There are lots of ways to help cow friends across England and beyond. Whether you are a vegan, vegetarian, omnivore or farmer. There are millions of cows that live in outdoor fields, indoor barns or sometimes on factory farms. So firstly let’s meet cows and discover the truth about many myths (they can’t predict the weather, nor do they have four stomachs). Then we’ll look at the welfare issues with cows (and the truth about whether eating beef destroys rainforests and causes climate change). Then finally we’ll discover direct ways to help cows – from helping sanctuaries to eating less meat and dairy – with details on good plant-based alternatives to make or buy.
You can learn more about cows (and how they are farmed) at Compassion in World Farming. This excellent organisation was set up by a concerned dairy farmer, and has had huge success in getting the laws changed – from banning many kind of crates in the UK to stopping fur farms. If you eat meat or dairy, this site has information on how to be a more discerning consumer, and know how to tell the true welfare labels, from the fake ones.
Let’s Meet Some Cute Cows!
We may be used to seeing cows in nearly every field across England, but how much do you know about these fascinating gentle giants? Although sacred in the Hindu religion, cows often are not revered as much here. Yet these unique and quite huge animals are a mysterious blend of gentleness and ruthlessness (which is why you should never approach a cow with a calf) and legend. See how to find good dog walks, to learn more on the Countryside Code (to keep both dogs and cattle safe).
Cows like to spend most of their days chewing cud (they don’t eat daisies, as it makes their milk bitter). They are also very social animals that like to hang out with other cow friends. They share food, look after each other’s calves and even play hide-and-seek. Just like human children, calves can be ‘born blonde’ and then get darker with age. And just like other children in the playground, they tend to make friends with similar personalities in their herd, and avoid the ones they don’t get on with.
Like humans, cows sleep while lying down, and like to chill and rest. It’s a myth that cows lying down is predicting the weather. Experts say it’s simply because they are digesting their cud, having a rest! They only have one stomach, so it has to work harder than ours, to break down seemingly indigestible foods, for easier elimination.
And just so you know, bulls can’t see the colour red (their retinas only register the colours green, blue, violet and yellow). So don’t be concerned about a picnic blanket in the field, although it’s best to keep away from defensive bulls. Cruel bullfighting makes the bull charge, due to the awful chasing of it. Yet many cities in Spain and beyond are banning it, the biggest risk is money from tourists, mostly from North America and Europe.
Issues with Cow Welfare
Poor cows get quite a bad deal in life. As mentioned above, bulls suffer due to the tourist spectacle of bull-fighting and abroad in poorer countries (like India), it’s common to see starving cows wandering on the road. Back home, cows of course are mostly bred to produce beef and dairy (two separate industries). Beef cattle tend to live outside for most of their lives, but on nearing slaughter, you can often see them crammed in holding pens to get to their ‘beef weight’, where they can hardly move. And although it’s often done to give better nutrition when grass is not so fast to grow, many cattle spend almost the entire year in small barns, without access to outdoor pasture. Cattle that live on ranches abroad (like the US and South America) also have issues with rainforests being destroyed to create more land for meat (gases from factory-farming are one of the main causes of global warming).
Dairy cows often fare even worse. Male calves are often shot at birth (no income) or sent abroad to become veal (this practice is illegal in the UK, when they live in crates and are fed iron-poor diets to produce white meat). Cows are often separated from their calves early on, which causes both creatures intense stress (anyone living near cows and calves that are separated are often haunted by the calls that often go on for weeks).
Although most free-range farmers look after their animals well, critics would argue there is no such thing as ‘humane meat’, because at end of life, the cows are still transported (terrified) to abattoirs, where they are stunned (not with Halal meat) and then slaughtered. Often to simply provide ‘cheap beef’ for supermarkets to make vast profits, and a culture of food waste (huge amounts of uneaten meat and dairy are simply thrown away). And farming is still a business, so often if farmers have few resources, skills or funds, there can be welfare issues like lung problems with poor housing, lack of money to treat lameness and other problems, and depression/boredom for cattle stuck indoors for most of the year, as there is not enough nutrition in outdoor pastures.
