Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Christmas has come and gone, and now it’s only one more day until 2010! My Christmas was a really wonderful one, one of my favorites so far. Mom and Dad and Tighe arrived from Spokane late afternoon on Christmas Eve, and I made Brazilian black bean soup, fried plantains, and salad for our supper. We attended the Christmas Eve candlelight service at First Unitarian Church downtown, and it was beautiful, 1,000 people and wonderful music. We stayed up late, hung stockings from my mantelpiece, and woke up to a clear blue sky and a gorgeous, sunny Christmas Day. We drank tea, dug into our stockings, ate grapefruit and cinnamon bread per tradition, listened to Neville Marriner and the Choir and Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields (also per tradition), and opened our presents.

I got a number of wonderful, useful things. My family knows I like practical gifts- I received The Encyclopedia of Country Living by Carla Emery, a set of glass Tupperware, tea and dried fruit, a really cool guitar strap from Tighe, and a gorgeous basketry-style trivet/centerpiece handmade in Senegal. Matt gave me an insulated thermos and a nifty potholder that fits around the handle of my cast iron skillet and lives there so I don’t have to reach for a potholder every time I need to lift the skillet. Mom and Dad also took me shopping on Boxing Day and got me a 12-quart stainless steel stockpot. We couldn’t find one with the blancher insert that I wanted, but we did find a stainless steel colander that fits in perfectly and will serve the purpose just fine. They also got me jar lifters/canning tongs, so all I need now is a small canning rack to keep the jars off the bottom of the kettle, and I’m set!

For Christmas dinner I roasted a local pastured chicken and made a green salad, and we roasted pans of veggies including potatoes and carrots from Mom & Dad’s. It was simple, but delicious. I had made a squash pie on Christmas Eve, but we didn’t eat that till late Christmas night because we were so stuffed! Matt joined us for Christmas dinner which was a nice addition, and we spent an hour or so with one or more of us on guitar, playing and singing Christmas carols and folk songs. Before dinner my family and I went walking for an hour or so through Washington Park, enjoying the clear blue skies, if not the freezing cold wind. On Christmas night we walked through Peacock Lane to see the light displays, but didn’t stay long as it was very cold and windy. I really couldn’t have asked for a nicer Christmas. We all went out for a fun Thai dinner on Boxing Day with relatives who were passing through, and spent the evening with my cousin and her partner, so we got in lots of good social time. Mom and Dad and Tighe headed back to Spokane after breakfast on Sunday, leaving behind lots of good memories. I just enjoyed myself so much and give so many thanks for wonderful family, good food, and beautiful weather. This was my first Christmas without snow, but I hardly noticed, thanks to the sunshine and smiles!

I hope you all had a blessed holiday and that your 2010 will be filled with fun, friends, family, and music!

Thursday, December 17, 2009


My favorite days are the ones when I accomplish a lot. Tuesday night was one of those nights when I got a lot of things done and felt great. I did two loads of laundry (I do laundry at my cousin’s house, three blocks away, so this involved some exercise too), pulled out my sewing machine and did some more mending, made a good dinner, washed dishes, and decorated my Christmas tree!

I forewent the usual Christmas music accompaniment –my soundtrack was Bruce Springsteen. I’ve also been crocheting a new dishcloth, mostly at work, and working on mending that is too detailed for the machine.

I am now in the throes of holiday festivities, with a holiday party at work last week, a wonderful Hanukah party at Leah’s last Saturday, gathering last night with Matt’s family to decorate his dad’s Christmas tree, and an all-staff holiday gathering today. Right now I'm in the middle of working on more gifts! This weekend will include volunteering at the Jesuit High School Alumni food drive (Matt and his sister both went to Jesuit), a holiday party at my house, a holiday party at another friend’s, running lots of errands, and hopefully attending a Celtic fiddle concert!

