mean I am not made of money and I need to be very frugal.  I searched and searched and couldn’t believe that there was a farm 2 miles from my house that sells pastured organic chickens.  Now the catch is the farmer only has chickens every 4 months and he only grows about 150 of them and they go fast.  He is a little pricey at $3 per pound, but then again organic chicken is around the same price and even if they are fed vegetarian feed, they are still confined and treated badly.  Now the next obstacle, what happens when I need more chicken?  I mean as an American, I am used to going to the store and get anything and everything even if it is not in season.  So the concept that I may not be able to get chickens from him whenever I need them was foreign to me.  But the knowledge of the alternative made me re-adjust my thinking.  So if I buy in bulk from him so that I can ensure my supply for the 4 months until his next batch, then I can have farm fresh chickens always.  After all, the concept of bulk buying is not an unfamiliar one.  So I bought a new freezer and I made a deal with the farmer that I would take 20% of his stock every 4 months. Of course 20% of his stock is a lot, but my sister-in-law was on the same quest and we were in on this together.  So between the both of us, we took close to 30-35 chickens every quarter.  When we first tasted this chicken, we were sold.  I ran out of chicken earlier than anticipated once and I forced my self to get a couple of chickens at the store and I vowed that I would never do that.  I literally said to my family that if for whatever reason we can’t get pastured farm fresh chickens then we are not eating chickens anymore.

I was so happy that I was able to source my poultry.  My next battle was to find the perfect source for beef.  I searched high and low, and did more research and found that the best and healthiest beef was grass fed beef.  So I searched and searched and found a farm about 300 miles away that sells the best grass fed beef.  The kicker was if I buy little by little then the price with the shipping became very prohibitive.  But the more I buy and if I guarantee large quarterly buys, then it is a huge discount.  So again, I went to my sister-in-law and we were able to get our needs for the quarter and double the order and guarantee quarterly order which afforded us free shipping.  The first time I opened a package of the ground beef I knew this was different than any meat I have ever bought.  And the taste was out of this world.  There was no going back to the crap they have in the store and have the nerve to call beef.

You will probably say, I am paying more for meat, so where are the savings?  You are right, I do, but let’s look at it from a different perspective.  I buy my meat from two sources and I pay a sum of money four times a year.  This means I have cut my grocery store visits to only buying vegetables and grains.  And remember if you are making the switch into living unprocessed there will be very little to buy at the store except for veggies, fruits and grains.  How many times did you go to the store to buy a chicken and end up with a couple of bags of groceries?  You won’t have to do that anymore.  Another tip, is that you must have a list before you leave the house.  I buy only what is on the list and according to my set budget for the trip.  This allowed me to save so much money, that I can now afford to spend a little bit more for good quality meats that would have been otherwise out of my reach.  And if that’s not incentive enough, how about me supporting my local economy, which is good for everyone in my community.  It might take a little research, but it is not hard to source your food and live unprocessed.

So what does the government really regulate?

Can you really trust the USDA?  I thought for the longest time if food is being sold in American stores and have the USDA stamp it has to be good for me.  As I delved deeper into this, I realized that special interest and other forces are at work to make sure that their bottom line is the driving force behind any regulation the USDA may place on them, and not consumer protection.  These groups have the influence and the money to put their bottom line before your health.  I have been disappointed so many times and I am so thankful that I now source most of my food and make pretty much most everything from scratch;  that when I hear about recalls for eggs, beef, chicken, spinach, etc.. I can’t help but have a huge grin on my face knowing that I don’t have to rush to my fridge to look at a label to make sure that what I am eating is not tainted.  So a few weeks ago there is a listeria outbreak due to tainted caramel apples where some people died and the message from the government is, don’t worry, there is no reason that would stop you from buying caramel apples.  What!?!? and oh, there is no recall and mums the word.  So what a few people died!!! Are you kidding me??? Of course, my source could also have troubles and there is always a chance, but have you looked at why these big corporate farms are having issues?

