How are Egg McMuffins produced?

Chicago-based Mercy for Animals released an undercover investigation into a McDonald’s egg supplier today. The results of the investigation were not unlike those of previous investigations. Using a hidden camera, a Mercy for Animals investigator went undercover at battery cage egg factory farms in Iowa, Minnesota, and Colorado that were owned by Sparboe Egg Farms. Up until the exposé was revealed, all of the eggs used by McDonald’s locations west of the Mississippi River came from a Sparboe facility in Iowa.

The exposé documented rodents, insects, and large numbers of mummified corpses of dead birds in cages with live birds still laying eggs for human consumption. According to ABC News, “Citing “serious” and “significant violations” at five different locations, the FDA cited [Sparpoe with] at least 13 violations of the recently enacted federal egg rule meant to prevent dangerous salmonella outbreaks.”

In addition, the investigator filmed egregious conditions like “workers grabbing hens by their throats and ramming them into battery cages … a worker tormenting a bird by swinging her around in the air while her legs were caught in a grabbing device – violence described as “torture” by another worker … a worker shoving a bird into the pocket of another employee without any regard for the animal’s fear and suffering,” and more.

The Mercy for Animals investigator filmed routine standard agricultural practices like the intensive confinement of hens in tiny wire cages so small each bird has less space than two-thirds of a sheet of paper on which to spend her entire twelve to eighteen month life; chicks having the tips of their beaks seared off with a hot blade without a drop of painkiller and live chicks slowly suffocated to death in plastic bags.

Sadly, although all fifty states have anti-cruelty laws, most of what the Mercy for Animals investigator documented, like debeaking, intensive confinement, and suffocation of baby chicks are considered standard agricultural procedures and it’s unlikely law enforcement will take any punitive action against Sparboe. McDonald’s, for its part, decided to switch suppliers telling ABC News, “McDonald’s expects all of our suppliers to meet our stringent requirements for delivering high quality food prepared in a humane and responsible manner.”

McDonald’s will continue to purchase the vast majority of its eggs from suppliers that, like Sparboe, confine their hens in cages. I don’t know about you, but I think keeping animals confined in spaces so small they can’t move more than a few inches without touching another bird or the sides of their cages could never be considered humane. If McDonald’s truly cares about animal welfare, it will enact a policy requiring its egg and pork suppliers not to confine their animals in cages or crates. You can help by signing Mercy for Animals’ petition encouraging McDonald’s to stop purchasing eggs from caged hens and of course never buying them yourself.

Baking without eggs? Piece of cake

For full disclosure, I did not bake the vegan chocolate cake with mousse icing seen here. Beautiful and decadent, it was lovingly prepared by the bakers at Whole Foods who my husband commissioned for a special surprise. I’ve done my fair share of vegan baking though and with the holidays approaching I anticipate doing a lot more.

Baking without eggs and dairy is a cinch. It typically entails simple substitutions, some involving things most people have around the house, like mashed bananas, applesauce, or even a combination of vinegar and baking soda. Vegan baking is growing in popularity too. Twice on the television show, The Cupcake Wars, the winning recipes have been vegan. Babycakes, a vegan bakery in New York City, is deemed a favorite by stars like Madonna and Natalie Portman.

So how do you bake without eggs? There are commercial egg replacers you can purchase from natural foods stores, online, and in the natural foods section at many mainstream grocers made by Ener-G and Bob’s Red Mill. And there are simple substitutions you can make, like these ideas from PETA:

• 1 egg = 2 Tbsp. potato starch
• 1 egg = 1/4 cup mashed potatoes
• 1 egg = 1/4 cup canned pumpkin or squash
• 1 egg = 1/4 cup puréed prunes
• 1 egg = 2 Tbsp. water + 1 Tbsp. oil + 2 tsp. baking powder
• 1 egg = 1 Tbsp. ground flax seed simmered in 3 Tbsp. water
• 1 egg white = 1 Tbsp. plain agar powder dissolved in 1 Tbsp. water, whipped, chilled, and whipped again

There are vegan cookbooks galore, like Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World and The Joy of Vegan Baking that offer recipes for old standbys as well as fun, new ideas. The bottom line is eating without eggs and dairy does not mean a life of deprivation. You can have your cake vegan and eat it too.

An event that was really for the birds

…And the goats, chickens, ducks, rabbits and pigs. I spent this Saturday afternoon at Harvest Home’s Stockton, California sanctuary for its Toast to the Turkeys. The toast was a wonderful way to raise money to support the organization’s life-saving efforts and also gave attendees an opportunity to spend some time up close and personal with its residents. With Thanksgiving right around the corner, the spotlight was on the avian inhabitants, specifically Bill, Sierra, Jordan, Kerrie, Kimo, and the illustrious Kona, Harvest Home’s turkey ambassadors.

