Eating Ethically: The Chickens that Changed My Life

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A few weekends ago, I volunteered at Cavaleiro Farm, my friend’s business located just outside Toronto.  It was one of those events that, when I look back years from now, I’ll be saying changed my life.

I’ll be writing up an article for the Farm about my full volunteer experience.  So I’ll save the details for that piece.  Today, I just want to talk about two things.  Chickens.  And eggs.

And no, not about which came first.

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My hiking boots are a hit for these peckers. 

When I arrive at the farm, one of the first things to greet me is a group of birds — chickens, turkey and guinea fowl — who promptly begin to peck at my shoes.

Apparently, there’s a bunch of reasons for their pecking tendencies, but a main one seems to be to establish “who’s boss”.  So, I guess they’re trying to tell this farm foreigner (i.e. me) that they were here first.

Throughout my visit, the farm fowl are ever-present as they follow us around the land, chill with us on the porch as we sip our beers, and try to sneak their way into some potted plants that are temporarily sitting outside.

I meet Rudy, the gentle, spirited farmer who is taking care of the birds, and learn more about his lifelong passion for raising these animals. They seem to be drawn to him when he stoops down to take a photo for me.

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Hmm, don’t seem to recall them pecking at his shoes.

I end up having an awesome volunteer experience at Cavaleiro Farm and say good-bye to my newfound farm animal friends the next day. I can sense that this is only the tip of the iceberg and the start of a new relationship with the world of food …

* * *

When I get back to the city, I make a trip to NoFrills to stock up on some groceries. NoFrills is a large supermarket chain in Canada known for its super cheap prices.  I would typically be psyched to have one of these in the neighbourhood, but as I walk around the aisles now, I just feel downright confused.

I’m especially perplexed standing in front of the shelves of eggs.  One farm purports to be selling eggs from hens “raised in enriched colony housing equipped with perches and nesting areas.”

The lightbulb in my researcher brain automatically flashes and the bullshit detector zones in on the term “enriched colony housing.”

Immediately, an image materializes before me: A team of marketers are sitting around a boardroom table, excitedly brainstorming how they can reel people in to the farm’s new line of egg products. They have to find a way to describe the living environment of the egg-producing hens (photo below, from the farm’s website) to their unassuming target consumer.

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According to the farm’s website, Enriched or furnished cages” have more room than a conventional farm for the hens to “move around, stretch, and spread their wings.”  Oh yeah, baby, these birds are living the high life.

“So, how are we gonna sell this thing?” one of the marketers kickstarts the discussion.

“Well, these cages have perches that the birds can roost on,” another marketer points out emphatically.

“Right, right,” the first marketer murmurs, furrowing his brow as a fury of buzzwords whips across his mental whiteboard. Suddenly, genius strikes: “Furnished! The cages are furnished!”

A third marketer claps his hands together with glee. “Yes! People will love the idea of a homey environment. Shit, we could even use the word ‘housing’ instead of ‘cages’.”

The second marketer nods vigorously, then adds: “You know, these cages are definitely bigger than those jail cells all the other birds are crammed in.”

“Bigger,” Marketer One repeats in agreement. “Bigger. Better. Improved. Enhanced. Enriched. … Enriched!!

“BRILLIANT!” Marketer Three is about to fall out of his chair. “Enriched! No one will know what the hell that means!”

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Conventional egg farm — “the jail cells” and where the majority of Canada’s table eggs are born. (Screenshot from the aforementioned farm’s website).

Shaking myself from the marketers’ meeting I have just imagined myself to have witnessed, I scan the shelves for a more promising carton.

Another brand is selling eggs from hens “who live in an open-concept barn environment where they are free to roam, feed and nest.”

I start to ponder: Just how large is this barn? How many hens do they throw into this “open” space? And if that’s the best description this farm can come up with to describe the hens’ living environment, is it safe to assume that the birds aren’t living outside the barn at all?

And what do you know?  When I start to do more research on open-concept barns, I run into images like the one below.  These fall into the “free-run” category of eggs.