The food lobby has done everything in their power to render any regulation of their practices ineffective or very difficult to enforce. They have farm hands that work for these large corporations;  These farm hands don’t have a stake in these farms.  People have to get very ill or even die, before there is a public outrage.  And even then, the outrage is for a brief period of time before we go on to the next scintillating news item.  These farms are not like my local farm, where the farmer works the field himself and feeds his family from the same source he sells to me.  When I go up the street to get my eggs, pick up my veggies or pick up my chicken, I see the animals roaming freely on the farm.  They are not confined in cages with thousands of other animals in deplorable conditions.  When I recently asked my local farmer if he is going to have anymore chickens to spare, his response was I will have to wait because he has to set aside his share for the winter before he is able to sell anymore.  My local farmer feeds his children the same food he sells me.  I will take my chances with him than a factory farm any day.

Do you remember the huge egg recall where half a billion eggs were recalled because of a salmonella outbreak?  The sources of the outbreak were two factory farms where disgusting unsafe conditions were the cause of this contamination.  Now an investigation was launched and it prompted government to say all farms must be inspected.  What is amazing to me is that if you have safety regulation, why aren’t farms inspected in the first place to ensure compliance?  What is the point of a regulation if there are no inspections to ensure compliance? Why do we have to wait for a national catastrophe to start doing something?  Read this USA Today article about the conditions they found on the farms, and like I said before, I will take my chances with my local farmer any day.

If you are saying, that’s ok, I buy cage free and range free eggs and poultry. Have you ever researched what constitutes free range according to the USDA?  The USDA says a farmer can label poultry as “free range” if the poultry is allowed access to the outside.  This means that as long as the birds have access to the outdoors (there is no standard for what that outdoor access is), it can still live in a warehouse style shed with 20,000 other birds and still be labeled “free range.”.  This means also that most of these animals never see the light of day throughout their lives and it does not prevent the factory farm from de-beaking and living in unsanitary and deplorable condition.  What is amusing is that you will pay considerably more for that label.  As a factory farmer, all I need to do is open the door to my shed where I house tens of thousands of birds and the outdoors area can be 1 foot by 1 foot fenced asphalt and I meet the criteria of “free range”.  And not only that, I can charge a whole lot more for them. So the image of chickens running free on the range has no basis in reality when something is labeled as “free range” or “cage free”. That whole thing is a big huge farce!

So when I read such stories like congress passed a bill that would make it possible to say that 2 table spoons of tomato paste on a pizza is considered a serving of vegetable, it is easy to lose faith that our regulatory agencies are there to actually look out for us. They are there to draft unenforceable regulations as our elected officials are influenced by the frozen pizza and fries conglomerates who don’t want to stop selling their products to our already obese children as part of the “healthy school lunch” programs at school.  The more I hear about the state of our food industry and the deteriorating quality of our food, the more I am motivated to continue to live unprocessed.

Oh! The Trials and Tribulations of living unprocessed.

The roller coaster of living unprocessed!!!! I have written about not going into this guns blazing and there is a reason, you can get worn down.  I mean for a middle class family and a working mom, life happens and you slip. Fortunately, it doesn’t take much to bring you back on track.  Your body misses it when you slack.  Your body will rebel and will get mad and will tell you very loudly that I am not happy with this crap you are feeding me.  When you have 75% of your food and products that you use are unprocessed, and you start slacking your body will notice and you won’t feel good.  It is like withdrawal!  But I am back with a vengeance. I have bought my poultry and beef for the year.  My freezer is stocked with  what I need.  I have my yearly supply of grain and nothing can hold me back.  I can’t tell you how much money we have saved this past year.  It is unreal.  Just changing our consumption habits, we have saved on average 500$ a year. Now that I have my system down on a lot of things, I have set my sites on bigger and better things. You might fall off the wagon of living unprocessed, but you quickly come back!

Is there anything out there that is not on the net?

I have learned through this journey that the internet is not just a great place for information, but it is a great place to shop and source your food.  With  today’s technology, you can pretty much ship anything.  I have been able to expand my market place to the entire country.  So far, I have been able to source wheat, herbs and spices and many of my kitchen gadgets for a fraction of the price of what I would have normally spend if I went to a retail store.

For grain, I use an emergency preparedness site to buy my grain.  It is still 20 cents cheaper per pound than a wholefoods.  I buy my 6 month supply and I pretty much guaranteed low or free shipping.  The same is true for spices and herbs which can be quite pricey at the spice isle in the grocery store.  I know! why would you need that much?  well, if you go for the organic high-end herbs, those little bottles add up.  If you buy several herbs in a quarter pound weights, then your cost is pennies on the dollar and you can essentially create any spice or herb blend you need.  I keep all my spices and herbs in the freezer. I also buy my spices whole and grind what I need.  This will allow you to use less more potent spices and they will last for a year or more while keeping their  freshness.

