Archive for the ‘Vegetarianism’ Category

Turkey Raising

I have been a vegetarian for about 6.5 years. I probably would have been one earlier, since it had become such a fad, but I personally hate to do anything because it’s a fad, so I had to find my own reasons. And the more I learned about the environmental impact of meat, the amount of energy it takes to produce 1 kg of meat, and the really horrid conditions of factory-raised meat animals, the easier it was for me to make that decision. And not being able to afford locally and ethically raised meats, vegetarianism was the clear choice.

That being said, the more I got into farming and sustainable food systems, I knew that eventually the question would come up again. I believe that a sustainable farm needs animals on it, to help with soil fertility, pest management, and farmer happiness. And the reality is, it’s not economically feasible to have non-productive animals on a farm, so animals need to have other purposes, whether it is dairy or egg production, or meat. I understand this, and feel myself on secure moral and environmental grounds to say that local, ethical and sustainably raised meat is an important part of a sustainable food system.

So, having spent the summer on a small-scale organic farm, raising pigs and lambs for meat, and chickens for eggs, I took on a project for myself. Turkeys!

When I became a vegetarian, one thing I really missed was eating turkey at Thanksgiving and Christmas, which has much more to do with the traditions and family than it actually does about eating turkey. And since I know that every year, my family will eat a turkey at these holidays, my thought is that if I can raise these turkeys myself in a way that I agree with, then I will have no problem eating them come the holidays. So I proposed to raise 2 turkeys at Rootdown this summer, from chick to table.


1 week old chicks, exploring their new home

1 week old chicks, exploring their new home

A bit later than would have been ideal, we got our chicks towards the end of June. Because we were only getting 2, we piggy-backed onto a neighbour’s order. The turkeys were your typical white meat birds, not a heritage breed.

Chicks are hatched in hatcheries, in this case one in Alberta, and are shipped in boxes. Because a chick ingests the remaining egg yolk just before hatching, they can survive for up to 2 days without food and water, allowing them to be shipped in boxes. Certainly, in a lot of cases, a few will die in transit, but in our case, the chicks arrived in good health.

Never having raised any kind of poultry before, I tried to prepare with lots of reading, and I was very nervous. I set up a small pen with cardboard walls, straw floor and a heat lamp. I worried that they wouldn’t be able to eat or drink, because many things I’d read said turkey chicks are pretty dumb, and sometimes can’t figure out how to eat and drink, but these guys did fine right from the start. They made little panicky cheeping sounds when I would go in to look at them, so mostly I left them alone.

Being let outside for the first time

Being let outside for the first time


As the weeks went by, the turkey chicks grew bigger, and after a few weeks, we opened the doors to the house during the day so they could access a fenced-in pasture. They were so nervous at first! But they quickly grew to love being outdoors, so much so that most nights, I had to physically chase them back into their house for the night – not as bright as chickens, who will go in on their own.

The turkeys provided their share of entertainment at the farm. When the 2 lambs, whose fenced pen was moved every couple of days to new grass, ended up next to the turkey pen, they all seemed to recognize some kind of friendship between them, and they would greet each other through their fences.

First farm friends

First farm friends



The turkeys continued to grow happily throughout the summer without incident. Then, one day when I was over at a neighbouring farm for the day, the smaller of the turkeys was found dead in the house in the morning. We had no idea what had happened, but from discussions with other farmers, this is not an uncommon occurrence. In fact, two of the other people who had raised chicks from the same batch had each lost one of their turkeys. We called it Spontaneous Poultry Death, it happened with the chickens as well. Weak genes were often discussed as a problem with hybrid breeds.

When the one turkey died, the other one was understandably distressed, now finding himself alone in his pen, and he flew over the fence and wandered the farm. To keep him company, he was put in with our flock of laying hens. The original result was rather like the Pixar short film, For the Birds – like a big, dumb bird trying to make friends with the “cool kids.” But after a few days, everyone got used to their new living situation, and while they didn’t exactly make friends, the chickens got used to the big ugly duckling in their midst, and the turkey started to think he was a chicken.

Making new friends

Making new friends


After the weeks on the farm, the day before Thanksgiving finally arrived, and the day I dreaded. I tried to prepare by watching YouTube videos on humane turkey killing, which gave me an idea of what it would be like. I will spare the details, but we decided to decapitate the turkey, which was one of the most horrible things I’ve ever had to do. Having never killed anything bigger than a cockroach (which, in Cameroon, were pretty giant), this was a big step. In retrospect, I probably should have started with a fish…

After the horrible part was done, we plucked and prepared the turkey, which was not as bad as I expected, although long and tedious. I can certainly understand how hand preparing poultry is a very long process, and would be terrible if you had a lot to process! The turkey came in at 14.5lbs.


Those many weeks of turkey raising finally brought us to the Thanksgiving dinner table. I left the cooking to more experienced hands. At the end of the day, 8 of us came around the table for a wonderful harvest feast with the bounty of the summer’s work.

One day, I would do this again, because my family will always eat turkey for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and I like to know that the animals have been raised in an ethical, humane and environmentally friendly fashion. This was an eye-opening learning experience!

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Eating Our Way Around Montreal

A recent 2-day, part-family visit, part-honeymoon trip to Montreal turned mainly into a tour of a few of the many excellent vegetarian, vegan, and veggie-friendly restaurants. Montreal is a great place to be in early June – warm, but not too hot, and everyone is outside, enjoying a drink on the patio, even in the middle of the day on Monday.

