Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Convenience Food

With all this healthier eating and preparing all food at home, we are going through a lot of produce lately, and with the end of bicycling season (as far as I'm concerned), we have a hard time getting all the organic produce we like.  I/we spent all summer biking all over town buying produce, and hitting all the farmers markets, as the grocery store near our house doesn't carry much.  Pretty surprising, considering it's a Metro, considering the area, and the size of the store.  As the summer was ending, I wasn't too sure what we would do.  I heard of these organic produce delivery services a long time ago, and started to think about perhaps joining once Fall came.  A couple weeks ago we decided we should just do it.

I did my research, and checked out a few websites of different companies.  In the end, I went with Mama Earth Organics.  I found their online ordering system to be the easiest, and most flexible.  The premise behind most produce delivery services, is that you can select a size of bin (usually small, couple, larger family) which contains pre-selected fruits and vegetables for a fixed price.  You are permitted to make substitutions for items you don't want.  That bin will be delivered to you weekly, or bi-weekly, or once a month, if you choose.  It's a great idea!  On your doorstep when you get home will be your bin of fresh, local, organic produce.  Instead of the pre-selected bins, I chose to simply select everything I wanted from their entire list of produce and create my own bin.  You can choose how many of an item you would like - 4 apples, 2 onions, etc.  Other items like carrots and apples also come in 2 or 3 lb bags.  They also have dairy items, coffees and teas, oils, spreads and syrups, breads, snacks, and much more.  

We have been getting this service for 3 weeks now and it's just fantastic!  It saves us so much time running all over the place to buy produce.  The produce is excellent!  Most of it is local in Ontario, and some is from BC or Mexico (in the case of avocados).  We are able to have an entire weeks' produce brought to our home for the same prices at the grocery store.  We couldn't be happier with this service.

I've also been searching for a while for an "affordable" source of good quality, healthy meat.  I use the word "affordable" very loosely, because organic meat is insanely expensive.  We bought 2 organic bone-in chicken breasts once from The Healthy Butcher for $23.00!  We had been buying a 4 pack of frozen chicken breasts from Rowe Farms for $15.99, so The Healthy Butcher's prices were pretty painful.  The problem with Rowe Farms though, is that their feed is not organic, so the animals there are getting GM corn and soy.  This is the answer I received from Rowe Farms with respect to the feed:
"The GMO issue is a real concern for us as well.  The problem we face is that with cross pollination and cross contamination the most confident determination of GMO content is a DNA profile.  An expensive test that is very rarely performed.  Today, we cannot make any claims regarding GMO free food for our animals.  As a policy, we try to minimize the exposure our animals have to highly GM crops, such as corn and soya.  This issue is on our radar and we are working on a solution.  I wish I had better news to share with you.

I would recommend products such as our lamb and 100% grass fed beef as great alternatives if you are trying to avoid animals that have been fed GM feeds.  The Tamworth pork that we sell in our stores (you could speak with one of our store managers for details) is another item where we are working with feed companies to produce a proprietary blend of forage and thus minimizing GMO exposure such as corn."
Also, the chickens aren't really living a true free-range life in a pasture, picking at grass and insects, and eating grains only if they so choose (though their lives are certainly miles better than grocery store factory farmed chicken).  According to the Rowe Farms website:
"Our chicken and turkeys are free-run in well-protected barns in order to keep them safe (which means they do not live in cramped cages).  Although our chickens live indoors, we provide them with advanced lighting, which replicates the natural cycles of an outdoor environment.  A temperature and air quality system ensures they are raised in a stress-free environment."
At least the meat from Rowe Farms is antibiotic and hormone free, which is a huge priority for me.  I think that Rowe Farms has done something fantastic for consumers: making healthier meat financially possible for lots of people.  The price point for that 4-pack of chicken breasts I mentioned is hugely competitive with the grocery store. 

So, the goal has been to find "affordable" meat, preferably grass-fed beef and pastured chicken, that isn't necessarily organic, but naturally raised.  Raised with no antibiotics or hormones, on land not sprayed with pesticides and chemicals, and raised with no GMO grains.

I've checked out several options.  Beretta Farms has excellent meat, including grass-fed beef in the Fall and Winter.  But they too are insanely expensive.  I have been working with my gym to find a local farm to order meat from (Jeremy thinks it's hilarious that I can get meat at the gym).  I've also been doing my own research.

I have finally found a source of meat that meets all my criteria:  Brooker's Natural Meats.  This evening they delivered a $200 sampler pack to us, and we have now filled our freezer with some really excellent looking, good quality meat.

Brooker's is located in Schomberg, Ontario, not too far from Toronto, and they deliver to various areas on different days - Toronto is every Tuesday.  I get the impression that Brooker's deals with several local area farms and distributes their meat (based on this, from their website: "Our meats are selected from only premium local Ontario farms").  I find their prices are excellent, and the sampler we bought is just a great deal, allowing us to try a huge variety of their meats!  Their cows are 100% grass-fed, and the chickens are pastured, where they eat alfalfa and insects, having access to a grain feeder with non-GMO grain, only if they choose to eat it.