So don’t be afraid of the internet.  It is a great resource for finding great deals and for products that may not be available in your regular stores.  It makes living unprocessed a little bit easier.

Do you really save money?

As I look back on the past two years and think about the changes that we made and has it really saved us that much money? As I look at the food we eat and the money we spend on food, I see a monthly savings of about 15% on average.  Now over a year, that can be substantial.  What is even more amazing is that I am buying top quality ingredients that cost more but I am saving 15% a month doing so.  So how is that possible?  You have to change the way you shop.  Set a budget for each weekly visit and stick to it.  And really, if you source your own food and know exactly where you are getting your poultry, beef, dairy, and produce, you will find that you are more disciplined and you will not be buying all those extras that catch your eye when you go to a one stop shop like a grocery store.  Trust me, it works.

But if you are looking for specific comparisons, I can give you the comparison of making your own butter.  Now when you make your own butter you end up with butter and buttermilk.  So essentially you start with cream and you end up with two products.  When you compare what you pay for really good milk or cream, it is going to be pricey, but trust me; it is not more than buying organic milk from the store.  Wholefoods for example carries creamline lightly pasteurized milk from local farms that pasture their cows and it also carries lightly pasteurized cream from local farms. The price is equivalent to the price of regular Ultra Pasteurized Homogenized organic milk.  I paid about $4.50 per ½ gallon of milk and about the same for a pint of cream.  A quart of cream makes a pound of butter.  You are probably saying good grief that is expensive butter compared to what I buy at the store, but let’s do the math and let us make the right comparisons.  You can’t compare your homemade butter you make with good quality cream to a land-o-lakes tub of butter.  You have to remember why they are so cheap.  They do not use the quality of ingredients you are going to source.  Remember this is corporate processing and the bottom line is more important than your health.

So how do I compare?  When I started this journey, my goal was to break even or even spend a bit more for better and healthier food and I was more than ok with that.  I remember my husband and I sat down one day and did the math as a gauge to see if we were really saving any money.  We compared my butter and buttermilk and crème fraiche to the products you buy at the high-end gourmet food stores. And were both very pleased with the outcome.

Regular Butter Organic Butter Cultured Butter Homemade Cultured or Sweet Butter
$3.70 / Pound $6 / Pound $10 / Pound $10 / Pound of either cultured or sweet + a free Quart of cultured buttermilk (average price at the store is $2.30)

So in reality you are getting homemade cultured butter and cultured buttermilk for the price of regular organic butter.  That is great savings in my book.  Now the enormous savings comes if you make Crème Fraiche which is what you use to make cultured butter.  Crème fraiche is very pricey and was not something I bought on a regular basis and I only used for special occasion.  Let us just say that I now use it for all my cream based recipes. Yes the savings are that huge.  Let’s do the comparison.

Regular Crème Fraiche Homemade Crème Fraiche
$30 / Quart $10 / Quart

And culturing cream is nothing but adding a couple of table spoons of cultured buttermilk to a quart of sweet cream.  As you get adept at this, you will find it is just easier and much cheaper to just buy the freeze dried culture from a cheese making supply online store and it will literally last you several years if stored in the freezer.

Now you can bring the cost down even further if you are able to use fresh raw milk which is normally much cheaper. If you are weary of consuming raw milk, you can pasteurize it your self easily and it will still be far superior to anything you buy at the store whether cream-line or not.

The savings also come from the fact that you don’t go to the store as often and therefore you have less opportunity to spend on other items that you didn’t intend to buy.  Trust me, you will save at least 15% per month.  And even if you don’t save any money just the fact I know what is exactly in my food and what I put in my and family’s body is priceless to me considering the fact that all of my husband’s ailments such as acid re-flux, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and the beginnings of type II diabetes are now a thing of the distant past.

Do you really need 6 heads of lettuce or 20 limes?

