Cooking for Causes Workshop with Chicago’s Salt Block Kitchen

by Lisa Lubin

Thankfully today there is a growing movement to be more aware of where our food actually comes from and how it gets to our table. Large and small organizations are popping up all over to educate consumers and eaters (a group we all belong to!) to be more aware and mindful of what they eat.

Salt Block Kitchen

Salt Block Kitchen Chicago

Salt Block Kitchen Chicago

This month Crate Free Illinois partnered with Salt Block Kitchen. Their mission is simple — to help people connect to their food sources, and inspire them to support and donate to food sustainability causes. The founder, Jayme O’Connell, holds monthly “Cooking for Causes” workshops in her residential kitchen for about six to eight guests.

Salt Block Kitchen Chicago

Cooking for Causes workshop with Salt Block Kitchen

Each month she selects a different cause that supports the food ecosystem, curates a menu, and brings people to learn about cooking and the food ecosystem. Her workshops are non-profit (each guest contributes $50 for the ingredients, menu planning, shopping, and preparation) and the guests are asked to donate at least $50 to the cause of the month.

Chicken or the Egg

deviled Egg TrioHer workshop this month was titled, “Which Came First…the Chicken or the Egg.” As the name suggests, all the dishes featured chicken and eggs. She made a trio of deviled eggs, bucatini carbonara, a cheese soufflé, Indian chicken tikka on rice, and for desert, a take on s’mores with lemon curd and marshmallow between two Italian pizelle cookies.

Bucatini Carbonara

Bucatini Carbonara

Cheese Souffle

Cheese souffle

Chicken tikka

Chicken tikka on rice

Lemon curd and marshmallow s'mores

Lemon curd and marshmallow s’mores

The Food Source

Jayme sourced the chicken directly from Gunthrop Farms, a family-owned farm based in Indiana which supplies many restaurants in Chicago. Gunthrop Farms is one of many farmers you can find on our Crate Free Illinois app (available on iTunes or in the Google Play Store) which provides a map of Illinois and all the farmers and markets at which you can buy humanely raised meat (restaurants coming soon!). All of the animals at Gunthrop Farms are raised humanely on pasture without antibiotics and are slaughtered on the premises so the animals live their lives in one place and never have to deal with the stress and fear of being transported.

Jayme O'Connell of Salt Block Kitchen

Jayme O’Connell of Salt Block Kitchen

We were thrilled to be the food cause for this month’s workshop and thank Salt Block Kitchen and their guests for their generous donations to our cause.

About the author: Lisa Lubin is a writer, photographer, video consultant and world traveler. She formerly was a TV producer at ABC7 Chicago. She is a volunteer and on the board of directors for Crate Free Illinois. She fosters cats and lives on the north side of Chicago with her awesome rescue kitty, Bug.

A Look at Massachusetts’ New Landmark Animal Welfare Law

By Jean Paul Olmsted

animal welfare law picture

This year’s elections have brought severe consternation to many of us.  And some of the appointments to president-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet have raised no small amount of trepidation among animal rights activists.  But, amid the rubble, there is some indisputably good news for those of us fighting for a better, more humane life for animals, specifically farm animals.

The people of Massachusetts voted overwhelmingly (77%) in favor of legislation that will mimic much of California’s Prevention of Cruelty to Farm Animals Act, also the result of a popular referendum supported by a large majority (62%) of our largest state’s electorate.

Massachusetts, however, took the California precedent one very important step farther:  Their initiative, in addition to mandating minimal standards in the confinement of farm animals, also applies those standards to imports!  California has done this with eggs, banning those from chickens not afforded their still very weak standards.  Efforts to do the same regarding pigs and cows, sadly, have gone nowhere.

There is a logical, almost irrefutable, argument to applying a state’s standards to imports:  It is only fair that out of state producers are subjected to the same rules and regulations as in state producers.  Furthermore, no matter how small their number, whatever rationale that resulted in the adoption of standards for animal care within a state, must also, by extension, apply to imports as well.  

CAFOs are well aware of the risks these laws present to their operations.  Unlike states where their size and importance to the overall economy allow them to dominate the very legislative committees responsible for their regulation, they cannot control those states in which their presence is less significant.  Thus, they have taken their battles to the courts; many millions were poured into battles to stop the application of California’s standards to eggs from out of state producers.  Fortunately, to date, these efforts have failed.  Similar efforts are already underway to mitigate the effects and application of the Massachusetts referendum.

The application of Massachusetts’ new law to imports has shown us an end around the power and influence of the animal food industry in the states where they are a dominant presence.  As more and more non producing states remove themselves from the market for CAFO raised animal products, that market shrinks and with it so do the economies that justify the horribly inhumane conditions in which their charges are kept.  Gestation crates make no sense if the market for the pigs thus raised is limited to Illinois, Iowa and North Carolina.  Currently, 80% of producers use this unconscionable method of confinement.  As more states follow the example of Massachusetts, a foregone conclusion, that number will decrease to the point that it is no longer economically viable.  Clearly, the flow of history is immutable and is on our side.

