Are we cruel to our Food?
1. Lobster :
These spiny guys can live as old as we do, but thanks to our appetite for lobster rolls, they usually don’t. A recent study in the journal Animal Behavior showed that, contrary to previous thinking, lobsters and crab can feel pain and exhibit signs of stress. Lobsters also have a central nervous system, according to other research. But that hasn’t persuaded many to stop eating them. Some high-end restaurants even offer live lobster sashimi, where you choose your lobster from a tank and it appears on your plate in seconds, slit down the middle and squirming.
What’s being done: Not much, although boiling lobster is illegal in the Italian town Reggio Emilia. Domestically, Whole Foods no longer sells live lobsters. In 2005, the chain conducted an internal study on the crustacean and how it gets to stores. They were persuaded by numerous studies that show lobsters can get stressed, are able to learn, and are aware of their surroundings. Many are held in storage facilities for several months, and because there’s no way to minimize that distress, Whole Foods decided to stop carrying them live.
What to eat instead: Nosh sustainable, ethically caught shellfish, though it sounds simpler to find than it is. (Origins can be fishy, so check out our feature on how to choose the best shrimp.) If you’re worried about the ethics of eating seafood at all but want to get your omega-3s, choose a plant-based source, like ground flaxseed.
2. Shark-fin soup:
The name hides nothing: This soup is made with fins that are sliced off sharks in open waters. The fish are then tossed back into the water, where they can drown or bleed to death. Many of the fins served in the United States come from endangered shark species, according to a recent study by Stony Brook University and the Field Museum in Chicago. More status symbol than tasty (or nutritious), shark-fin soup is a popular gourmet treat in Asia and is abundant in restaurants across the United States, too.
What’s being done: Shark finning was banned in Hawaii in 2010, and it’s since been made illegal in Washington, Oregon, California, and Illinois. Last July, China’s Government Offices Administration of the State Council announced that the Chinese government would no longer serve shark-fin dishes at official events, according to conservation organization WildAid.
What to eat instead: Pretty much anything under the sun, but you might want to start with a seafood bisque. Just steer clear of these 12 fish that are bad for both you and the environment.
Many male calves are destined to become veal, since they can’t produce milk. Just days after one of these calves is born, he can be moved to a crate so small that he can’t turn around. There, he’s typically fed milk or formula and is not allowed to exercise, which results in the pale fatty flesh for which veal is famous. Veal are usually slaughtered when they’re just 5 months old.
What’s being done: In 2009, the Humane Society recorded undercover abuse of calves at a Vermont slaughter plant. The USDA and Vermont Agency of Agriculture suspended operations there for an investigation, and a year later, the plant’s owner pleaded no contest to animal cruelty charges. But there’s some good news: Veal crates are illegal in Arizona, California, Maine, Michigan, and Ohio.
What to eat instead: If you’re craving the tenderness of veal, grab a meaty Portobello mushroom burger instead. Ours is topped with pesto and roasted red peppers and slapped on a whole-wheat bun for a cruelty-free 277 calories.
4. Foie gras:
Foie gras, which means “fatty liver” in French, is a silky-smooth delicacy from goose or duck that’s often served in elegant, high-end restaurants–the kind of thing you might splurge on as a treat. How it gets to your plate isn’t quite so elegant, though. The short version is this: Workers restrain the birds and insert a long metal tube down its throat, through which they pump pounds of corn several times a day. After about a month of force-feeding, they’re slaughtered, and their livers become your dinner.
What’s being done: It’s illegal to force-feed ducks in several countries, including the UK, Austria, Israel, Denmark, and Poland, but it’s not necessarily illegal to sell the stuff. Stateside, the production and sale of foie gras is banned in California, but some restaurants have gotten around the ban by giving it away, reports Los Angeles Magazine. In 2006, it was banned in Chicago, but then-mayor Richard M. Daley called the ban “the silliest law” ever passed by City Council, and it was repealed in 2008.