My family (Mom, Dad, and brother Tighe) is coming to Portland for Christmas this year, so I am also planning and working logistics for that. They will be staying at my cousin Carol’s house, my apartment is just too small for more than two people! I am excited to have a cozy Christmas here in my own space, and do lots of cooking for my family! I’ve been sadly lax on the cooking front lately, as I haven’t really had much time at home with so much going on in the evenings. But this weekend and early next week I will be a cooking maniac, preparing all the traditional holiday food I grew up with. Strangely, I’m most excited about the chex mix! I also need to make a fresh batch of granola before the family arrives, and will cook Christmas Eve dinner for them.

I’ve made a couple nice inroads this week in terms of living sustainably:

• I put a compost jar in the kitchen at work! I’ve been meaning to do this for awhile and finally got around to it. I will take it home to my compost bin every couple of days, but I feel much better now, since a little part of me dies every time I see orange peels and tea bags going into the garbage. Sadly, this effort is involving a little more education than I foresaw, mostly along the lines of “No, actually, foil-lined teabag wrappers are not compostable.” It is a good reminder for me that composting is not such a norm for everyone as it is for me, and that this is good opportunity to open the minds of my little community of coworkers!

• I talked to my landlord and he has ordered me a low-flow showerhead and an aerator for my kitchen sink. Both of these items, and a lot of other water-saving devices, are free to Portland Water Bureau customers. Those of us who are tenants have to get our landlords to order them, because they are the customers, but I feel like any landlord would be happy to do it, because of the savings in money, if not the lower environmental impact. My current showerhead is one of the 5 gallon per minute ones, the new one will be 1.5 gallons per minute. This will save so much in terms of water and money, and also will make my hot water last longer! The aerator will decrease the amount of water that comes out of the kitchen faucet, without decreasing the pressure. My landlord made it sound like he had ordered these for all the apartments in the house!

Mixed in with all this, I continue to work on my personal statement for my application to PSU and round up my letters of recommendation. I anticipate I will be happily busy now through Christmas weekend! I wish you all the happiest of holidays. May you be surrounded by good friends and family, good food and good music!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Advent of a Sewing Machine

Either I’m a giant nerd, or a pioneer at heart. Hopefully both, but these days the thing I am most excited about is my sewing machine! With my mending pile getting out of hand, and lots of ideas for gifts involving sewing, and a desire to be able to repair my clothes in such a way as to make them last, I invested in a sewing machine a couple months ago. When I say invested, what I actually mean is I bought one from a Craigslist posting for $30. I’m very pleased, as it was something of a gamble. I’m not overly familiar with electric sewing machines, having grown up using my parents’ 1910-vintage cast iron treadle machine. But I understand all the parts and how they work, so I was able to make sure that this one was at least functional.

One big piece of simple living is to barter for services or make use of a friend’s skills instead of paying money for something. In this case, my good friend Bonnie, who has worked in a variety of costume shops and therefore knows her way around a sewing machine, helped me get mine in working order. She came over and we tested it out, took apart the entire bobbin casing, tested all the parts, and got it rolling. I maintain that the best way to understand a new city is to get lost in it, and thus the best way to get to know a machine is to take it apart and then put it back together again. We got everything squared away for free (and a cup of tea), as opposed to spending $80, the minimum cost I could find in Portland for getting a sewing machine serviced.

Bonnie guessed that my machine is 1950s vintage or so, and it works fine, with a few foibles. It took me another half hour to adjust the bobbin tension and get everything back to just the right settings when I actually got it out to sew for the first time, but the advantage of it being finicky is that I am feeling very confident in my ability to adjust it and get it fixed on my own now, having had plenty of opportunity to do so. I’ve already completed some Christmas presents (I can’t say what they are as their recipients read this blog) and mended a whole pile of socks. For whatever reason, every single pair of socks I own had become “air conditioned,” as my brother and I called it as kids. So I sat down for half an hour, and now they are all reinforced and warm again, hopefully ready to last a good long while more. The amount of money I spent on my sewing machine has already been made back just in the savings on socks! The savings in time is huge too- after doing all my mending by hand for years, I can already feel the difference.

I actually know very little about sewing. I don’t know how to use a pattern, but I’ve sewed plenty of basic things like bags, and can do anything involving hemming, and basic mending. I hope to learn from friends so I can actually get to a point of sewing some of my own clothes, but for now I am content to catch up on my mending so I am not put in a position to spend money on new clothes. Even when my clothes do wear out, they will go into my rag bag, where they become fabric for patches, napkins, or any number of useful things.

