Fluffy Friday – Virtual Nature

Ahh it’s the end of the week, a new paper was accepted, the exam boards are all finished up, and I’ve marked my second last thesis, time to kick my feet up and chill out with a nature documentary .  . .

A nature documentary made in Grand Theft Auto V! ‘Onto the Land’ is a lovely little piece of machinima, and it contains all the great tropes of nature documentaries. And of course, if you live in Edinburgh, you’ve got to support Rockstar North.

Watch ‘Onto the Land’ here:

Ethical Eating Month – Cheesecake . . . wait?

Why no Ethical Eating post this week? Well we had our exam board for the MSc and so it’s been crazy busy. Instead, let me offer you my Cranachan Cheesecake recipe as an apology.

Cranachan is an old Scottish dessert, an easy, summery mix of fruit, oats, cream and whiskey. For this cheesecake version, you will need:

  • 300g digestive biscuits
  • 150g melted butter
  • 1/2 cup of rolled oats
  • 1 punnet strawberries
  • 1 punnet raspberries
  • 450g cream cheese (I used half and half philly and mascarpone)
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp bourbon (I used Jack Daniels)
  • 4 eggs
  • Springform pan

Preheat the oven to 180C and butter the pan.

Crush the digestive biscuits up and and mix with oats and melted butter, press down into the pan and cover with sliced strawberries and raspberries. Put in the fridge to chill while you prepare the cheese filling.

Add the cream cheese, sugar, bourbon and eggs and mix, being very careful not to overbeat. Fill the pan over the fruit layer and pop in the oven for 45 minutes (or until the cheesecake element only slightly wobbles)

Leave until cool.

A few things: Why use bourbon and not an expensive Scottish whiskey? Well bourbon, especially Jack, has the vanilla flavours, the honey flavours and the extra sweetness that puts you in mind of cranachan, but you could use a good whiskey if you have one on hand. You might want to add a dash of vanilla flavouring in that case.

Serve with tea and Great British Bake Off!

Ethical eating?

Ethical eating?

Ethical eating?

Ethical eating?

Ethical Eating Month – Meat

The Ethical Eating month doesn’t start easily. We begin with the thorny issue of eating meat.

 

When I wrote the first draft of this post it was extremely long because I wanted to outline the ethical process that led to my personal decision to eat meat. After writing it and re-reading it, I couldn’t help feeling like I was lecturing people on why my life choices are superior to everyone else’s. I mean they are, obviously, because I’m awesome, but that’s not what you come here to read about.

So that blog, and the question of ‘should we want to eat meat’ has been shelved for now, and instead I’m going to focus on the ethics of meat production. If you don’t want to eat any meat at all, that’s your choice dudes, but this is for those who enjoy a steak now and again. How can we eat ethically?

There is a Coursera course, The Meat We Eat by the University of Florida, which many of my students have recommended. And this is really a topic that we could discuss for months on its own, so I’m going to cram a lot into this little blog post.

We’ll discuss the effect meat production has on our climate in a few weeks, today we’re concentrating on the process of producing meat. How do the most common meats end up on our table?

I often hear people saying how far removed we are from our food, or say something that either has a very idyllic picture-book idea of farming, or a gross misunderstanding based on pressure group videos, outdated or misrepresented. In the age of YouTube, there’s no excuse for not knowing what a real farming environment looks like because not only are our supermarkets, levy boards and colleges putting videos up, but so are actual farmers. I’ve cherrypicked some good resources that really demonstrate what I think of as good and realistic farm environments.

 

Chicken (Broiler Systems)

The broiler chicken is the breed we eat and they have been heavily selected for, so much so that most breeds can be patented. They grow exceptionally quickly and in intensive systems are packed into sheds without much in the way of environmental enrichment to stimulate them, which may be a good thing because they often break their bones because of their quick-growing physiology. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall made a really good program on this a few years ago, and here you can see a pretty damn good free range broiler system

 

The fact I call this a ‘pretty good’ system might surprise you, but it is. These birds are clean, active, and don’t look damaged. I agree completely with what Hugh says, that this should be the bare minimum standard for chicken production in the UK. A £1 extra per chicken, at the time of filming, that’s what you buy for it.

 

I try really hard not to buy chicken. It is the meat I am probably most squeamish about because I think their quality of life is pretty poor.

 

Which brings me neatly to . . .

 

Beef (Beef Cattle Systems)

If you were to reincarnate me as a production animal, I’d like to be reincarnated as a beef cow in Scotland. MrScottishFarmer on YouTube has a video showing the living conditions of beef steers (the castrated males we eat), and it’s a decent system I’d say. The steers aren’t too muddy, the straw is relatively clean, and they’re all calm and curious about the human.