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Yes, run free in your wide open-concept abode.  Run free.

While these birds may not be locked up in cages, they aren’t allowed to go outside. They’re also typically de-beaked, which makes me sad for these natural peckers.

Coming from a criminal justice background, I can’t help but liken this to our prison system. These birds are serving a life sentence in confinement. Except, what crime did they ever commit? At this moment, in my mind, humanity sucks.

My head is spinning from all of the advertising nonsense that seems to be screaming at me from the row of shelves. In the end, I just walk away from the whole section of confusing labels and say screw the eggs.

Thing is, I don’t think I could even trust an “organic” label on a product at this point unless I’ve seen those birds roaming freely firsthand. I’ve started learning how even that term can encompass a vast area of greyness.

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The Cavaleiro Farm birds.  I believe they’re happy :)

I never really understood what it meant to eat organically and ethically, but I’m starting to get it now.

I’ll be waiting for the Cavaleiro Farm chickens to start laying eggs, but until then, I’m still stuck pondering how I’m going to make my next over-easies for breakfast.

What’s your take on eating ethically? 

– Cafe <3

Want to learn more?:

  • Rolling Stone article on farm animal cruelty undercover activists: Animal Cruelty Is the Price We Pay for Cheap Meat
  • The Meatrix, a humorous but compelling series of educational videos on how farm animals are treated: www.themeatrix.com
  • Project Animal Farm: An Accidental Journey into the Secret World of Farming and the Truth About Our Food — a can’t-put-down book written by Sonia Faruqi, a Wall Street investment bank analyst turned investigative farm animal crusader: Project Animal Farm on Google Play

Know any other great resources on ethical farming and eating?  Please share in the comment box!

Exploring Family History on the Death Road

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While my fellow Torontonians partake in ribfests and fireworks to pay homage to the birth of our Motherland, I sit here on the couch, sipping some red, as my mind wanders off to another region of the world (sorry, Canada).

Los Yungas. The lush, green rainforest that stretches across Peru, Bolivia and Northern Argentina. Teeming with colourful flora and weird and wonderful fauna, it is accessible from the city of La Paz in Bolivia via the deadliest road in the world, “la Camino de la Muerte” (the Death Road).

About 50 years ago, a Korean family consisting of nine siblings and the parental heads ventured across the world from their home country to South America. (The tenth sibling would later join them). They landed in the Los Yungas valley.

My mom was eight at the time, third youngest of the siblings. Although most of the family later moved to La Paz where they opened a clothing business, my mom stayed in the rainforest for another year with her father.

They would frequently make the trip to La Paz and back, and the whole family would sometimes journey to the Yungas for restful getaways. Which meant a lot of Camino de la Muerte for my mom.

My mom remembers how unregulated the Death Road was back then, absent of guardrails and vehicles having to play the passing game when the road became too narrow to constitute a two-way. (Don’t think too much has changed there, ma).

She also recalls trucks filled to the brim with oranges and people sitting on top of the oranges as they zoomed towards their destination on the winding road.

I remember hearing about these stories when I was much younger, but back then I didn’t comprehend the global infamy of the Death Road. After days of travel research, I now find myself in awe that this rugged journey — that thrill-seekers from all over the world pay bike tours to take them on — was just a part of life for my mom.

Yes, a significant piece of my family history puzzle lies in Bolivia. Thus, Bolivia is where I must go.

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Visiting “the heart of South America” was barely a shade of a dream a couple years ago. I could only hazily envision myself in what I conjured up to be a dusty town where old Bolivian señoras in their bowler hats sold fresh fruits and nuts in open markets.

But today, the dream has actualized itself into a plan. It won’t happen tomorrow, but I’ve sketched out a pretty solid draft of my future explorations in what I consider to be the Third Motherland.

While I’d love to do the typical tourist traps, like Salar de Uyuni, I also want to be able to travel slow and really immerse myself in Bolivian life and culture. And, of course, I want to visit the Yungas and experience an important part of my mom’s childhood.