I love the feeling of having produced a clothing or gift item myself, and I like having projects on hand to get done in a few spare minutes. It’s funny that I could feel so useful just from having mended some socks, but I really do. Yesterday I also finished crocheting a gift item, so now it’s time to start another project to have on hand for when I need to kill a few minutes. I also want to learn to knit this winter, as I think it will prove more versatile than crocheting.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Happy Lack of Plastics

Plastic is not biodegradable, and it is a synthetic material, something our bodies can’t handle. That’s enough to make me take a few steps to decrease the number of plastic products I use. I don’t want to ingest any plastic, and I don’t want to create garbage if I don’t have to.

First of all, while I sometimes store food in plastic containers, I NEVER heat food in plastic. I don’t care if it says “microwave safe.” There are plenty of sources out there showing that the denotation “microwave safe” only means that the container won’t melt if you heat it. It does not refer to the safety of your food once it has been heated in the microwave in a plastic container. If you ask me, the fact that a plastic container won’t melt when heated to high temperatures is more dodgy than if it actually did melt. There’s enough research out there to convince me that heating food in plastic is not a good idea- plastic molecules can slough off of plastics and into food when the container or wrapping is heated and cooled repeatedly.

I mostly store food in glass jars and in Pyrex Tupperware-style containers. Unfortunately the latter are fairly expensive, but they are in fact microwave safe in the true sense. As for the jars, I use some canning jars, and the rest are jars that other food products are sold in. I try not to buy food that is packaged in plastic, and if I have to buy peanut butter or something canned, I try to always find it in glass packaging so the jars can be reused. I do freeze a lot of foods in plastic, since any glass besides Pyrex doesn’t usually stand up to freezing, even with room left for the expansion of broth, etc. I have less qualms about freezing in plastic, since I only let things thaw in the plastic and remove before heating.

I cook exclusively in cast iron, ceramic, Pyrex, and stainless steel. Hopefully we all know that “non-stick” pans are a big no-no. For me, all it takes is one good look at a pan that has been sliced up by knives and spatulas and is missing some of its metal lining, lost into food at some point or the other. Cast iron is the original non-stick material, and I swear by it. I’ve stopped using aluminum pans as well. There is some research out there that suggests aluminum is linked to Alzheimers, but from what I can tell, the amount of aluminum you would have to ingest for it to cause dementia is HUGE. Still, I don’t like the idea of molecules of a foreign metal entering my body by any means. (On a side note, aluminum is the active ingredient in most antiperspirants—a substance that is put straight into pores. I began using an aluminum-free deodorant several years ago, made by Adidas, of all people. It is effective and safe, as far as I can tell. I admire Tom’s of Maine as a company, but their aluminum-free deodorants make me smell like a giant hippie).

A few years ago I also got rid of my plastic water bottles, and bought two metal water bottles. One is a Klean Kanteen, made from stainless steel. The other is a Sigg, from the Swiss company. It is made from aluminum, but with a liner that is supposedly proven to not leach anything harmful into the liquid in the bottle. I guess in some ways everything is a gamble, but I feel better with metal than with plastic.

I do still use plastic bags for storing some dry foods and for things like veggies in the fridge. My major complaint about plastic bags is that people often throw them away after one use, forgetting that things like bread bags are recyclable, and that sandwich bags are reusable. I wash and re-use all plastic bags, unless they are hopelessly destroyed (i.e. something rotted in it) in which case I do throw them away, or unless they get torn, in which case they get recycled. I rarely get plastic grocery bags at the store- that only happens if I forget my canvas totes and have too much to carry without a bag. I’m usually on my bike and put all my groceries in my pack. I always try to take my own produce bags from home, so I’m not creating extra waste by taking new ones from the store. Each time I wash bags at home, I put a bunch of the clean produce bags in my pack or totes so I don’t have to think about it when I go to the store.

