When Healthy Eating Backfires

I visit various areas of solicitude when my mind wanders. When I reflect on our state as a society I come across several areas of concern, one of them being society’s attitude and handling of food. The need for instant gratification combined with a lack of knowledge–or caring in some instances–on where food actually comes from in today’s world creates a battleground full of controversy and ill-informed decisions made with good intent.

Ask a young child where food comes from and, for the most part, you’ll find the answer revolves around a grocery store. Further probing may reveal that the child knows meat comes from animals, eggs from chickens, milk from cows and goats, fruit and vegetables from plants, etc. And even the ones that know this, may not understand this. The two don’t always coincide, even with adults.

Ask a young adult where food comes from and they answer with a little more confidence, truly believing they understand the whole concept of a farm growing produce and raising animals. Because really, the image they have of a farm probably reflects our farm on a larger scale.

In reality, the majority of our food comes from factory farms. Clever advertisements on some of the products these companies sell depict houses sporting the stereotypical farmhouse or fresh green pastures. Happy animals are seen on logos, sometimes outside in said green pasture imagery.

Visit a chicken factory farm and you find close quarter living arrangements. Chickens end up with little room to wander and forage as nature intended, which also means chicken waste ends up on other chickens and in their living space. This results in birds that suffer from respiratory infections caused by injured mucous membranes. Injured mucous membranes (caused by the ammonia the chickens can’t escape) makes it easier for bacteria and viruses to enter the chicken’s lungs and air sacs. Chickens poo everywhere. It’s not so much of an issue if there isn’t overcrowding and they’re pasture raised. Take a factory farm setting where there’s barely room to move and you get some pretty sick poultry. Which is why we see an increased level of antibiotics being used, overused, and misused. It’s more profitable than to house chickens correctly.

Some factory farms are partaking in “movements” by opening windows to the barns the chickens are housed in, or making sure the lights are out at night. That’s a start, but the birds need to be out. It’s in their nature to scratch and forage for food. That brings me to another “improvement” where many companies boast about their feed. Again, great, but access to fresh grass and produce is vital, too, as well as bugs. I’ve seen my chickens eat small snakes even.

This is not something that can easily be done. The demand for food is partly responsible for the birth of the factory farm. So even large-scale farms don’t have the room. Be wary of your labels; if it says free range, that’s SOME outside time–in pens with several other chickens. An improvement, yes, but still unacceptable.

All of our birds are pasture raised and are socialized with people. They are not afraid of were they live and have access to forage all day, take dust baths as they see fit, and socialize. Yes, the birds socialize. They have their own group of friends they even hang out with. This is how domesticated chickens (and other birds) should live.

This background information leads up to my actual rant about food contamination. These birds are living in the very thing that is responsible for outbreaks of salmonella, Listeria, and e. coli. Poop. Your meat chickens are living in it. Your egg laying hens are sitting in it. Our chickens naturally do not lay eggs where they use the bathroom. They have the space to lay, roam, forage, and do their business.

The big foodborne illnesses we hear about on a consistent basis lives in the gut of these animals. If they’re not allowed the space to respond to nature’s call, contamination and harsh cleaning processes take place, neither of which are beneficial for anyone.

Dairy and other cattle factory farms are not much different. Antibiotics are the response to overcrowded living conditions instead of happy, healthy environments. In fact, over half of the antibiotic use is for agricultural purposes. The antibiotic use is abuse (I understand that’s technically my opinion) because it’s used as a preventative, which is not the intended idea behind the antibiotic. So even families who actively make it a point to avoid overusing antibiotics for something like the common cold, are still being exposed to the overuse of antibiotics into their systems. Cows are also given Bovine Growth Hormone to produce even more milk (even though the cows are kept pregnant, birthing, or milking with little to no break in between).

We do not have a cow (yet). Once we expand more we will be looking into getting a cow. Right now, we do have have a herd of miniature donkeys and mixed breed goats. They are pasture raised as well. We have grown to have two males for breeding and two different milking pairs. One pair will be pregnant and lactating, while the other pair will have a break so their bodies can recover. Antibiotics are only used if the animal is sick (we wait for it to be out of their system before milk is used) and no growth hormones are added. They’re social animals so they’re also allowed the right to socialize, grow, and spend time with their family (human and animal alike). This is how it should be.

With all of that information, it’s no wonder we get so sick. That’s not the surprising part though. What’s surprising is more foodborne illnesses come from fresh vegetables. I think this is a really big eye opener for how our food is handled. Our meats are exposed to the same contamination (Listeria, salmonella, e. coli), but the antibiotic “preventative” and harsh cleaning procedures hide this. You’re eating dirty meat that has been washed with chlorine.

So, why vegetables? Well, in an attempt to be healthier many people are seeking fresh produce. Makes sense as quite a few veggies are healthier when consumed raw and salads are a great way to pack in essential nutrients when you’re being health conscious and are short on time. It makes sense. I get it. Although fresh produce is also washed with water and chlorine, the leafy greens you’re hearing about on the news likely wasn’t cooked. Because who cooks their lettuce? Water that is contaminated and used to wash vegetables could be a source for foods carrying these bacteria, especially if it’s exposed to any fecal matter or fertilizers. Which also means water used to clean your chicken could also be contaminated, but heating foods to proper temperatures can sometimes help with that nasty fact.

A clean environment is the best preventative to these illnesses. Our hydroponic produce is separated from our animals and clean water is used on them.

It is near impossible–unless I’m not seeing it–to break free from this. Growing your own food and raising small family homesteads is becoming a lost art and we can’t let people starve. The best way to avoid this is to have your own garden and your own meat, but that’s not a viable option for everyone. Your next best bet is purchasing locally, a little easier to do with produce than meat. Check out local markets and talk to vendors. There are smaller establishments that make sure their animals are living healthy and happy lives.