Now I just need to work up the courage to face the Death Road …

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… and maybe stop watching stuff like this:


If you were to explore your family history and culture, where in the world would your journey take you?

– Cafe <3
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Radio Silence in Cuba: Digitally Disconnecting

sol-cayo-santa-maria-resort-beach-ocean Last month, I flew off to Cuba to immerse myself in sun, sand, and most importantly, radio silence for seven full and glorious days.

Life had been feeling like a knotted ball of stress and my phone wouldn’t stop blowing up with endless emails, texts and other things that pinged.

Something had to be done to quiet both my mind and the CrackBerry, and it had to be done now!  (Hm, does this call for social media hibernation sound familiar to you?)

Well, during those seven days, I was on the internet for a mind-blowing total of — wait for it — ONE hour. On the resort, one might typically find me sitting alone at the beach bar with a strawberry slushy in hand, quietly gazing off into the white sands with a peaceful twinkle in my eye.

I didn’t want parties and I didn’t want to gorge myself in all-you-can-eat-and-drink madness. Taking in the beautiful, concrete-less scenery or having a good conversation with one of the resort staff to learn more Spanish or about Cuban life were all that my little ol’ heart desired.

Time inched by at an insanely slow speed.  It was magical.

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The view while sipping on my daily dose of java. Morning coffees have never tasted quite the same *sniff*  

When I returned home, I was thrown into the merciless clutches of The Evil That Is Bronchitis. I quarantined myself indoors for the next several days, slowly gaining energy but never enough to emerge into The Outside World.

It was honestly a blessing in disguise. Because I don’t think I was mentally prepared to jump back into what – after Cuba – felt like a dizzyingly fast-paced, highly-connected lifestyle.

Our (okay, my) obsession with digital communication has been something that I’ve wrestled with over the past few years.  At times I’ve been a complete social media junkie; at others, I’ve wanted to Hail Mary my phone into the far reaches of Black Space.

But while Cuba served as a much-needed reminder to slow down, disconnect and get back to that thing called human interaction, it also taught me another unexpected lesson.

What I hadn’t realized before my beach getaway was how much at the opposite end of the digital-connectivity spectrum the Cuban people are situated at.  (Here’s an article by Mashable that will give you the quick low-down).

I met a few very awesome people who worked at the resort, but the option to ask: “Can I have your email?” was absent for all those I wanted to keep in touch with but one.

And while my digitalized brain had completely forgotten about that other mode of communication (snail mail, anyone?), I discovered upon my return that even sending a letter to Cuba is a highly unreliable venture.

Our ability in North America to effortlessly connect with our family, friends and people we’ve just met and want to grow a connection with was something I had come to take for granted.  It was only after my trip that I realized how lucky we truly are to have such easy access to the digital world.

That being said, I still believe we need to find an everyday balance between total radio silence and becoming a slave to the CrackBerry.  What say you?

Do you ever take time to disconnect?  Can you call it a “real vacation” if you’ve been glued to your phone/laptop the whole time? 

– Cafe <3

P.S. If you’ve been frequenting the cafe, you might be wondering whether Your Daily Dose is going through an identity crisis! Catch up here to find out where I’m at in my blogging exploits.

A great post on digitally disconnecting (or not): Consciously Disconnecting: The Case for Putting Down Your iPhone
And another excellent read on plugging out while traveling:  Turn off, plug out, drop in
Photo Credit: Trip Advisor

Janice on Song Talk Radio! And Twitter!

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Hey cafe goers!

So I’ve been fluttering around the big ‘ol Twitterverse lately, doing some live tweeting for a local university radio show called Song Talk Radio.

I’m so in love with the show because it’s all about exploring one of my favourite things in the entire world — ah, no, not fine, single malt scotch, but close(!) — songwriting!

I was actually a guest on Song Talk Radio last month and played a few of my originals (including a new song, “Dance Without Judgement”, live in studio)!  The best part about Song Talk is actually being able to discuss the songwriting process in an intelligent and interesting way — as you know I love to do ;)

And that’s because the hosts — Phil, Bruce and Neel — are so knowledgable about the vast world of music that I often feel like I’ve been living under a very heavy rock.  Plus, they’ve got the kind of laid-back, witty banter going on that has hooked me into hanging out with them every week to tweet for the show!