Mastitis is a common condition for some cows, as is TB (which is more to do with cattle-to-cattle transition than badgers, with better solutions being vaccination, proper training and an innovative ‘mineral lick’ solution for badgers, that appears to stop badgers from getting TB, thereby stopping transition (this was invented by a Devon farmer, who contacted the government with his results, but has been ignored).
Lots of Ways to Help Cow Friends
So here are a few good ways that we can all collectively help. Whatever anyone’s diet, no-one wants to see cows and calves suffer. So pick and choose from the following tips, to suit your own lifestyle. Also see how to help our small farmers, for more information on what the farming industry can do to help all barnyard friends.
- Eat less dairy. Try plant milks (oat milk is the most sustainable as it can be locally grown – there is even an organisation that helps farmers transition from animal farming to growing and selling local oats/milk, leaving present animals to live out their natural lives in peace). You can also find many local companies delivering plant milks in glass bottles to your door (Rerooted in Devon was set up by a former Man United footballer, and is gradually being launched nationwide). If you do drink dairy, then go for brands that leave calves to live out their lives with the mothers. Be careful as some herds have found to use bull calves as forced labour, others let calves stay with their mothers, but then they are slaughtered for beef.
- Eat less meat. If you feel ready, follow a plant-based lifestyle. If not, then at least eat less meat from free-range local sources, for better welfare. Even chefs like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver now promote this way of living. Meat-Free Mondays are not enough – we are talking around 90% plant-based and just 10% animal foods (if not vegan), as the only viable way to avoid factory-farming, with the amount of land we have, and the amount of meat presently eaten.
- If you are concerned about a cow, calf or any barnyard friend, report this to RSPCA (despite farm animals having less legal rights than pets, they still have them, so you can also contact your council). You may in first instance have more joy with a friendly concerned word with the farmer. Most get a bit defensive, but often they are happy to educate on common concerns, as most do indeed look after their animals.
- Homeopathy at Wellie Level offers courses for farmers, to treat common conditions like mastitis. One Irish farmer was a complete sceptic, until he used this ‘fake medicine’ to heal his herd. He stopped using it, the mastitis came back, he went back to using it and now is a believer. The site offers online courses and resources, and case studies from farmers who say it helps to reduce antibiotic use, improve animal welfare, and reduce vet bills. It also can help speed up organic certification (you can certifiy organic farms on a budget using the ‘honesty’ alternative with Wholesome Food Association (around £30 a year).
- Don’t support bullfighting. If you travel abroad, boycott any spectacle that harms animals. Many cities have now banned this practice, with most profits coming from tourists. Report any bullfight you see advertised by a tourist company to League Against Cruel Sports (join their campaigns to stop present bullfights and ‘running of the bulls’ where injured animals often end up in bullfights).
Where to Buy Plant-Based Beef, Steak & Mince
These alternatives are worth trying (find Tiba tempeh in stores), if you would like find something good to eat or drink, to help more cows live peaceful happy lives. Many of these foods contain pet-toxic ingredients like mushrooms, garlic, soy etc, so keep out of reach of animal friends as many taste, smell and look like meat. We have also tried to find suppliers that sell in plastic-free packaging (for any you find, recycle it in supermarket bag recycling bins).
Another important ingredient to avoid is palm oil. Ripping up forests to replace with cheap palm oil plantations worldwide is making orangutans and other endangered creatures go extinct (Hope was recently stabbed and shot 74 times with an air rifle, leaving her blinded and grieving for her malnourished baby). The ‘sustainable palm oil’ quote is just greenwashing (often used by vegan brands). It’s just a self-policed term that Greenpeace says is a ‘useful as a chocolate teapot’. Some ‘certified plantations’ have been found burned to the ground, with orangutans in them. Palm oil is high in saturated fat, and imported from thousands of miles away, simply to create more profits for big industry. Local rapeseed oil could easily be used instead.
Moving Mountains Foods (sold at London’s Unity Diner) is one of the better brands of vegan meats, sold in the frozen aisle of most supermarkets. Often you slide items straight from the cardboard box, with no plastic packaging. Created by a vegetarian who went plant-based when he was surprised to find a high cholesterol reading (cheese!), the range includes mince, sausages (including hot dogs), beef tender strips and meatballs.