As we have gone through this journey, we developed a groove and what would seem as a daunting task to many is truly living for us.  When I started this journey, it started with butter and then I started to think about what I spend my money on. Like many Americans, I loved the Costcos, Sams and BJs out there.  As a matter of fact, I was a member of at least two of the three at one point and had a charge card with one.  I loved the convenience of going into that one store and buying EVERYTHING and in bulk.  That’s what America is all about, supersize everything, even lettuce.  I noticed that I spent on average $300 per visit.  I bought produce, canned foods, ready made meals, paper goods, detergent, etc. in bulk.  I would go once every 6 weeks.  I also noticed that I was throwing out about 20% of the produce that I was buying, because a family of 3 is not going to finish the 6 heads of lettuce, the 10 cucumbers, or the large tub of strawberries in a week or two before the produce go bad.  I was throwing out a lot of food.  Isn’t that money down the drain?  So I started by buying my produce weekly from the local grocery store.  I realized that I cut about 99% of food waste and I was saving at least $50 to $60 per month on just the produce.  What a revelation!

I also started researching produce in the super markets.  Produce are not picked when they are ripe because you have to ship them, so some are quite tasteless.  So I started searching out our local farms, I mean for crying out loud, my house is surrounded by farms.  In the winter, I started going to the local organic market once I realized that they carry local produce when possible.  I also frequented farmers markets in the summer as well as joining a coop in a near by small farm. The difference in taste was astounding.  A peach tasted like a peach, the bananas were sweet and incredible.  These were not Dole bananas on steroids, but they were small organic bananas from Peru where the banana tasted like a banana.  The North Carolina honey crisp apples were to die for.  I started buying my needs for the week.  I knew that my family will consume 5 apples this week, so I only bought 5.  This allowed me to buy the best apples even if the price per pound was much higher than their Costco bulk counterpart.  The key was, I wasn’t throwing out 20% of those bulk apples.  So if you figure that you are going to waste 20% for the apples in bulk, the price per pound is no longer much cheaper.

I started saving more and more as I started buying our weekly needs and being conscious to only spend about $60-$70 per week on produce and milk.  So now that I am saving money on my produce, where else can I save money?  Canned goods, poultry and beef?  I used to buy broth, tomatoes sauce and all of my condiments in bulk.  But did I really need 4 large bottles of mustard?  I also bought huge packs of boneless chicken thighs and breasts all under the guise that buying bulk was cheaper.  So how do I save money there?  Breasts are much more expensive than thighs, so I bought only thighs.  I thought to myself, there is no way I was going to be able to make broth and tomato sauce myself because I don’t have time, so there was no money saving in this area at all. I should just be happy with what I was able to accomplish with the produce.  Boy was I wrong! I hope my next revelation will inspire you to go on your own journey into self sufficiency and truly living unprocessed.

If you buy really good vegetables and greens, you will find that you don’t need all those salad dressings that are meant to cover and coat the veggies to give them some taste, but you will get the taste of each vegetable working in harmony together and all you need to enhance the flavor of the veggies is a little salt and some good finishing oil. Try this recipe and let me know what you think.

Serves 4

1 head of lettuce

a handful of Arugula

One small cucumber

a handful of cherry or grape tomatoes

half a small onion

a handful of spinach

sea salt to taste

black pepper to taste

2 tbl toasted sesame oil

zest of one small lime

juice of one small lime (optional)

Cut the vegetables to your preferred size.  I like smaller pieces.  Make sure that you mince the arugula and the onions; this will ensure that it is fully incorporated and you get the perfect bite each time.

Add the salt, pepper, zest, oil and juice if you are going to use the juice and toss the salad and serve immediately.

You won’t miss the dressing!

Don’t go into this guns blazing!

As I dissect everything we eat and how can I make sure that I remove as much processing as I possibly can, I do find some things are beyond my reach as a working mom.  And I am ok with that.  There is so much you can do and if you go into this with guns blazing, you are going to lose that battle.  You can’t start this lifestyle change at a 100%.  You need to work your way up.  Trust me it will be a lot less painful and you will get into a groove much faster.  Like I said, I started with one thing, butter and I worked my way up.  That doesn’t mean that I don’t try to achieve the elusive 100%, but you have to be realistic.  You will quickly find that almost everything around you is processed.  Even things you didn’t think could possibly be processed are.  Everything has some type of preservative, emulsifier, natural flavor or …. So this is no small task and it is even worse if you are working full time and have a family.  The key is to set for yourself attainable goals.  As you reach your goal, you set the next one.  Start with the things you consume often.