All of this does not mean that our job is done once this has been accomplished:  The standards imposed by these laws are beyond minimal.  At most, they allow animals to stand up and turn around.  In California, chickens are now required to have less space than two sheets of paper, up from less than a single sheet.  Additionally, these laws give farmers ridiculously generous timetables to comply:  The Massachusetts law, for example, doesn’t take effect until 2022!

The bottom line is; in our battle to ban gestation crates, we are winning.  However, even with victory, we will have only scratched the surface of what needs to be done to bring truly humane treatment to the care of those animals which provide us with so much.  Our fight is just beginning!

About the Author: Jean Paul Olmsted is both a political and animal welfare activist who resides in California. He is a long time friend and advisor to Crate Free Illinois and a member of its Board of Directors.

The Times They Are A Changin’

The Times They Are A Changin’

By Jean Paul Olmsted

We live in a world repeat with profound misery.  As Buddha learned, we cannot hide from it; it will find each and everyone one of us.  Suffering, like most things in life, is not distributed equally; some get more than their share and others less.  While efforts to alleviate the pain of others can have a beneficial effect on our own psyches and sense of well-being, the sheer magnitude of the task can have a wearing effect on even the strongest among us.

However, amidst all the sadness which confronts those of us who have focused our energies on the welfare of animals, especially farm animals, we need to keep one thing in mind: The tide of history is on our side.  This is not an opinion.  It is an incontrovertible fact.  No matter how powerful the special interests allayed against us, that tide cannot and will not be stopped. Anything that stands in its way will ultimately be washed away.  Our job is simply to help push this process forward.

We all know that many countries, including Canada and even nine states within our union, have taken steps to improve the lives of farm animals.  Now, thanks to greater awareness (our mission), American consumers — fully 95% feel animals ought to be treated well –– are demanding more responsible stewardship of these creatures.

More and more companies, large and small, are acceding to the demands of the public:  Wal-Mart and COSTCO will soon be using only cage free eggs in their private brands.  Subway is joining Wendy’s, Denny’s, Golden Corral, Cracker Barrel, Whataburger, Sonic and Ruby Tuesday in switching to cage-free eggs.  Unilever, one of the world’s largest food companies, is working to eliminate the cruel killing of male chicks at hatcheries.  Nestlé has announced an industry-leading animal welfare program that will eliminate inhumane practices, including the drugging and breeding chickens so heavy and so fast that they suffer crippling injuries and performing of unnecessary operations on animals (cutting tails, horns, testicles, etc.) without adequate pain relief.  And both McDonalds and Wendy’s are phasing out the use of pork products from pigs raised in gestation crates.  Even the unconscionable use of tens of millions of animals in research labs is slowly decreasing as non animal techniques are increasingly being used to tackle research problems.

More to our specific mission: K-Mart, COSTCO, Nestlé, Safeway, Sobeys, among many other smaller players, are adopting anti-gestation crate policies.

So, while our work necessitates awareness of the horrors farm animals face every single day of their lives, our efforts are not in vain.  In the distance, we can see the light of a better day shining brighter and brighter.

About the Author: Jean Paul Olmsted is both a political and animal welfare activist who resides in California. He is a long time friend and advisor to Crate Free Illinois and a member of its Board of Directors.

Why This Cross Fit Athlete Only Eats Pastured Raised

Why This Cross Fit Athlete Only Eats Pastured Raised

By Tim O’Connor

If you’re a beginner with CrossFit, it’s almost a certainty that you’ll have at least a few sessions with a coach that will introduce you to the fundamentals of weightlifting, specifically Olympic weightlifting.  As my sessions were nearing the end my coach asked me about my goals and diet. I told him I wanted to transform my body and asked about protein supplements. My coach suggested the Paleo diet instead and lean meat is the foundation of that diet. Prior to CrossFit, I really didn’t consume much meat at all. With that in mind, I decided to do some research.  

My main concern was to limit fat intake, especially saturated fat since there is a history of heart disease in my family.  I believed the most beneficial source of energy for my body was carbohydrates.  However, much of what I was now reading convinced me that fat is actually the fuel my body preferred. Consuming animal products seemed to be the best way to load up on protein and get the fuel may body needed for intense exercise. I needed to be sure I wouldn’t compromise my health to perform better in a WOD and my research seemed to indicate that pasture raised and grass fed meats are healthier sources of fat when compared to standard meat.  For that reason, I decided to begin including pasture raised and grass fed meat as part of my everyday diet.

I assumed all animals were raised the way I remembered on my grandparent’s farm in Iowa that I visited as a child.  My research into pasture raised and grass fed animals led me to the reality that the farm I knew as a child has, for all practical purposes, disappeared. Today, almost all animal products are actually produced and processed on factory farms where the animals are crammed by the thousands or tens of thousands, into crates or overcrowded facilities.  They are often unable to breathe fresh air, see the light of day, walk outside, peck at plants or insects, scratch the ground, or eat a blade of grass. They’re restricted from normal behavior. By and large, all the meat you purchase at your grocery store was raised under those conditions.