 

The beef cows (remember ‘cow’ means female cattle) you’ll see out in the fields with calves are the mummys, who keep their calves with them until weaning age, typically around 7-8 months (although earlier weaning is a thing). Then the boys are grouped together and fattened up until slaughter. Beef cows will then have their next calf and the system starts again for them. The big welfare problems that have occurred in British beef farming systems have largely been man made.

 

Feedlots, which are what we call the area steers are raised, change country to country. Particularly in the Americas you’ll find much larger and more intensive systems.

Another video, which does contain some mild images of abbatoirs, comes from Quality Meat Scotland (and features quite a few SRUC researchers under our former ‘SAC’ banner). What you can see here is a very good beef handling system, watch how calm the steers are in handling. That’s a great sign.

 

 

Pork (Pig Production Systems)

Pig farming in Scotland has a large proportion of outdoor farming compared to many other countries producing pork meat, but we still have the intensive indoor systems.

 

You’ll be able to see examples of both in this QMS video

 

and in this great video from an Australian producer, showing a more intensive system:

 

 

Lamb (Sheep Production Systems)

Lamb is the meat of a sheep less than a year old, while mutton is the meat of a sheep older. Lamb is probably my least favourite meat (versus pork, which I would until the cows came home if I could).

 

We’re going travel south for this video, because in Scotland we tend to fling our sheep out into the hills and forget about them (gross exaggeration). Southern systems tend to be more intensive.

 

The girl who explains the lamb production system is very engaging (maybe Hugh should hire her). But how about a truly intensive system? Canada has us covered here:

 

Fish (Aquaculture)

And of course we can’t forget our fish! Fish are a hard one because it’s a huge range of species that you’re trying to cover, and we’re not so au fait with our understanding of their ability to feel pain, etc. (although note that our EU legislation considers all vertebrates to be sentient)

 

The Ethics of Meat?

You might be wondering what any of this has to do with the ethics of eating meat – well this is the welfare of how these animals live. While welfare at death is undeniably important, overall it’s a much shorter component of the animal’s overall experience. I’m more concerned about the welfare-at-life of my meat animals.

 

Farm assurance schemes such as Freedom Food  and Red Tractor  have some, possibly basic, welfare standards.  Those are two schemes that I look for when I’m buying meat as a bare minimum. There’s also the Soil Association’s animal welfare standards  if organic is a priority for you. Just as you would check calorie information, we really should be checking farming methods too before we buy.  Take a look at the welfare standards of these organisations and decide if that’s the welfare you want your meat to have experienced when it was alive, because that is what we meat eaters must understand – these burgers were animals at one point.

 

Is meat too easy? Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (such a great name to type out) used to do a show where he took a number of bad cooks and got them to re-engage with the source of their food. In this clip, he makes the point of taking responsibility for the life and death of his chickens. Definitely worth a watch:

 

I would love to live in a world where my tenement block looked after a number of chickens in our garden, but my tenement block can’t even look after our garden. Our lifestyles encourage cheap, butchered meat. The last meat I ate was pollock  steaks that I buy frozen and keep by to make curries with when I need to make a quick cupboard meal. It’s hugely convenient.

 

Reducing the number of animals we need to farm would greatly improve the overall welfare of production animals (the welfare of the farmers however is a topic to come . . . ) But is it realistic? What about people under financial pressure? Can we ask them to stop buying cheap meat? Well, yes, we can. A Girl Called Jack blogs about cooking on a very tight budget, and the majority of her recipes are meat free.

 

These are all strangely complicated questions, featuring a lot of human behaviour and many interconnecting issues that we’ll discuss later in the month.

 

But I think the biggest step in helping production animal welfare is showing people what farms are really like, and as you can see from this post, the internet is a vast repository of resources. Really, neither side of the ethical debate has any excuse to be ignorant about what real farming is like. 

Ethical Eating Month – Introduction

For someone who works in an agricultural college, I struggle with how to eat ethically. As we know, ethics are a personal thing, and my ethics may not be yours. My version of ethical eating is one that provides a good quality of life for the animals I eat, provides a good industry and quality of life for the people involved in the food chain, and minimises my carbon footprint.