To my dear friend Jordan, who loves piglets, and whose heart is understandably breaking over this ChooseVeg campaign:

this is what I found on Brooker's website:
"We are proud that the focus of our stringent protocols is on the well-being of animals and the sustainability of independent local Ontario farms.  Not only is it the humane alternative to confinement and cages, it is our belief the result of this care produces pork that is unequalled in taste."
I am seeking further information from the pig farmer directly regarding the treatment of the pigs and piglets, and I will post an update in the Comments section at the end of this post.  That said, I completely support her in her journey to rediscover a vegetarian lifestyle, if she so chooses.  For those of you who don't know, the pork that you get in the grocery store is the result of a pretty terrible life.  Pigs are treated like absolute garbage.  This is from the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals:
"Sow stalls are metal barred cages about 2 feet wide by 7 feet long. Female breeding pigs (called “sows”) are confined to these tiny stalls for their entire life. The stalls are so small the sow cannot turn around. Instead, her movement is limited to one step forward or one step back. She must eat, sleep, urinate and defecate in this tiny space. The waste falls through slatted concrete floors to a pool of raw sewage underneath her.

Over 1,440,000 sows are raised in Canada – the vast majority in stalls. Almost 320,000 sows are kept in Manitoba, which has Canada’s fastest growing hog industry. The problem is getting worse. Canada’s hog industry continues to expand and most new sow barns are equipped with sow stalls.

The 1997 Report of the European Union’s Scientific Veterinary Committee, The Welfare of Intensively Kept Pigs, pulled no punches in its condemnation of sow stalls. It stated that sow stalls presented “serious welfare problems” and “Sows prefer not to be confined in a small space.” Furthermore, the report added that “(the committee) find(s) the confinement offensive.”

Just before the sow is due to give birth, she is moved to another restraining device – the farrowing crate – where she gives birth and nurses her young through metal bars. After anywhere from 10 to 21 days of nursing, her piglets are removed and the process is repeated all over again, pregnancy after pregnancy.

An alternative to sow stalls is group housing. Group housing, where groups of pregnant sows can roam around barns with suitable bedding material, such as straw, is a good alternative. The agriculture industry argues that keeping pigs together results in problems, such as fighting and aggression, and mother pigs crushing their piglets, but these problems only result when animals are overcrowded. With proper management and animal care, group housing is easily possible. This type of housing is being used successfully by hog producers in Canada and elsewhere around the world.

Typically, a sow has about 2.2 pregnancies a year, producing 19 to 22 pigs annually. A sow has an average of only three litters before her productivity wanes and she is sent to slaughter at an age of 24 to 30 months. Sows that are no longer productive are termed “cull sows.” Due to prolonged confinement, lack of exercise and the fact that pigs have been bred for large size, culls sows often experience lameness, foot injuries, weakened bones and painful abrasions. When sent to slaughter, pigs that have difficulty walking or navigating the transport ramps are too often roughly handled and outright abused. Electric prods, despite being discouraged by animal welfare scientists, are over-used, causing pigs to go down (“downers” are animals that are unable to stand or walk)."
Another great thing about getting meat from local farms is that they would not have to be transported for tremendous distances to be slaughtered.  See this page, again from the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals.

Please also see this page from CCFR regarding battery cages for egg-laying hens. 

Anyway, the meat from Brooker's Natural Meats arrived in soft cooler bags, frozen in packages, ready to go in the freezer.  We were blown away by the amazing quality, and sheer amount of meat.  Included in the order were several different cuts of giant, expensive steaks and huge chicken breasts, real quality sausages (chicken and pork), chicken burgers, top sirloin burgers, stewing beef, ground beef, pork chops, and bacon and beef hot dogs with no added nitrates (I upgraded each of these at a cost of $1.00, from the ones that did have nitrates).  There's enough variety in our freezer to keep us eating happily for weeks.  I totally didn't think it would fit in the freezer well, but it did, with room to spare.  I can't believe how excited I am about this meat!

Our lives have really become much easier with these two delivery services.  We barely have to step foot in a grocery store anymore, and we're getting excellent quality organic produce and healthy, natural meat at a phenomenal price, brought right to our doorstep.

Convenience food doesn't have to look like this:

It can look like this instead:

and this:

Yup, I'm pretty happy with our choices! :D  If you are interested in these services and have any questions, please feel free to ask.



  1. Thanks so much for taking the time to share all of this. I'm going to try these two delivery services out thanks to you :)

  2. That's fantastic, very glad to hear it :) You'll love them both! We're trying more and more of the meat, and it's all very tasty.

    Please let them know you saw my blog post - they'll be happy to hear it.