In some cases it’s hard to know what to believe. I feel like I run on instinct mostly, feeling better about using more stable substances like glass and cast iron for cooking purposes. The only thing research is saying for sure is that plastic wrapping can leach into food at harmful if heated or cooled, while also acknowledging that harder plastics can leach into food, but at such small amounts that a “harmful” accumulation is almost impossible. Still, I choose to believe that any accumulation of a foreign substance in my food or drink is unacceptable, as is putting unnecessary plastic in the garbage, which will end up in a dump and never break down.

Links to research and news regarding plastics:

The FDA’s Statement on Bisphenols (BPAs), 2008:

2005 Research Suggesting Cancer Link to Plastic:

Alzheimers Society article on aluminum as a contributing factor:

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

My Collection of Easy, From-Scratch Meals

I was just reading an old post at Down to Earth about quick-prep, healthy, from-scratch meals for when you don’t feel like cooking or don’t have the time. These span from things that you have ready to go in the freezer to recipes that use up whatever leftovers or half-veggies you have in the fridge from the past week. These are some of my stand-bys that fall into this category, perhaps a step above what my family calls “foraging”: digging out and reheating whatever you could find in the fridge on a given night.

• Pasta and simple sauce

I nearly always have some form of pasta on hand, so this is probably my most frequent non-labor intensive meal. Boil some pasta, chop some garlic and/or whatever fresh veggies I have in the fridge, or add some frozen peas to the pasta. Add butter or olive oil and cheese and I’m set to go. I also try to have lots of herbs and spices available (dried ones in winter) so these make it a little more exciting sometimes. My most recent combo was fresh fettucine (I had a coupon for a free pound of fresh cut-to-order pasta from Pastaworks), chopped apple, feta, olive oil, salt, and dried oregano.

• Cornbread and steamed veggies

Cornbread is one of my favorite quick carb foods. I use the same recipe I grew up with, which includes the stipulation (NOT optional) to bake in a pre-heated cast iron skillet.

Here's the recipe:
1 cup white flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup cornmeal
4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/4 cup oil

Mix the dry ingredients together, and in a separate bowl mix all the wet ingredients. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, and mix well. Bake in an oiled pre-heated 9-inch skillet for 20 minutes or so at 375.

If I have canned sliced jalapeños on hand, I like to set them into the top of the batter before it goes in the oven. It comes out tasting like a chile relleno!

If it’s summer, I usually have fresh veggies of some kind to steam or sauté, and in the winter, frozen green beans or peas or edamame to steam quickly.

• Crispy Kale

Crispy kale has become a staple within my group of friends and could probably be considered its own food group. This is a great way to eat your fill of greens in the winter, since kale is in season and available everywhere.

Rinse the kale, and strip it from the stems, or at least from the tough parts of the stem. Tear into tortilla-chip sized pieces and pile on a baking pan. Keep in mind that baking will reduce this heap to a generous layer! When you have a satisfactory amount of kale torn up, drizzle with olive oil and toss and squish with your hands until every piece is coated. Spread evenly on the pan. Then stick in the oven at about 375°F for ten minutes or so. The timing will depend on the amount of kale and heat of the oven. Keep checking it; it is done when the edges of the leaves feel crispy. Take out of the oven, toss into a bowl, and season with lots of salt or nutritional yeast. Eat with your fingers!

• Beans and rice

This is fairly self-explanatory. I buy dry beans in bulk and cook big batches of them to freeze, so I always have some on hand. I switch around between black beans, navy beans, and pinto beans. I just pull out a container from the freezer or fridge and heat them up, cook up some rice (I really love jasmine rice, I know it’s not as good for you as brown rice), and eat a nice plate of beans on rice, with grated cheese or chopped tomatoes. I also really like the flavor combination of lime juice and ground coriander seed on black beans.

• Roasted potatoes

If I have potatoes handy, I just cut them into smallish chunks or wedges and throw them in a baking pan with some olive oil, garlic, rosemary, and chopped onions. I also like to top them with Old Bay, Cajun seasonings, Worcestershire sauce, BBQ powder, or some combination thereof. It takes about an hour to bake them at 375°. My favorite potatoes to roast are fingerlings like Russian or Austrian Crescents. They are really moist and have an amazing flavor.