So how do I try and eat ethically with these three goals? Well it’s surprisingly hard. In part this is because I am a deeply lazy person and the lure of pre-processed and delightfully packaged meals is hugely appealing, even if it as detrimental to my waistline as it is my world. In part, it’s because I’m also a hedonist (and I believe most people are). I don’t derive much joy from cooking and would rather skip the process entirely, and I get a lot of joy from the taste and smell and process of eating meat.  And in part because I’m a single person household, preparing food ahead of time is not always easy, and I do end up wasting food.

I’m an awful person.

You might have seen in the news further discussion of the price of milk in the UK, especially as Morrison’s has announced they will sell a milk brand ‘for farmers‘, that will pay them what the milk is worth. There was also Monbiot’s latest Guardian column about the difficulty of treating the obesity epidemic. I thought there was a curious parallel in these two stories. In the first, Sean Rickard, former National Farmer’s Union chief economist said:

“I think it’s unrealistic for anyone [receiving £28,000 per annum from the tax payer] to expect us just to pay them whatever price they think is needed to cover their cost of production.”

In the second, after Monbiot details the scientific evidence behind why obesity is so difficult to control, Guardian commenter ScottMa says:

“But for the majority it is entirely controllable. <ore [sic] difficult for some than others due to genes, maybe, but by no means impossible.

Monbiot has just absolved the overweight without a medical cause of all responsibility for their situation. Why does the Left have such a problem with that concept? Always someone else’s fault, everyone’s a victim.”

 

I have got to stop reading Guardian comments. But I think both of these comments share a few elements. Firstly, a great lack of sympathy for the people actually affected by the problems, and secondly, that food really does go hand in hand with opinion.

So many of us have been lectured at by bystanders, well-meaning family members, that one person in work, that we instinctively get riled about food discussions. Just this week I was saying that the ‘One Hour After a Coke’ Infographic that was going around had me rabidly proclaiming Coke as a health drink before I checked myself. We just don’t like being told about food.

I’m not going to tell you about food, but I am going to devote this month to the ethics of my eating, and giving myself time to refresh my understanding of my evidence. Welcome then to Ethical Eating Month, and I hope I don’t enrage you as much as food posts enrage me . . . .

Bon appetit!

Fluffy Friday – More Animal Welfare Teaching

I am on annual leave this week, which is glorious, particularly as there are so many developments in the pipeline at work. Lots of exciting things coming up. Look out for MOOC news coming soon, as well as some news about what we’re doing for World Animal Day in October.

There may or may not be a post next week, depending on how much fun I get up to on my annual leave, so while you’re waiting, why not vote on some possibilities for the future.

Go to Strawpoll to vote!

Cecil the Lion and Trophy Hunting

This week’s horrible animal welfare story comes courtesy of a certain American dentist, yes we’re talking about the trophy killing of Cecil the lion.

I won’t name the gentleman (the Guardian has no such qualms), but according to the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, he . . .

  • Paid $50,000 for the privilege (Cecil is a well known personality of the park thought to bring in thousands of dollars annually, at a conservative estimate)
  • Spotted the lion in the park and then lured him outside of the park with bait
  • Shot the lion with an arrow, failed to kill it
  • Followed the lion until were able to shoot it with a gun, killing it.
  • Did so with no permit
  • Removed the lion’s radiotracking collar

The Telegraph rightly points out that locals who had been found guilty of hunting without a permit would be imprisoned if found guilty. I sincerely hope rich hunters have to abide by the same legal systems.

I’m not totally against hunting. In cases of overpopulation, a skilled hunter able to kill an animal quickly and humanely in its natural environment is what I would consider a ‘good death after a good life’. The hunter needs to kill the right animals (this is never the big males) and I would prefer if the animal’s body was used after death, but I’m okay with this.  I’m not even necessarily against culling lions, but I want there to be valid conservation reasons behind it. My ethical viewpoint, which is a pretty common one, is that animal use needs to be justified, and one person’s enjoyment does not allow me to approve of the painful and prolonged death this lion suffered. (I talk more about animal use in the Value post).

For a humane death we need to be using the right kind of gear. While it’s very impressive shooting things with a bow and arrow, it’s not the cleanest kill-method. Take the Makah people who live in Washington State. When they were allowed to hunt grey whales again, as part of their traditional hunting, they chose to use high powered rifles to make as quick a kill as possible. I really like the Makah’s story for a number of reasons (and frequently contrast it with UK fox hunting with my students, to varying degrees of success), including that the not all of the tribe were keen on the idea of starting up their hunting again.

A modern bow and arrow is a fearful weapon, but still not one that kill as quickly and reliably as a gun. Guns are extremely effective weapons, and short of being stunned prior to killing, a high caliber bullet to the brain is a quick and painless death.