Aux Vivres
Aux Vivres BLT

Aux Vivres BLT

A fantastic place for a lunch when you’re really hungry. The portions are huge, and the service is quick. We had the gyro and the BLT, and both were amazing. I’ve never had vegan sour cream before, and they did a great job, and the coconut bacon in the BLT, while not something that would be mistaken for real bacon, was really tasty. If I lived in Montreal, this would be a frequent destination until I’d tried everything on the menu.


Not a solely vegetarian restaurant, I remember this place from previous visits, and although my standards may have been a bit lower in my younger years, it’s still pretty good. You choose your own noodles, sauce, and protein from the menu, which includes 2 veggie proteins, tofu and “zoya.” Then you fill up your bowl with veggies of your choice, and they fry them up on a big grill. I forgot to pay close attention, but I’m pretty sure there was a separate grill for the meat and vegetarian fries, which is different from the Mongolian grill. I like this style because you always end up with exactly the veggies you want!


This place was recommended by a friend, and had good food. Buffet style, but you pay by weight, and there was a huge variety of different foods, hot and cold, from all over, including a lot of desserts. If you came to this place often, you would know what were the best dishes, and what not to bother with. With this style, it’s easy to take too much food, and focus on heavier stuff like pasta and potatoes, instead of salad, which can get the price up pretty quick. Ended up eating a lot of food, and didn’t get a chance to taste the desserts, but have heard they’re amazing.

La Banquise
Poutine at La Banquise

Poutine at La Banquise

We asked the person at our hotel when we arrived where we could get vegetarian poutine, and she recommended this place. They have a large menu of a lot of different poutine options, pretty much anything you can imagine. Most people ordered a regular for themselves, but not being Montrealers with arteries made of steel, we split one. It was great. Having spent many summers in Quebec eating poutine, I have a snobbish attitude towards poutine in Vancouver, where I once worked at a grill that called cheddar cheese on fries with gravy poutine (or “pooh-tine” as people call it), although I admit that it seems to be getting more authentic these days. In any case, this hit the spot.


This hole-in-the-wall on St. Catherine’s was a good stop, especially since it was close to our hotel and there was a downpour. We had a sandwich and a pizza. The sandwich was good, the pizza was so-so, and the atmosphere was fun – seemed to be a lot of hipster students on a Tuesday evening. We almost missed the place going by.


We met a friend for lunch at this raw-vegan restaurant, our last proper meal in Montreal. Between the 3 of us, we tried the Pad Thai, and the Champion and Nirvana wraps, all excellent, along with a couple of tasty kombuchas. I’m somewhat wary of raw vegan cuisine sometimes, but this really was tasty.

We did a few other things while in Montreal, including visiting the environment museum at the Biosphere, which was an excellent use of a rainy day, and drinking a lot of beer. Also impressed with the bike sharing system in the city, with cyclists everywhere, albeit without helmets. But enduring impressions were definitely of food!

Bixi shared bike system

Bixi shared bike system

View from the Biosphere

View from the Biosphere

Behind the Mystery of Cheese

There are some things in the world that we have been convinced is so difficult to make, we could never make it ourselves, so we’d better leave it up to the professionals. Building a rocket ship? Oh yeah. A computer? Definitely. But most of our food, like cheese, it appears, it not as difficult to make as I thought!

Until I moved to Cameroon in 2008, I never would have thought of making homemade tortillas – why would I, when I can buy them from a store? But I had to improvise over there, and discovered quickly that tortillas are just a combination of flour, oil, salt and water, and super easy (if not as flat as the machine made ones). I’ve also become a homemade bread convert. I’m not saying that cheese is as easy as that, but last week, I attended an introduction to cheese making workshop that demystified a lot of it.

In this workshop at the Eat the Rich Community Kitchen, we got to learn how to make 3 different cheeses from David Asher Rotsztain. My favourite, and the easiest to make, is a chevre – a basic creamy cheese made from goat’s milk yoghurt.

Happy cows at Farm House Cheeses in Agassiz, BC.

Since I went vegetarian just over 4 years ago, I have struggled with the question of cheese. I love cheese, I admit it. But I know that most of it comes from cows that are kept in those same kind of factory farms that ensure they live miserable lives, and contribute hugely to climate change. Through this workshop, I also learned the details of where rennet comes from, a key ingredient in many (but not all) cheeses. Rennet is taken from the 4th stomach of a calf that had to be slaughtered to get it. This definitely makes many cheeses not vegetarian.

I have tried to come to terms with my cheese conflict in various ways, including buying cheese that came from “happy cows.”

It can be difficult, and expensive. I would like to be able to switch more of my cheese eating to this kind of chevre, with the base coming from organic goat’s milk or yoghurt. And I want to explore the vegetarian options that apparently exist to

replace rennet.

I’m not saying that I will instantly switch to making all my own cheese, as sweet a dream as that may be. But I do believe in taking steps, and I will do my best.

For someone who very eloquently and effectively explains why reduction is worthwhile – why you don’t have to necessarily become a vegan overnight, but take steps to reduce meat (and, in my extension, dairy) consumption, see Graham Hill’s Ted Talk, Why I’m a Weekday Vegetarian.

What kind of things did you used to think you could never make, then found out it wasn’t so hard? I encourage you to try to make something unexpected – then maybe not have to buy it again!