Sgaia is a Scottish company run by a couple of Italian foodies. It makes meat from high protein ‘wheat-meat’ that is authentic in taste (don’t roast in the oven, it would go too dry). There are steaks, burgers or Italian-Style Burgers (with mixed herbs and balsamic vinegar).
Better Nature makes marinated tempeh mince and ready-made smoky rashers and roast bites. Tempeh is Indonesia’s staple food, a kind of fermented soy that is nuttier in taste than tofu, and high in protein (also good for your tummy!)
Oumph! is a Swedish company that offers good vegan meats and burgers, the difference being that the soy is from Europe, rather than the Amazon rainforest. From mince to kebabs to sticky steaks, there is also a famed Oumph! burger. Sold in nearly all major stores, the range includes mince, smokehouse meats and BBQ grill meats.
Like Meat is a German brand that was funded by the father (owner of a meat brand) of a vegan son, who has created one of Europe’s best-selling vegan meats. The range includes Like Kebab, and vegan chicken.
In supermarkets, look out for No-Beef Pasties (they taste just like Cornish pasties, and the company also makes cheezy onion pasties too). Most health stores sell Suma vegan meatballs (in tins) that are good for a spag bol. And also look out for VBites no-beef slices. Good online finds are Terra Vegane (organic not-beef steaks) and Greenforce Burger Mix (made from pea protein).
Abbot’s Plant-Based Butcher (US) is a good inspirational company to emulate. It makes plant-based beef mince from simple ingredients like golden peas, vegetables, herbs, spices, extra virgin olive oil and vinegars. Deeply committed to animal welfare, the company donates a portion of sales to animal rescue and advocacy. Most items are used within 5 days of opening, or can be frozen for a few months (leave in the fridge overnight to thaw).
Recipes for Plant-Based Steaks & Beef
Celeriac Steak (The Veg Space) are made with roasted vegetables, for the same deep meaty flavour and texture as real steak. Marinated in tasty ingredients, serve with mashed potato and vegan gravy.
Seitan Roast Beef (Carlo Cao) is a gourmet recipe by a Swiss Italian chef.
What’s the Deal with Invitro Meat?
A new idea is ‘meat grown in a lab’. It basically gives you meat, without the animal suffering. Of course, farmers are not happy. But again, most meat is factory-farmed so surely all farmers want an end to this, and most meat bought in England is not free-range. It’s also an idea for animals that biologically need to eat animal foods (say, cats).
In the US Paul Shapiro (author of Clean Meat) is co-founder of The Better Meat Company, which supplies wholesale lab-grown meats to industry (he is married to a vegan chef, so presumably does not eat meat himself).
Plant-Based Alternatives to Milk
Homemade Oat Milk (So Vegan)
Oat milk is the new star of the plant-based milk world. Not only is it rich in fibre and nutrients, but it’s more local than soy milk (rainforest concerns) and some big brands of almond milk now have concerns too, due to migratory beekeeping (leaving bees to starve, after the almonds are harvested). If you choose other plant milks, always buy from local organic and sustainable sources. See why oat milk is better than most milks!
Most oats contain gluten, in case of allergy. Never use plant-based milks in place of baby/infant formula, talk to your midwife or doctor about suitable brands, if not breastfeeding. Keep these milks away from pets (cats actually have lactose intolerance and many nuts like macadamia and pecan are very toxic to animal friends).
If making your own plant milks, a worthwhile investment is a nut milk bag, which can also be used to make vegan cheese and doubles as a sink colander. If you don’t own a juicer, you can also use it to sieve fruits in a blender, to make fresh homemade juice.