Despite my disagreements with the method, what’s happening to this hunter right now isn’t right. We protect animal welfare because we want to be better, we should protect human welfare for the same reason. This guy should be prosecuted in a court of law, protected from the internet’s mob-happy vengeance.

Animal Welfare on Your Holidays

This week we have to revisit the Isla Nublar welfare audit to talk about one of Jurassic World’s best loved scenes . . . the petting zoo.

Of course it’s all oooh and ahhh when they’re babies and they’re cute, but the common love for this scene does raise an excellent point. While you’re out and about on your summer holidays, you might be tempted to do something animal related as an animal lover. I do this too. But think very carefully about how you use the animals on your holiday trip. Do you really want a picture of you sitting beside a declawed and defanged tiger that has a pretty poor quality of life?

But animal-focussed tourism can also bring a lot to a local economy, as well as being a pleasant experience for you, so how can you be a responsible animal lover on your holidays?

The ABTA has some good animal welfare guidance on their website and if you’ve booked through a travel agent they’ll want to hear about your experiences doing an animal-related activity. My tips would be:

  • Does the animal have access to water and shade?

This is especially important in warmer climates, but any animal performing needs to have access to plenty of fresh water and shade that it can avail itself of at any time.

  • Can the animal leave the situation?

Is the animal to get up and go if too many humans invade its space, or at the very least, if the animal displays behaviour suggesting it’s uncomfortable, will the tour operator accept this and end the session?

  • Does the animal look healthy?

A good indicator of welfare is general health. A thin, obese, flea-ridden or otherwise diseased animal is A) not going to be feeling very happy anyway, and B) unlikely to be living in a good environment.

So with that – enjoy your holidays!

Weekend Mortality and the 7-day NHS

jilly:

Necessary reading for anyone looking to understand some nonsense figures being batted about by UK politicians

Originally posted on juniordoctorblog:

“If you are admitted to hospital on a Sunday, you are 15% more likely to die than on a Wednesday”.

This is Jeremy Hunt- quoting a paper without atribution from the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, conducted in 2010 by Freemantle et al [1] amongst nearly 15 million admissions.

Here is the actual paper:
Here are the ACTUAL conclusions
  1. Patients admitted on a Sunday were more likely to die over the next thirty days than a similar cohort of admissions on Wednesday- the ratio was 1.16 and the result significant, suggesting a true result of increased deaths by 16%
  2. 94% of these ‘admissions’ were emergencies
  3. 34% of deaths occurred within three days of admission
  4. You are actually less likely to die if you are IN hospital on the weekend – the Sunday to Wednesday ratio here is 0.92, or 8% LESS likely. As the authors also conclude, this…

View original 1,252 more words

Chronicles of Athena – One Year

This week Athena is one year old! We went from this …

Athena 9 Weeks Old

Athena’s first day with me, discovering Netflix for the first time

To this …

Athena at One Year

Athena as a one year old, not getting into Sense8 on Netflix and very much enjoying the sunshine

 

The aging process is a strange thing, and something me and a colleague have been talking about lately. For Athena, there’s still a way to go. She still has a kitten’s energy, and still finding her own individuality. Purina has a fun age chart on their site here, which suggests that as a rule of thumb, we would consider Athena to be equivalent to a 15 year old human. These kinds of rules are sometimes confusing for pet owners. Athena isn’t likely to start using heavy eyeliner and locking herself in her room (although one night I did walk into the bedroom to find her alone, sitting beside the mood lighting and seemingly listening to the Genesis I had playing), but these companion animal aging rules are more to give you a comparison between the physical maturity and the kinds of behaviours you might expect.

For all my ideas of getting and well-socialising a kitten, Athena has developed her own ideas of how she should behave. Her personality is that of a live wire, cautious and curious bundled up with affection. When we went to stay with our lovely friend Kay while the central heating was being installed, Athena very quickly adopted Kay into the pride and spent the morning accidentally miaowing and making noise outside of Kay’s bedroom, feigning shock and delight when Kay got up (and then looking less impressed when Kay wouldn’t let her in the shower).

I’d love to ask Athena what she thinks of her life, does she enjoy it, what would she change, is she happy with me? But I don’t think she really has any comprehension of a different life, no power to imagine the comparison. What she does know is that she loves her fluffy pillow on the windowsill, she doesn’t know what hunger is, and she’s never felt much pain, and she gets cuddles whenever she asks. I think that means she’s had a good first year. Here’s hoping she’ll have many more.

Happy Birthday, Athena!