What to eat instead: Get your rich pate fix sans guilt with vegan walnut pate. The animal-free version is made with herbs and meaty nuts, and it’s cholesterol free. Harness your hormones to lose unhealthy belly fat for good!
So you don’t eat foie gras, shark-fin soup, or even meat? You still might not be eating cruelty-free. The innocent little egg sometimes comes from hens who live in cages so small they can’t even spread their wings. It’s not surprising that the eggs from these hens, claustrophobic and living in their own waste, are up to 21 times more likely to harbor salmonella, according to a 2008 study from Belgium.
What’s being done: Thankfully, things might be looking up for chickens. Congress is considering a new bill–H.R. 3798, or the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012–that would give hens twice the amount of living space, prohibit excessive ammonia in the henhouses, and require labeling on egg cartons to list how the egg-layers lived. More than 8 million chickens are slaughtered each year in the U.S., according to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, so this could be big for the little cluckers. (Check out more on happier hens here.)
What to eat instead: Organic is a must for anything chicken-related, since poultry feed can have all kinds of bad stuff in it, from antidepressants to arsenic. Cage-free is nice, too, since those eggs don’t come from chickens that are trapped in battery cages all the time. But the best option? Seek out eggs with the “certified humane raised and handled label,” which means that your eggs underwent a voluntary, thorough inspection by an independent animal-welfare group. Or buy from a farmer you trust. Check out LocalHarvest to find truly sustainable farmers near you.
Speaking of eggs, balut is a soft-boiled duck egg, where the embryo is almost fully formed–feathers, bones, and all. The egg is cracked open, the soupy liquid drunk, and the fetus dug out to eat. It’s popular in the Philippines, Laos, and other Southeast Asian countries.
What’s being done: Thanks to domestic foodie demand, this “snack” is available in the U.S. too. Dekalb Market in Brooklyn hosted its first ever balut-eating contest this summer–and the winner downed 18 embryos in 5 minutes.
What to eat instead: Regular eggs (organic, cage-free, preferably my-farmer-sold-them-to-me eggs, that is) will give you a protein fix without the feathered fetus.
How well is your cow treated before it turns into your burger patty? Not great, you think, since you know how lax the laws are regarding factory farms. But how bad can it get, really? Very, according to the animal-rights group Compassion Over Killing, which recently released an undercover video taken at Central Valley Meat Co., a California slaughterhouse that supplies beef to the USDA National School Lunch Program, In-N-Out Burger, Costco, and McDonald’s. Workers there illegally shocked the cows repeatedly with electric prods, sometimes as many as 40 times. Many of the cows there died slow, agonizing deaths, and some captured on video weren’t even dead when they got to the slaughtering stage.
What’s being done: Since the video came out, the aforementioned companies severed their ties with Central Valley Meat Co. The USDA closed the plant down for a few days to address mishandlings, but then continued their lunch program contract with the company, reported Food Safety News.
What to eat instead: If you’re set on meat, go local and humane. Get your beef at a farmer’s market, where you can ask the farmer about their breeding–and slaughtering–practices.
Want to know the secret to beating bacon cravings at brunch? Consider where your pig came from. Even though they’re some of the most intelligent animals alive, most breeding pigs are kept in gestation creates: tiny spaces about 2 feet wide in which pigs can’t even turn around, according to the Humane Society. They stay pent up most of their lives to endure constant impregnation.
What’s being done: Gestation crates are banned in Sweden and the U.K. Stateside, they’re banned in Florida, Oregon, Maine, and Rhode Island, with phase-out plans in several other states. The three largest fast food chains in America–McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s–recently announced they’d be phasing out the practice for pigs. Most recently, Qdoba, Jack in the Box, and Subway pledged to eliminate gestation crates by 2022.
What to eat instead: This little piggie went to market–the farmer’s market. It’s the very best way to learn what happens to your meat, from pig’s pen to pork chop.