We’re not meant to be cooped up, although many people force themselves to live like some animals on these factory farms: eat, sit on the couch all day, stay indoors, sleep. It’s not good for us. It makes sense that it’s also not good for these animals and it affects our food. Factory farms are in this for profit and to fill that high demand. People don’t realize that’s where their food comes from. And it gets worse. Any meals, canned soups, processed foods you purchase at the store get their meat and produce from these factory farms.

Grow more edible plants at home if it’s possible. Shop local. Take baby steps. We’re trying our best as well. We just got to where we have a pretty steady meat source for us. I cannot remember the last time we went to the grocery store for meat or produce. What we don’t grow, we purchase or trade from local farms. We’re taking baby steps, too, but we’re getting there.

What steps do you take to truly know the source of your food? What do you recommend for other people looking to educate themselves in food handling and appropriate animal raising?

Leave comments below and remember to follow us to get updates on our blog and/or meat processing that we do. Thanks for reading, everyone.

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Kefir Yogurt

Kefir. What is it?

Milk kefir, whether it is being consumed as a drink or made into yogurt or cheeses, is a sour tasting fermented milk. It is an acquired taste if you’ve not been raised on it, but its benefits are either worth the adjustment in palate or effort put into making a product that is truly satisfying (if said adjustment cannot be made).

Personally, I can drink it straight. My family has a more difficult time with this so I began experimenting and came up with something that has a Greek yogurt consistency and it. is. DELICIOUS. I’m not going to lie. It’s better than when I was making just regular homemade yogurt.

The benefits are amazing. Store bought yogurt is not as nutritional as claimed. If you’re buying flavored yogurt, expect a high sugar content. The easy solution, it would seem, is to purchase plain. That brings me to the probiotic argument.

Don’t get me wrong. Probiotics are great. Magnificent–when they’re actually present. See, it’s quite difficult to buy yogurt with a true guarantee that probiotics and live cultures are actually in the yogurt. At some point in the yogurt making process, this claim is true. However, to legally be sold, dairy products must go through pasteurization. This process uses heat to eliminate “bad” bacteria; problem is, this also eliminates the “good” bacteria and may actually kill off the live cultures and probiotics. But don’t worry. It’s yummy.

Making your own types of yogurt can make you feel pretty accomplished, but being able to flavor and use it the way YOU want to, is the best part. Once you see how easy this is, you won’t want to go back.

This entire post is about making yogurt with milk kefir (which has more probiotics than yogurt, probiotics that actually STAY in the gut, and nutritional yeasts). So, the process is different and–I apologize ahead of time because I took pictures–looks quite gross. But also cool!

It all starts with milk (the less pasteurization, the better) and kefir grains.

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Photographed by Amanda Harman

Kefir grains are gelatinous in nature. AND THEY’RE ALIVE! These grains ferment the milk by feeding off the lactose. Kefir grains love different kinds of sugar, so the dairy strains eat lactose (sugar). This fermentation process CAN (everyone is different, so not always) make digestion of this yogurt easier for those who suffer from lactose intolerance. My husband is lactose intolerant and he can eat this stuff. Want to know another disgustingly cool fact? They multiply. It’s like they’re having babies.

The process of making the milk kefir and the yogurt is time-consuming, but really easy. The ratio I use is 1 tablespoon of grains to 1 cup of milk (I use raw milk from our goats).

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Photographed by Amanda Harman

The first thing you do is add the grains and cover it with the milk (you may adjust this to your personal tastes; more grains can make the taste stronger). In this photo I used around 8 cups of milk and around 8 tablespoons of grains. I put cheesecloth over the top (it needs to breathe) and used the lid ring of a mason jar lid to secure the cheesecloth. Let it sit anywhere from 12 hours to 48 hours. 12 hours can make a nice milk you can use for some recipes that call for buttermilk (I use it for buttermilk breads). 24 hours makes it a little thicker and stronger. I do 48 hour batches to make the yogurt. Do note that kefir ferments at a much faster rate in a warm environment.

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Photographed by Amanda Harman

The weather here has been really crazy right now so once I see the curds and grain separate from the whey, like the picture above, I begin working with it even if we have not hit that 48 hour mark.

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Photographed by Amanda Harman

After it sits for 48 hours, or if you see the separation of curds and whey occur it’s time to remove the grain. The spoon and strainer I use are made of plastic. Metal can be harmful to the grains. I measure the amount of grains and I need and add it to a new jar and cover with milk again to start the process over. Any leftover grain can be covered with milk to sit in the fridge, or frozen with milk in large amounts to go dormant for later use. Or you can share with a friend!

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Photographed by Amanda Harman

The milk kefir should now have no grains left in it. You can either leave as is, do a second fermentation with flavoring, or make a yogurt. Since the topic is yogurt, I’ll show you how I get that consistency. I pour the milk kefir into a greek yogurt strainer I purchased. There is a process where you can use paper coffee filters or muslin in jars or bowls, but I was having difficulty with space so I caved and made this purchase. It’s AMAZING. It sits in the fridge while the whey separates again, but the curds left behind are creamy and the consistency of Greek yogurt.

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Photographed by Amanda Harman

I let the yogurt sit in the fridge during the entire duration it takes for the new batch of milk to ferment with the kefir grains.

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Photographed by Amanda Harman

The result is that thick creamy consistency and amazing flavor. I use it as a substitute for sour cream quite a bit. I also use it as a plain yogurt substitute in smoothies. If I really just want to eat it as a yogurt I flavor it with honey (you can use sugar), and fruit. Using jams and jellies can work, too. It also makes a great dill and horseradish sauce. Yum! 🙂