• Stir-fry or fajitas

An old standby from my childhood. Slice sweet peppers, onions, and any other available veggies (water chestnuts are really good for stir-fry). Chop garlic, and lots of fresh ginger if you’re doing stir-fry. For protein, use either chicken or beef cut into small pieces, or else make a quick omelette and then slice it up and set it aside for the moment. It’s easiest to cook everything together in a wok, but a big skillet will suffice. Saute the meat first in some oil and flavorings, and put it aside once it’s cooked. Fry up the onion and garlic in olive oil and then add the rest of the ingredients and fry until you are satisfied. Add the meat or egg back in at the last minute. To flavor stir-fry, use ginger, sesame oil, soy sauce, and basil. For fajitas, use Worcestershire sauce or BBQ flavorings. Serve stir-fry over rice, and fajitas with tortillas, cheese, and salsa. Homemade tortillas are easy: equal parts flour and masa (finely ground corn flour) and enough water to make it all stick together but not actually be sticky. Roll out between plastic bags, using a rolling pin, and cook on cast iron.

• Chicken and dumplings

I have had this one twice in the last week. I try to always have some frozen chicken broth and stock around, so I just pulled out a container of it, heated it on the stove top, and made some quick dumplings. I used a basic recipe from How to Cook Everything, but as Mark Bittman points out, you can make dumplings from just about anything. I just mixed up some flour with butter and an egg and some marjoram and salt and pepper. Chopped onions are good mixed into the dough too. Because I used one of my eggs from Full of Life farm, the dumplings came out bright yellow from that dark yellow nutrient-packed yolk! Once the broth was boiling, I just dropped in a few tablespoonfuls of the dumpling dough, and put the lid back on for ten minutes. I scooped out the dumplings I wasn’t going to eat right away, and set them aside so they wouldn’t get soggy. The whole thing took about 20 minutes.

And with that, I bid you all a happy Thanksgiving weekend!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Settling in for Winter

It’s now almost Thanksgiving, and this fall is turning into winter very quickly. I’ve finally finished my outdoor preparations for winter, expanding my garden and planting the things that go into the ground in the fall.

The biggest project has been expanding my garden space. The garden runs along the fence that separates my back yard from that belonging to the house directly to the south. When I say “my” backyard, I actually mean “our”—my apartment is one of four in a huge Queen Anne Victorian house circa 1890. Mine is the smallest, and both my apartment and the other one on the ground floor have back doors into the yard. The garden space was started by my upstairs neighbor Julie, and when I moved in at the beginning of June, she had some spaces tilled and planted against the fence, and I added to it throughout the summer. Both Matt and Erin helped me till up more sod this fall, and the result is a garden that is almost twice as big! I am terrible at estimating size, but I would say it is approximately 7 feet wide by 25 feet long (maybe a little more). I am lucky enough to have a landlord who is very flexible about us making changes to the property. About making the garden, his only stipulation was “as long as there is still lawn when you’re done.” We still have a sizable green space in back of the house, and a cool shaded path and patio area on the east side of the house adjacent to my rooms. There are two narrow, tall shaded beds on that side that I am planning to plant impatiens in next spring. They are too shaded to be good for much else.

Once the whole garden space was tilled up, Matt helped me collect bags and bags of dried leaves (not hard- plenty of people in the neighborhood were raking that day and more than happy to let us take their leaves for free, as it costs $2 a bag to take them to the Metro composting site!!) and we covered the entire space (except what I had roped off for garlic) with a layer of newspaper to keep out weeds, and then layers of leaves surrounding a layer of the contents of my compost bin and the rest of the green bits from this summer’s garden. The whole thing was between 10 and 12 inches thick, and by spring will have broken down into the soil, creating deliciously moist, nutrient-rich soil for next year’s garden.

On Halloween weekend I planted my seed garlic, which Provo and I ordered from Hood River Garlic in September. I am only growing organic Chesnok Red this year- hopefully I’ll branch out more in the future, but this is my first time growing garlic on my own. I should have about 60 bulbs come June. They are all cozy now, mulched over with leaves I raked from the side yard. I’ve been raking those regularly now to put into the compost bin, which is starting over since I emptied it to mulch the garden. On a side note, Portland Metro subsidizes the standard black plastic compost bins, and I got this one for $39 instead of the market price of $50.

