Saturday, March 4, 2017

Very Good! - March, 2017

                                  by Fireweed for the Island Word, March 2017 issue

        P.T. Barnum, the old-time American showman and circus operator, is often
associated with the phrase “there is no such thing as bad publicity.” Of course animal advocacy in the 19th century didn't have the outreach ability it has today to expose what goes on behind closed doors. 

      When Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus finally announced in 2015 that they would phase out their iconic elephants, a significant “mood shift” in their consumer base was cited as the reason for that decision. Now in its 146th year, the self-proclaimed 'greatest show on earth' will close its doors for good after a final performance this spring. Societal change never happens overnight, nor in a vacuum. However, public concern for the way animals are treated is continuing to grow, and new doors are opening for enterprise of all kinds dedicated to a more compassionate world.

     The grand opening I attended at the end of February for the Very Good Butchers' storefront in Victoria's Public Market was a perfect example of just how hungry people are for cruelty-free alternatives to business as usual. Specializing in organic,100% plant-based meats hand-crafted on Denman Island, proprietors Tania Friesen and James Davison and their hard-working team experienced the kind of immediate success in the capital city that most smaller-scale food outlets only dream of! Thanks in part to an unanticipated level of exposure through tv, radio and social media, close to 1000 people showed up and the Very Good Butchers were virtually sold out within hours. In a fortuitous twist of fate just prior to the opening, even online backlash from critical carnivores turned beneficial. It resulted in CTV news hour extending their acknowledgement of the vegan deli's opening over a second day in a row! Indeed, a little P.T. Barnum-style publicity can certainly come in handy.
A VERY GOOD Very Good Butchers' sandwich!
 It is, of course, all the positive reviews the Very Good Butchers are receiving for their delicious selection of plant-based burgers, meat balls, sausages, etc., that show the promise of a steady customer base. Folks who waited in line on Feb. 25th but ended up having to go home empty-handed were offered a complimentary discount applicable to any return visit purchase. And it's not just vegans and vegetarians the Very Good Butchers are aiming to please. Curious omnivores are expected to make up the bulk of their market as more and more seek to reduce and/or eliminate their consumption of animal products in favour of personal health, compassion for animals and environmental sustainability.

 “We were motivated to help omnivores feel comfortable, even through our choice of brand name,” explains Tania Friesen, make the switch less overwhelming. We know that giving up familiar comfort foods is often the biggest challenge.” 

       It is unconscionable that cows should remain the elephant in the room in so many environmental and political circles today, while protein-rich plant foods are known to be far friendlier for the environment and healthier for people. In a 2016 study from the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, Alfredo Mejia, Dr. PH., an associate professor of nutrition at Andrews University, and lead author on the study, found that producing plant-based meat alternatives generates “approximately 10 times less greenhouse gas emissions than producing comparable beef-based products.” 

      The Very Good Butchers are clearly on the right track. They are also the first of their kind on the west coast and only second to Toronto's YamChops plant-based butcher in all of Canada. According to the Plant Based Foods Organization in California, increasing consumer demand is driving unprecedented growth in this industry and the global plant-based meat market is projected to reach nearly $6 billion US by 2022! In 2016 YamChops was selected as a hot investment opportunity on the Dragons' Den (CBC's reality tv show featuring entrepreneurs looking for financial support from venture capitalists) and that business is now looking to franchise in seven additional North American cities. Not one, but two Yamchops outlets are already planned for  Vancouver. The timing is definitely right for the Very Good Butchers to carve out a niche all their own. But these are still early days. Supplying other restaurants and retail outlets already interested will have to wait if the Very Good Butchers' own storefront sales continue to exceed all expectations! Watch for an upcoming Kickstarter campaign to help purchase additional equipment that would increase the company's production capabilities.

Theo @ RASTA -  forever free from harm!
    These young entrepreneurs are already providing full or part-time employment for at least a dozen people including folks on Denman Island. It's great to know they don't regard BC's minimum wage as a living wage, and have no intentions of hiring labour at less than $15 an hour. And what a thoughtful gesture to tithe 10% of their opening day's revenue to important community causes. This generous donation has been shared between the Victoria Women's Transition House Society, and RASTA (Rescue and Sanctuary for Threatened Animals) in Chemainus on Vancouver Island.

      The Very Good Butchers plan to be open seven days a week in Victoria, and will continue to have many of their popular items available on Denman as well. Visit their website : for a sampling of their menu selection, hours of operation and other details. You can also find and follow them right HERE on Facebook.

This month's recipe for The Transition Kitchen is a simple, but delicious slaw that makes a perfect side for any plant-based meat main, or a meal in itself. Bon apetit!

Fireweed's Spring Thaw Slaw (but tasty any time of the year!)

Organic Ingredients:
3 cups of green cabbage (any kind), thinly sliced
1 cup purple cabbage, thinly sliced
1 cup of coarsely grated carrots
1/4 cup raisins, golden or regular sultana
1/2 cup chopped red apple
1/4 cup roasted sunflower seeds* (see directions below)
2 tsps. of lemon juice
1 tsp. agave or maple syrup
dash of umeboshi plum vinegar (optional)
sea salt and gresh ground black pepper to taste
3 or 4 T. egg-free mayo (Vegannaise, Just Mayo, or homemade)

     I like to toast my raw unsalted, shelled sunflower seeds in a seasoned cast iron pan on the stovetop. Use low to medium heat, stirring attentively with a wooden spoon. You can do a larger quantity than the recipe calls for and store the extra for another day. They will burn quickly if the heat is too high, so if you decide to prep your other ingredients while they are roasting you might be sorry (speaking from experience once too often here!) Remove your toasted seeds from the pan when they have browned slightly and set aside on a plate to cool.