If you’re concerned about your health, you want meat from an animal that was raised under natural conditions – not one that was raised under unhealthy conditions that stresses the animal to the point of inducing obsessive and harmful behavior and exposes them to disease due to living in filth and concentrated waste. Factory farms also harm the environment of surrounding communities as well as exploiting workers at their facilities. Pasture raised and grass fed animals are raised humanely in a cleaner environment. All in all, that means fewer diseased animals, no need for unregulated use of antibiotics and hormones, and less pollution from concentrated animal waste.

Pasture raised and grass fed are slightly different.  The simple explanation is that grass fed refers to what that animal eats – grass or hay. A grass fed animal might still spend most or all its life indoors. Most grass fed animals do spend some time on a pasture though.  Pasture raised refers to where the animal eats – a pasture. In colder climates where snow may cover the ground during winter, a pasture raised animal may be fed grain during those months.  I prefer pasture raised because the animal is raised naturally like the ones I remember on my grandparent’s farm. If it’s more important to you the animal eats the food it was evolved to eat, then your choice should be grass fed. Either is a healthier choice than an animal produced on a factory farm. Grass fed is readily available now. Likewise, buying directly from a farm is another easy option. The Crate Free Illinois app will help you locate one in your area and you

To sum up, the business model of a factory farm is to feed the greatest numbers in the smallest space at the least expense of money, labor, and attention. It’s a good model for profit and shareholders, but it floods our food supply with animals that are grown under unnatural conditions and harms the environment in the surrounding communities.  However, meat eaters now have healthy and readily available products that are raised in a humane and natural environment. Producers who are concerned with animal welfare and the environment are easy to find. Dollars that don’t go to concentrated animal feeding operations will send a strong message that business as usual is no longer acceptable.

About the Author: Tim O’Connor is a telecommunications professional, CrossFit Athlete and Crate Free Illinois who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

INTERVIEWS WITH OUR FAVORITE LOCAL FARMERS This Month: Hart’s Heritage Farm – Edinburg, IL


Hart’s Heritage Farm is a great example of how pigs should be raised.Photo Credit: Hart’s Heritage Farm

By Emma Eichelman  

Recently I interviewed Jim Hart, a farmer that works at his own Hart’s Heritage Farm. It is a 248 acre farm located near Edinburg, Illinois that has been in his family for several generations. They raise hogs, cattle, goats, and poultry. They are all mostly heritage breeds and all pasture raised. We conducted a short interview regarding his farm and his thoughts on crate-free practices.

Q: Do you supplement fresh grass with feed? What kind?
A: We do supplement and at the moment we are using mostly non-GMO feeds.

Q: How did you become involved in farming?
A: My grandpa was a farmer and that tradition goes back at least six generations in my family.

: How do you market and sell your products? Direct to consumers, CSA, or through retailers?
A: It varies; some of our market hogs we sell to Niman Ranch, while our beef, poultry, eggs, and some pork is sold directly to the consumer.

Q: How has your business changed over the last several years? Are you considering expansion or changing it?
A: We are looking to add more on the beef and pork side. Along with that, we will be doing more with broilers (chickens) to come in behind those animals and help with parasite control. We have been really busy the last couple of years with barns and other projects that we have let some of the sustainable practices we were wanting to implement take a back seat to other things. We plan to get back on track with the sustainable practices by bringing in draft animals and growing more of our own feed.

Q: How have the economics of farming changed in the last several years? What further changes are you anticipating?
A: Market prices are down on both beef and pork compared to the last couple of years, but that can always change. The demand for pasture raised, antibiotic free, and cage free proteins has increased recently and I think that this trend will continue. I also think that we will see an increase in demand for non-GMO products.

Q: Have you been involved in confinement farms as well as crate-free farms?
A: When I was younger I worked on a hog finishing farm where my job was to go in and clean the barns after the market hogs were taken off but before the new ones came in. The smell was horrific, even when all of the hogs were gone from the barn it would still stink like there were hundreds in there. I would be in a sealed rubber suit when I worked but would still have that smell in my hair and clothes for days after the job was finished.

Q: What are your views on the criminalization of extreme confinement?
A: I think gestation crates are horrible and would support a ban on them. Although my farm does not use farrowing crates, I do understand the need for them on large production farms.

Q: What do you expect the economic implications for Illinois would be?
A: There are already some of the larger producers making some changes, so some of those guys would still be around. I think that a statewide ban would cause some of the bigger companies to move operations out of state, and maybe even overseas, where regulations would have no effect on them. They then would have to import their products back to the United State.

Q: Would you support a bill to stop extreme confinement? Why or why not?
A: I would support a ban on gestation crates. I love to watch my hogs, they have a social structure and they like to interact with other pigs in their group. Many of my sows are just like pets, they will come up to me and expect a scratch behind their ears or a belly rub. I can’t imagine penning on up in a crate for four months. I think a lot is lost in those genetic lines when you treat several generations of an animal in such a way. That leads to a loss in diversity in the food supply, which isn’t a good thing and is cruel to the animals.