Most commercial oat milks add lots of oil to make it frothy. But it does use less water than almond milk. It does not set well (so avoid for custard, mousse or pannacotta). But it’s naturally thick so good to use in:
- Creamy pasta sauce (like Alfredo)
- Vegan Mac & Cheese
- Thick and creamy puddings
- Vegan lattes
- Hot chocolates
- Creamy porridge
- Vegan scrambled eggs
- Creamy soups (mushroom, tomato, chowder)
- Creamy mashed potatoes & gratin dishes
- Cheese sauce & vegan queso
- Rerooted is a neutral creamy milk, that effortlessly pairs with most food and drink. Made with organic oats and sunflower oil and Cornish sea salt. Try it with porridge, in smoothies and hot drinks, or for a mushroom stroganoff. The company was co-founded by a former Man United footballer, who gave it all up to open England’s first zero waste shop. From Man United to making a difference!
- Northern Pantry’s Oat Milk Powder is made with heat-treated oatmeal and non-refined coconut fat. Enriched with calcium and phosphorus, add it to tea or coffee, use as a base for porridge or add to homemade sauces and milkshakes. Once mixed, it stores in the fridge for up to 5 days. Carefully seal the pack after each use.
- Oato delivers high-protein oat milk to your door in glass bottles, before 7am. Made with filtered water from the Lake District, the service is gradually going nationwide, and costs just over £1 a bottle. Designed to be barista-friendly, you can add a little water, to make it semi-skimmed. The date is stamped on top, use within 3 days. Includes a little locally-grown rapeseed to make amazing coffee and waste bran is turned into bio-methane that feeds into the national grid.
Plant-Based Alternatives to Butter
Vegan Butters with No Palm Oil. Most are still sold online, but you can find Danish brand Naturli (made with coconut oil) in Sainsburys and Waitrose (in a tub or a block). The more of us that choose this brand, the sooner the other brands will ditch the palm oil. Try this vegan butter (So Vegan).
Plant-Based Alternatives to Cream
It’s difficult to find plant-based cream without palm oil, so just make your own. Choose a coconut milk free from monkey harvesting (Biona and Nature’s Harvest are good brands), then whizz up the chilled solidified part with a little sugar, to make your own vegan cream. You can also make vegan cream from soaked cashew nuts. Try this Vegan Whipped Cream (Addicted to Dates).
Plant-Based Alternatives to Cheese
Choose vegan artisan cheese that doesn’t taste like soap. Most brands in supermarkets are made with coconut oil, which makes such bad vegan cheese one reviewer of Sainsbury’s brand said it tasted like ‘solidified vomit’. Go for broke, and invest your pennies in a good nut-based cheese, just eat less of it. Vegusto (in good health stores) is an award-winning Swiss brand, try the sharp cheddar versions, they are out of this world. Keep vegan cheese away from pets, as many contain macadamia and other toxic nuts.
Kinda Co. (sold online at Green Bay Supermarket and The Vegan Kind) was founded by a lifelong cheese addict, who makes quality nut cheeses with miso and mustard, sold in glass jars and paper wrapping. Made fresh each week, the range includes Farmhouse Block (like a sharp mature cheddar), Garlic Herb (Boursin?), Smoked Chilli and Spirulina Blue (avoid blue cheeses for pregnancy/nursing).
The Vurger Co Cheezy Sauces are from an award-winning vegan fast food brand with restaurants in London and Brighton, that has launched retail products nationwide. The founders created teh company after visiting California, and realising just how far behind the UK market for plant-based food.
Plant-Based Alternatives to Ice Cream
You’ll have to venture outside the supermarket to find affordable good brands, as most stores tend to sell inferior brands or uber-expensive ones. A much better idea is to make your own plant-based ice cream, as it will be cheaper and you can go beyond vanilla, strawberry and chocolate flavours. Ice-cream makers usually have a chilled bowl where you add the ingredients. Turn it on, and in 20 minutes you have ice-cream! If buying in stores, a good brand is Cecily’s, made in Cornwall with organic coconuts.
Support Your Local Cow Sanctuary
Farm sanctuaries are where rescued animals live out their lives in peace. Just google your area for a ‘farm sanctuary’ to find ones to support. Two good ones are Surge Sanctuary (profits from London’s Unity Diner help fund it) and Goodheart Animal Sanctuary (residents include surrogate mother Blondie – home to her ‘Jersey boys’ and Everest – who enjoys a back scratch so much, he has his own dedicated brush!)