Kona the turkey at Harvest Home

If you’ve never spent time around turkeys, I encourage you to visit a farm animal sanctuary. The Harvest Home turkeys move slowly and thoughtfully, displaying their regal plumage with pride. It’s no wonder Benjamin Franklin allegedly wrote highly of turkeys, comparing them to bald eagles: “For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America…He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage.” The turkeys at Harvest Home fit that bill well.

All the animals at Harvest Home have their own stories. They’re all sad, many almost unbelievable, but their endings are happy. The newest arrivals are flock of week-old turkey poults who were destined for a short life on a factory farm to be slaughtered at a fraction of their natural life span. The week-old poults had been debeaked with a laser and the tips of their toes were amputated prior to their rescue. These mutilations are routine and systemic in the industry. Fortunately these babies, whose lives got off to a rough start, will live out the rest of their days in the haven of Harvest Home.

Though the animals were the main attraction at the event, there was also a delicious lunch featuring seasonal fare like Tofurky, Field Roast, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, roasted vegetables, and more. Guests enjoyed a dessert buffet with pumpkin pie, fruit pies, vegan ice cream, and cinnamon rolls from Cinnaholic, a vegan cinnamon roll shop in Berkeley with decadent rolls. There was also a turkey feast, except the turkeys were doing the eating at this one. They enjoyed a delicious meal while the guests watched.

Turkeys at Harvest Home enjoying their feast

I had a wonderful time visiting with the animals and left with a greater resolve about why I abstain from eating their counterparts. They’re sensitive, unique individuals every one. With so many wonderful meatless options, we could easily give birds a break and spare them from our dinner plates this Thanksgiving and no one would suffer for it—us nor them.

Fruit trees: The gifts that keep on giving

If you’ve read any of my previous blogs, you know that urban orchards both bring me great joy and great sadness. In California, fruit trees are abundant and highly productive. It’s not unusual to see fruit trees even in some of the most derelict of neighborhoods, often with overripe, uneaten fruit littering the ground below. An apartment dweller unable to grow my own fruit at the present, such scenes break my heart. When I was fortunate enough to have my own fruit trees, I was so overrun with apples, pears, and most of all plums that my coworkers couldn’t even help keep up with it. I took the excess fruit to City Slicker Farms, a community garden that also serves as a market stand in the food desert of West Oakland.

To make a long story short, I’ve often wondered why there exists these prolific producers capable of feeding hungry people, yet cities plant decorative trees instead of those that would be productive. Why not turn Oakland into Appleland? The squirrels, birds, and urbanites could share in the bounty.

One wonderful organization sees the merit in doing just that. The Fruit Tree Planting Foundation’s mission is to plant fruit trees as a way to alleviate hunger, combat global warming, and improve air, soil, and water. The organization “strategically donat[es] orchards where the harvest will best serve communities for generations, at places such as public schools, city parks, low-income neighborhoods, Native American reservations, international hunger relief sites, and animal sanctuaries.” The FTPF not only plants orchards directly but also influences corporations and governments to plant more fruit trees.

"Fruit Relief" program image by Fruit Tree Planting Foundation

The FTPF is playing a very important role and doing so in a novel way. You can learn more about its programs like “Fruit Tree 101” (planting fruit trees at public schools), “Communities Take Root” (city parks and community gardens), “Fruit Relief” (low-income neighborhoods and international hunger relief sites), “Reservation Preservation” (Native American reservations) and more at FTPF.org.

And as the holiday gift giving season comes around, you can also support the FTPF by purchasing one of its gifts like The Home Orchard Handbook: A Complete Guide to Growing Your Own Fruit Trees Anywhere!, an organic guide to backyard orchard keeping.  The organization also has heirloom apple tree grow kits that can be sent as a gift, or you can make donations in your friends’ or loved ones’ honor. No doubt it will be a gift that keeps giving.

Chicken-less noodle soup

Traveling in the fall and winter guarantees one thing for me: getting sick. Germs floating though recycled air get me every time. Unfortunately the day after I got home from my east coast visit this week, the bug had already set in. I’m hydrating, drinking lots of juice and tea, and trying to get lots of rest. And I’m eating lots of soup. Comfort foods are a must and just because I’m vegan doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy some chicken soup.

My friend Michelle Cehn of Vegan Break put together this wonderful video demonstrating how to prepare vegan chicken soup from Vegan Soups and Hearty Stews for All Seasons by Nava Atlas.

Instead of tofu, I used a chicken alternative from Layonna Vegetarian Foods (and made some other variations as I usually do). Other chicken alternatives like gardein Chick’n Scallopini cut into cubes or Morningstar Chik’n Strips would also be delicious substitutions.

Unfortunately I’m still not feeling 100 percent, but  the mild and savory soup definitely hit the spot.