So here’s the podcast with my Song Talk Radio interview if you want to actually hear the voice behind this blog :)

If you’re also chirping away on Twitter, come join me for the live chat: @SongTalkRadio!  I’ll actually be tweeting in about an hour from now (Monday at 7 pm EST)! [Note: Song Talk is now on Tuesdays at 7!]

And here’s my personal Twitter nest that has a fully-functional coffee machine so we can continue our caffeine-induced chats no matter where we are!: @JaniceHoTweets

See you in Twitter Land! :)

– Cafe <3

“Ghost Town”

Your heart’s a ghost town
Drive by baby, ain’t a soul to be found
Think there’s a hole in your chest
‘Cause the beating’s at rest
Let me give you a temporary fix
To start it up again

– Cafe <3

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This was my second collaboration with The Butcher (check out the first one here).

I insisted that we make this a duet — he has one of my favourite voices ever.  Thanks to today’s digitally-connected world, a guy from Germany and a girl from Canada can do just that :)

— The Songwriting Process —

Lyrics: I sent The Butcher my first attempt at the lyrics back in January 2014 — Verse 1 (which hasn’t changed) and a Chorus.

The original Chorus was the lyric you see above, which included lines from another song I had been writing called “Temporary Fix”. However, once putting it to music, I realized that there were too many syllables and it didn’t sing well.

The Butcher loved it overall though and wanted me to “explain the pictures” so he could better understand what the lyric was about to help finish writing it (English isn’t his first language).

So, I went through some of the images, like: “Got a thing or two that you could say ’bout that empty feeling standing in your grave” is about him being physically alive but his soul feeling “dead” — and knowing this feeling all too well in his life.

Drive by baby, ain’t a soul to be found“, for me, evoked this image of the singer driving around inside his heart, which looked like a barren, dusty ghost town — the kind you see in those Western movies.

From there, The Butcher added a Verse 2; but later on, he expressed that the lyrics would feel “more like one” if I wrote all of it. I did keep most of his revision of the Chorus though and Verse 2 ended up being a mix of both of our ideas.

Overall, I tried not to obsess too much with the lyrics. This song is mostly about creating a particular feeling and mood: mystery, sadness, and a hint of sensuality.

Music: Soon after sending The Butcher my initial Verse + Chorus, he got inspired to record some guitar + melody ideas.

I loved the vibe, but it wasn’t until May that we picked back up with the song. At that point, The Butcher sent another recording that was much closer to the final melody.

His vision was to use synths, strings and beats to create an “eerie” sound for the song. In June, he had an instrumental to work off of that sounds close to the final version.

I finally started recording some vox and we went back and forth discussing where the melody needed to be tweaked. The Butcher threw the best snippets from both of our multiple vocal tracks to come up with an idea of how “Ghost Town” could sound. It was an exciting moment to hear the potential!

The Butcher also “had a guy” who wanted to try some electronic beats, and the talented Unklang ended up with the percussion, plus some strings and mixing creds on the track.

Finally, although The Butcher wasn’t sure that singing together was the best thing for the song, I was determined to see my vision of a “duet” through. So I asked him to piece together our tracks in the arrangement I imagined and in September 2014 …

“Ghost Town” was laid to rest!

Okay, it was really done in November with the final mix :)

Lessons Learned: Open communication is always number one in a collaboration. For example, the Butcher didn’t hesitate to tell me that my initial Chorus melody needed more movement. That led to the soaring notes of “Your heart’s a gho—st to—wn” and less spacing between the Chorus lines, which I think worked much better.

We also came to an agreement that we would each focus more on our strengths — me on the lyrics and him on the music. But we also constantly gave each other feedback on our ideas — this allowed the song to progress, plus we were able to push each other past any mental blocks we were experiencing with our parts.