An easy way in which I was able to cut out about 50% of our processing right off the bat without too much trouble or extra work was to limit takeout to one meal a week.  We chose Friday night, because who wants to cook or prepare anything on Friday night.  We also decided no more ready made meals, period.  So what is an easy alternative for those easy to heat up lasagnas and eggplant parmesans?  Slow cooked or casserole meals.  On the weekend spend a couple of hours making a hearty stew, or braised chicken that you can use in different ways.  Roast veggies and keep them in a bag in the freezer to use with Pasta and make fresh pesto and freeze in small portioned containers so that you can easily bring out and thaw and use with pasta.  Make a huge batch of brown rice and freeze in quart bags.  Soups are excellent way to make meals.  This is the case for creamy soups which are most likely pureed.  Some of the soups that I have made in large quantities and have frozen in portioned containers have been cream of mushroom (hold the cream for the freezing, add it when you reheat and ready to serve), root vegetable soup, potato soup and the list goes on and on.  A quick soup and salad dinner with a couple of pieces of homemade toast is a gourmet meal that will rival any high end restaurant.  So essentially, I started making our own ready made meals and that got us half of the way there, with just a little effort.  Oh, and stop buying those bags of salad.  Trust me, you do have 10 minutes to cut up some fresh veggies and greens.

Once you get this down, you can then start concentrating on sourcing your food as this will take quite a bit of research.  If you are very busy, make it into a family project.  After all you are making this change for your family so get them involved.  I know you will have resistance.  My husband was very supportive, but he also brought me down to earth once in a while and at times, he was skeptical or thought I might be going overboard, but as you and your family start seeing the fruits of your labor, you will build enthusiasm and it will become second nature.

If you have small children, this research would be a fun school project for them.  Use every resource you have at home to make life easier for you, and this includes your family.  Look at them as your own labor force and assistants.  If you have teenagers, maybe the incentive would be if you can save us money on finding the perfect meat source, you get a percentage of those savings for a period of time.  If all else fails, bribes work.

If I had to choose one thing that I found to be difficult, but very highly rewarding, it would be sourcing our food.  And when that milestone was achieved, it felt as if you have reached the peak of a mountain and now looking down at the breathtaking view in awe.  It is quite a feeling. Again, it took me over two years to reach the point I am at now, and I still have many things I need to try and have yet to explore.  You also have to understand your saturation point and know when to say it is ok if I don’t bake bread this week and we have to buy bread.  It is not the end of the world.  Trust me you won’t revert back. What you make will be so far superior, you will crave it and can’t be away from it for too long.

Don’t get me wrong, it is not always rosy and easy.  I have come to terms with the fact that it will be very difficult to make my own pasta on a regular basis.  But the alternative is to source the best type of pasta with the least processing I could find.  Being originally from the Middle East, pita is an integral part of my food.  But with limitations on how many pitas fit on the rack in the oven and the labor involved in rolling each pita, it was just not feasible to make pita on a regular basis at home. And I am ok with that.

So what do I do with the failures?  I don’t consider them failures, as I build on my experience and try to see if there is an easier way to accomplish this task and even if I don’t find that way, I try to find the next best thing.  Don’t go into this thinking that everything store bought is evil.  You have to read the labels and try to find the product with the least number of ingredients and definitely one that does not contain preservatives, artificial flavors or additives, and make certain you steer clear of the so called “natural flavor”; There is nothing natural about “natural flavor”.  You also need to understand that your family will not want to entirely give up their Soda, Cheetos, candy, cereal, candy bars, and etc.  So don’t get wrapped up in trying to force this lifestyle down your family’s throat. But what you can control is how much of this stuff is consumed inside the house.  My daughter loves Cheetos and I will buy her Cheetos every once in a while.  She also loves McDonalds fries and yes, I will swing her by for a happy meal every once in a blue moon.

My ultimate goal has always been to be 50-50 and I would consider this success.  The fact that our family has supassed that and we are in the 85% territory, has been a dream come true.  If you don’t go over board and take it one step at a time, you will find it easier to live unprocessed.