     Next, shred your carrots on a grater and press out any excess moisture as required. Chop your cored apple (I leave the skin on), and toss with the lemon juice which will prevent any browning.  If you use a firm green cabbage (rather than a soft Chinese cabbage) slice that next as thinly as possible and combine with the apples and carrots. At this stage I add my dash of plum vinegar, agave or maple syrup, and season with salt and pepper. Add your vegan mayo next, before folding in the purple cabbage, raisins and seeds. TIP: adding the purple cabbage at the last minute prevents turning the whole dish pink if you make this slaw ahead of time to serve guests. It does hold up well in the fridge for a day or so. Save a few of the raisins and seeds to sprinkle on top of your serving to dress up the presentation, and enjoy!

FOR THE BIRDS - Feb. 2017

by Fireweed for the Island Word, February 2017 issue

      I haven't always been quite so interested in chickens...but that was before I met Sybil.

She was born in a rural classroom incubator with a slight deformity, never standing a chance at the bottom of the pecking order among her own kind. And so this wee bird joined our human family on the farm one summer and we bonded as she grew. Sybil knew her name and would come racing up to the farmhouse veranda for a treat when called. It was easy to spend far too much time with her cradled in my lap, her small head buried in the crook of my arm. A contented chicken will not only sigh, but coo like a purring cat! Sybil taught me to start paying far more attention to the unique personalities of individual birds, and the relationship at large between our two species.
      Gallus gallus domesticus are the descendants of jungle fowl indigenous to the bamboo forests of India and South-East Asia, but they have been introduced by humans to every corner of our planet. Incredibly, their population is now triple the size of our own. Bearing little resemblance to their ancestors, the chickens raised today for eating also look very different from those raised primarily for eggs. Each kind has been strategically bred for hyper-production. The vast majority suffer from severe physical problems brought on by genetic manipulation, and the hellish conditions inherent in factory-style farming which dominates well over 99 percent of animal agribusiness. The lives of so-called 'broilers' are typically ended at around 2 months of age, while 'layers' may languish for up to 2 years in cramped cages before they are killed and replaced. With few to no federal laws to protect them, billions of chickens stacked in windowless warehouses the size of football fields right this very minute are unable to peck, perch or spread their wings, let alone dust bathe or even scratch in the dirt.

       In the shadow of this heinous reality, the desire to keep a few chickens in one's own back yard has been granted almost heroic status in some quarters. Even where authorities have wisely ruled against the keeping of farmed animals on city lots the burgeoning locavore movement is pushing back. There is a plethora of on-line sites and groups today that romanticize small scale animal husbandry, linking 'local food security', 'justice' and 'sustainability' with alleged improvements in animal welfare. Never mentioned is the fact that there is zero need for eggs (or any other animal products) in the human diet, and therefore no real justification for encouraging the breeding and confinement of chickens in enclosures of any size.

      Predation is the leading cause of premature bird mortality wherever real freedom to roam is granted however. One day, out of the blue, my sweet Sybil simply vanished from the farm. I don't accept the notion that nature is simply taking its course when we fail to provide adequate protection for animals once under our care. But everyone I've ever known who has lived with chickens in the country has a tragic tale to tell. Urbanites who wish to keep hens obviously need to make a considerable investment upfront in secure accommodations – and not be discouraged from feeling compassion for the vulnerable beings they are essentially choosing to take under their own wing. Egg production typically wanes after two or three years. When the decision is made to replace still relatively young hens with new ones, will it feel right to betray those with whom trust has been established by sending them to slaughter, or will finding a retirement home somewhere safe be the truly 'just' and 'sustainable' option? Unfortunately, hospitable destinations are in short supply for retirees. I know of existing sanctuaries overburdened with the responsibility of ongoing care for 'spent' hens. There is already no end to requests for help with roosters from folks without the heart to deny those casualties of the backyard chicken movement the right to ongoing life either. 

         Courtenay is facing renewed challenges to existing bylaws that currently prohibit backyard chickens within the municipality. Residents would do well to familiarize themselves with the list of considerations the BC SPCA has made available on their website that reveal why raising hens in an urban backyard environment is not a suitable practise for the inexperienced. A few years ago inaccurate information started circulating that suggested the Vancouver Humane Society had reversed their position opposing urban poultry. Communications Director Peter Fricker recently confirmed for me that this was never the case. VHS remains concerned about the high probability of inhumane treatment of backyard chickens and is therefore opposed to the practise.

      Eggs are considered to be a great source of protein (boasting approximately 6 grams per) but so are plenty of plants. Did you know that there are 6.3 grams of protein in just 2 Tablespoons of hemp hearts? And 7.3 grams of protein in 1/2 cup of chickpeas? How about 9 grams in just 1/2 cup of cooked lentils? I hope you enjoy my tasty Quinoa Salad recipe below to the tune of 11 grams per cup!

Fireweed's Organic Quinoa Salad
4 cups vegetable broth (see instructions below)
1.5 cups raw whole grain quinoa
1 cucumber, sliced 
1 yellow bell pepper, diced
1/2 cup lightly steamed broccoli florets
a few cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered 
1/4 cup of chopped walnuts 
diced scallion optional
1/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
sea salt and pepper, to taste

Cook the quinoa for about 15 minutes in vegetable broth (I like organic Better Than Bouillon which is available at Edible Island - and palm oil-free!) Stir occasionally. Whisk together the fresh lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and salt and pepper while the quinoa is cooking. When light and fluffy, remove from heat, allow to cool slightly, then toss with your veggies and dressing. Stir to combine well. Bon appetit!