I had the Thursday after Veteran’s Day off, and I took advantage of being home during daylight hours and planted the $42 worth of flower bulbs that I got a couple months ago from Portland Nursery. I went all out, with a wide range of colors of tulips, daffodils, hyacinth, and one variety of Dutch iris. I planted as many as I could along the fence behind the garden, and the rest in the spaces by my back steps, and then in a border along the brick walk around to the east side of the house. I really hope they all come up, I adore bright colors and want to have a rainbow of flowers in my yard come spring!

So all my outdoor chores for the fall are done, and now it’s down to waiting for the winter rains to break down the leaves and compost on the garden and get the garlic and bulbs beefed up for growth in the spring.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Bit About Me

On the off chance that you are reading this and don’t actually know me, I will give you a little bio. If you do know me, well, you know I like to talk about myself, so here goes.

I am 25, living in Portland, Oregon, where I work as a Program Assistant/Office Manager for a refugee resettlement program. I really enjoy my job, even though I would rather be doing more direct service work (my bachelor’s degree is in Social Work). I love interpersonal work, and though primarily being a receptionist, I get to work with amazing people from all around the world on a daily basis. My coworkers are extremely diverse, many of them refugees themselves, and are all wonderful to spend time with.

I am currently in the process of applying to graduate school at Portland State University. I am hoping to enter the Masters of Public Health: Health Promotion program next fall. My goals are to work in nutrition and gardening education and efforts to get communities of all ages into the outdoors, being active, involved in nature, and reaping the physical and psychological benefits of being comfortable out-of-doors.

I currently live alone-- I have a small, beautiful Victorian apartment in Southeast Portland, which has always been my favorite part of town. I live close to work and almost all of my friends, have a great garden space, a home full of light, and live right on a busy bike route. My apartment faces south, away from the street, so it is quiet and sunny, and my garden gets several hours of direct sunlight every day in the summer.

My boyfriend, Matt, and I, try to get out of town and go adventuring as often as we can. For us, that means hiking, surfing, camping, or, should occasion require it, snowshoeing or rock climbing (ok, I’ve only done the rock-climbing thing once, but it was FUN). We are currently working on re-forging our relationship after breaking up this summer after a year together. It took some time, a lot of flip-flopping, and emotional hardship for us to get to where we are now. I know it won’t be smooth or easy for a long time even if we manage to see this through, and even though we have a lot of differences to work through and a lot of hurt to recover from, I feel good about our collective ability to love and communicate, and we are trying to form new ways of being together and compromising on the things that tripped us up before.

The basic components of my life in Portland besides work and boyfriend are 1) my awesome gang of friends, 2) making music, listening to music, and dancing to music, 3) gardening, 4) cycling, and 5) sustainable homemaking. This last one is a fairly recent endeavor for me, and something I will blog about separately, but it’s something that is very immediate to me and right at the core of my life right now. It’s a place in my life where I can put a lot of effort and see a lot of results, and where I can constantly make change.

So, there’s me, in a nutshell, if that’s possible. I am, after all, almost six feet tall and don’t fit in there very well.

My Transition to Pastured Meat

About a month ago, after reading a few too many exposes, I decided I was done eating any meat or eggs from animals that were not pastured and free range according to the true definitions of free range. As a number of different publications point out, the USDA label “free range” only signifies that the animals have access to the outdoors. Thus, supposedly free-range chickens could in fact be chickens born in a barn with 20,000 other chickens and trained to stay in that barn so even when the door is opened so they can be called “free range,” they have no inclination to go outdoors because they are unfamiliar with the concept of daylight. I have major ethical complaints about any sort of animal being raised in restricted conditions, and even bigger ethical issues with a government organization deciding that an animal is “free range” simply because it is not in a cage and has access to the outdoors. I like the term “pastured,” because there’s really no way of re-defining what pastured means. The word “pastured” brings up an image of an animal grazing at pasture, which is exactly what a healthy, happy animal should be doing.

