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Making Kind Choices for Feathered Friends

From Making Kind Choices, by Ingrid Newkirk:

"It was a terrible shock to me to see with my own eyes the hens who supply eggs to kitchens the world over. At the time I still had a childlike vision of the chicken-farm hens pecking at wholesome grain, free to dust-bath in the farmyard, preen their feathers in the sunshine, and when the time was right rest in the deep straw of a nesting box to lay their eggs.

All of that went out the window when I stepped into that vast shed. I gazed in horror at row upon row of cages, stacked atop each other like packing crates. In each one were seven hens. It sounds impossible, I know, for so many animals to fit inside a space the size of a file drawer, but there they were, so crowded they couldn't even stretch their wings. Their food, laced with antibiotics to prevent the infections that thrive in such conditions, was in a long trough, and the hens had to poke their heads through the wire bars to eat. I stared in horror at the beaks of the hens as they tried to peck at the grain. Every one was cut off. The university agriculture professor showing me around explained that it was a universal practice in the egg industry to cut off much of the beaks of the chickens because otherwise the chickens would injure each other in fights.

'Why do they fight?' I asked. His explanation was that when a farmer puts birds in a single cage the birds can't do what they'd do in nature: establish a pecking order. There isn't enough room. Fights ensue.

I thought about the hens I had once known on an old-fashioned farm that belonged to friends of mine. Those hens were curious animals who peered intently at me when I visited, coming right up to inspect me as if to say, 'Who are you and what brings you here today?' with my friends they were affectionate, and they loved to perch in an open window and listen to classical music from the stereo. And they were all very clear about their own space. The term pecking order comes from chickens, who among themselves decide which part of the farmyard belongs to whom, and woe to any hen who trespasses!

One thing I knew for sure on the day I saw that egg-laying "factory:" These hens were miserable shadows of the animals they should have been. They couldn't even stand comfortably on the wires at the bottom of the cages, whose floors were slanted so that the eggs would roll out to a conveyer belt that rumbled past. They were a pathetic and disturbing sight as they scrambled over each other as best they could, treading on each other's back, squawking, stressed, their bodies scrunched against the wire. In some cases, I saw that a head or foot had been thrust through the wire, no doubt in a fight, and the bird was stuck, unable to free herself. I knew then that I couldn't ever buy another egg from the grocery store.

"...I remember sitting in my kitchen on Saturday afternoon, realizing that I had just two hours before a houseful of guests would arrive and wondering what on earth I could serve for dessert. I searched madly through my cookbooks, longing for the taste of melt-in-your-mouth cake just cooled from the oven but fearing that whatever I concocted would taste like sawdust. It would have been easy to dash out to the store for a dozen eggs... except that I couldn't bring myself to give one penny to the misery I'd witnessed.

That evening I made do with fresh fruit for dessert and resigned myself to a future without the wonderful baked goods that I loved. But of course I am only an amateur cook. It took a professional — one who prepares lavish meals for some of the most prominent men and women in our government — to show me just how wrong I was. Chef Dennis Jaricot at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel, the "Hotel of Presidents" [in Washington, D.C.], makes the most scrumptious blueberry cake without so much as an egg white or any animal ingredients. His secret has become my ally in the kitchen: silken tofu. Whipped up in a blender and added to a recipe with the proper flavorings, it is the perfect 'egg' or 'cream' in the best cake recipes.

Discovering that eating eggs was a choice and not a necessity, made me wonder about the other 'necessities' I took for granted. Was I supporting cruelty to animals in ways I had never considered? And if I was, couldn't I find better alternatives?...I know now that there is always a better way, and that if we search, we can always find or create a kind alternative to the cruel act."

After this, there is a recipe for Black Forest Cake that looks mouth-watering but is way too long to repeat here, followed by sections on egg and dairy substitutes for baking, and finally information that is more relevant to my current lifestyle:

"Ready-Made Baked Goods

If you don't feel like cooking, nip around to your local supermarket and you can find vegan baked goods galore. If you have a Dollar store near you, you will find apple and cinnamon cookies and twists and all manner of vegan baked goods on the shelves. Here are few other suggestions (check labels, though, as ingredients can change from time to time):

      Barry's Bakery makes six varieties of French Twists as well as other cookies. French Twist flavors include Original (cinnamon), Maple French toast, Chocolate Chip, Mocha. Wild Raspberry, and California Almond.

      Uncle Eddie's rich cookies come in chocolate chip, oatmeal, and peanut butter flavors.

      Keebler Vienna Creme-Filled Fingers go beautifully with a hot cup of tea or coffee.

      Krispy Kreme Pies: cherry, apple, and, best of all, coconut cream—available in grocery stores and gas stations

      Little Debbie makes a 'cake doughnut' that's vegan and available in convenience stores and grocery stores and gas stations.

      Newman-O cookies are organic and made without trans-fats. [All profits go to charity.]

      Rich Foods: chocolate fudge stripe cookies.

      Sara Lee has several varieties of vegan pastries.

Two cakes are better than one! While you are buying the ingredients, what about thinking twice? That is, think about doing twice as much good by baking two cakes and giving the second one to a shut-in, a serviceperson living on a fixed income, or the volunteers or other hard workers at a local charity. This will multiply your kindness and share it with others."
Whole Foods makes a very decent vegan walnut double chocolate cookie, which you can find in their "grab it with tongs and put it in a bag" section. Also, an astute reader reminded me that all Oreos, not just the mini ones, are now vegan. They dropped the whey (by the wheyside).

If you like pecan pie (who doesn't?) and bake, here's a great-looking recipe. First person to try it before me, please let me know how it is. Three ingredients in the recipe you may not have: barley malt syrup, arrowroot, and Tahini. Just a few of the many versatile foods that have always been there but you overlooked, and now can add to your repertoire as you transition to a more animal- and earth-friendly diet. You'll have no problem scanning the Internet for dishes that contain any of those items.

I would remiss if I didn't let you know about Sticky Fingers Bakery in D.C. They have managed to make extremely tasty vegan renditions of things I thought couldn't be veganized, like cheesecake and cinnamon buns. There's nothing like getting sweets fresh from the bakery oven, but they also do mail order (go to the bottom of the home page).

Somewhere I have a recipe from a Hilton Hotel in Norfolk, VA, for a chocolate concoction made with silken tofu. It is one of the most delicious desserts I have ever had in my life, including all the years I ate dairy. I've got it somewhere around here. Maybe check back on this post in a couple of days... If you go to Norfolk, I would consider staying at this Hilton just for this dish. (Also be sure and get a tour of the Navy ships. Those are pretty amazing, too.)