The more I read about Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), more commonly known as feedlots or factory farms, the less I ever want to eat, see, or do anything to support the manufacture of meat from CAFOs. In a feedlot, cattle (as well as other animals, but I am mostly thinking in beef terms for the moment) are not fed a natural diet (usually feed includes potatoes, grain, and lots and lots of corn- certainly no fresh grass) and are packed in with thousands of other cattle with little space to move. If you’ve ever seen a feedlot, you’ll see that the cattle have no grass in sight, and stand sometimes knee-deep in mud, manure, and rotting feed. If this is demoralizing to see, only imagine what it’s like to spend one’s short life confined to such an operation. In addition to a lack of natural diet, these animals are often injected with antibiotics to fight the infections they are exposed to in such crowded and dirty conditions, and hormones to stimulate growth or fight other effects of confinement. And if you don’t already know the original source of “Mad Cow Disease,” I’ll tell you: it came from feeding cows to other cows. Essentially, leftover meat and blood from slaughtering were mixed into feed and given to the cattle in the feedlots. I cannot describe to you on how many levels I am not ok with this. While this process is supposedly regulated now, the testing of feed happens on such a miniscule level that there is no way to tell which cows are eating what. Meat-packing and slaughtering and the health risks and ethical issues surrounding those processes is a whole ‘nother story that I just don’t have the time to get into now. But suffice it to say that studies have shown that animals that are stressed out during the moments leading up to their slaughter produce meat that is full of unhealthy stress hormones and other chemicals with negative effects on health.

Beyond my ethical complaints about the treatment of animals in CAFOs, the health benefits of eating pastured meat as compared to CAFO meat are staggering. When you eat CAFO beef, you eat corn. The American public eats several times as much corn in the form of beef than in the form of actual corn. While corn itself is certainly a healthy vegetable, here we are talking about genetically modified, bacteria-resistant corn in high doses, processed by the body of an animal that is not supposed to be eating large amounts of corn. In comparison, grass-fed beef is the result of a cow eating its natural diet, something its body can process and obtain high quantities of vitamins and nutrients from. In addition, a pastured cow actually gets to use its muscles instead of just standing still, cutting down on fat and creating healthy muscle tissue. Pastured beef is much leaner than CAFO beef and its contents are certainly much healthier. According to, “[Grass-fed meats] are richer in antioxidants; including vitamins E, beta-carotene, and vitamin C. Furthermore, they do not contain traces of added hormones, antibiotics or other drugs.” The fats in grass-fed meat are the “healthy fats," Omega-3s. These are also found in avocados and eggs from pastured chickens.

Speaking of chickens and eggs: this is the one other mini-expose that I want to write. Most people are relatively aware of the conditions in commercial egg production facilities. These are another form of CAFO: barns crammed with cages crammed with chickens. Floors covered in chicken droppings and conveyer belts running below the cages to catch the eggs and carry them off to be sold to the public as healthy sources of protein. I know I’m ranting a little bit here, but the lack of awareness/care about these conditions really irks me. It’s certainly easier to not think about it, but seriously, I think everyone should make an informed decision: do you really want to eat eggs from these chickens? Chickens injected with hormones and antibiotics, unable to move and living solely as egg machines. Pure white eggs don’t come out pure white and clean—in most facilities, eggs are washed in chemical solutions or bleached to get their bright white shells. If you know all this and you still want to eat these eggs, that’s fine. But if you don’t, then try to find a better source of eggs. There are commercial “free range” egg manufacturers like Steibrs, which are free range in the most minimal sense (it’s difficult to find information about them, but from what I can discern, it simply means their chickens aren’t caged). Truly free range eggs usually come straight from the farmer, at $6/dozen, which is definitely spendy, but I’ve decided it’s worth it. I don’t eat eggs regularly, so a dozen usually lasts me 2 or 3 weeks. If you do want to buy free-range eggs but eat them regularly, maybe you can find a compromise and buy one dozen from the store and the next from a farmer. Switch it up, support your local farmers too, and at least get some of the health benefits of eggs from healthy chickens.

Rants aside, my decision comes down to this: I only want to eat healthy, happy animals. All lives must end anyway, and even if the cow I’m eating didn’t get a natural death, I feel good that it had a good life wandering Willamette Valley pastures with other cows, eating good Oregon grass and enjoying both the sun and rain. I want my eggs to come from chickens that get to happily peck around in fields and lay their eggs in comfortable nesting boxes that get cleaned regularly. I want my eggs to be washed only in water. I would like my pork to come from pigs that spend their lives running around with their friends, snuffling in all corners of their pasture and sleeping in a big happy pile in a dry barn when it rains. Luckily I live at the head of the Willamette Valley, where a free-range revolution is taking place. If you know where to look and are willing to spend a little extra money, you can find all of these things; I found them right at my doorstep.

My two primary sources of meat and eggs that meet all these specifications are Deck Family Farm (link) and Full of Life Farm (link). Deck Family Farm sells at multiple farmer’s markets in Portland, and have a huge variety of meat choices, sausages, and other products. Full of Life Farm (just down the road from Champoeg State Park near St. Paul) is only a year old, and as such is not solidly established yet. I have bought delicious eggs (in lots of colors) and pastured chicken from the stand at Irvington Farmer’s Market, and the farm also sells pastured beef from a neighboring farm until their own herd develops more.

I’ve found it to be strictly true that farmers who raise pastured meat are committed also to humane slaughtering practices. Bernard Smith at Full of Life Farm, which Matt and I visited a couple weeks ago, thoroughly researched his butchering options and uses a local small-scale butcher in Mount Angel and is taking measures to make sure his chickens do not have to be confined and transported before being processed. In his blog (link), he also mentions that he takes the cattle on practice runs through the head gate (used for slaughtering) so that they are familiar with it and won’t find it unusual or stressful when it’s time to make their final trip through it, thus making them calmer and preventing the creation of stress hormones in their meat. It was great to visit the farm on a very rainy Saturday, we got to meet the cows and the buck goats (SO stinky) and visit the rabbits, piglets, and the chickens foraging around their eggmobile. Bernard keeps some guinea hens with the chickens because they raise a ruckus anytime anything unusual shows up and serve as a good natural anti-predation system. The farm is beautiful, and we hung out with Bernard at the farm stand for an hour or so and learned the whole history of the farm and what his plans are for expansion of the enterprise. Eggs are cheaper to buy at the farm, so I bought a dozen for $5, and a freshly processed 4.5-lb broiler chicken (as opposed to the frozen ones at the farmer’s market stand) for $20. It was delicious beyond description and besides a roast chicken dinner for me and Matt, I got another 4 meals and 4 quarts of stock/broth out of it. I think that’s worth $20!

One caveat on my meat transition: I am still eating fish from the store. So far I haven’t found any major complaints about fishing or fish farming practices in the northwest (although it is an area of the food world that I am much less familiar with), and I have no desire to kick my taste for baked salmon or lose the health benefits of eating fish. I always buy fish from New Seasons or Whole Foods, as I feel far better about their practices and ethical guidelines in general than I do about those of more commercial chains like Safeway or Fred Meyer.

So there you have my stance on meat. I hope it is useful or at least interesting to you learn some of these facts and hear what I am choosing to do with them.


As fall sets in, the GRE is behind me, and I have more time on my hands, I am endeavoring to restart my blog in an effort to keep up my writing and provide some dialogue (or at least a monologue) about sustainable living, homesteading in the city, and other issues affecting lives like mine. I am inspired by the Down to Earth blog (thank you Heather for the recommendation), Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and a number of other writers and friends who are addressing issues around healthy, local eating and simple living. I am hoping that this will maybe serve as a follow-up to my Mother Earth News article last year about growing up as the child of homesteaders. If you would like to read (or re-read) the article, the link is here. I also plan to incorporate general blogging about my life, and any travels that happen, as well as photos. Hopefully anyone reading this can get something out of it, and if not, I will very much enjoy writing it!

It’s worth noting that I often do the typing on a word document during down time at work, transfer it to my blog when I get the chance. I don’t, in fact, write and post several blogs from scratch on a single day.