Wednesday, May 7, 2008


“A merciful heart is one that burns with love for all creation – for men, for the birds and animals, for the demons, for every created being. And by the recollection and sight of them the eyes of a merciful man pour forth abundant tears, from the strong and vehement mercy which grips his heart and from his great compassion, his heart is humbled and he cannot bear to hear or to see any injury or slight sorrow in creation.”
- St. Isaac the Syrian

Every year at Pascha (Orthodox Christians' "Easter"), I feel a mixture of joy and sorrow. With the first singing of "Christ is Risen!" I am filled with joy. But shortly after, my heart grieves as I am offered a brightly colored chicken egg as the Paschal feast begins.

There seems to be a misconception that eggs are a benign product… that chickens are not harmed in order to provide us with eggs. However, this is not the case. In factory farms, up to ten laying hens share a cage, leaving each bird with a living space about the size of a sheet of paper. Often, between seventy and one hundred thousand chickens are housed in one large, commercial shed. They are deprived of natural sunlight. They do not get to lie down, to spread their wings, forage for food, nest, or bathe in the dust as they would in their natural environment. Instead of dust bathing, they can only beat their wings against the wire in their cages. Their sensitive beaks are removed with hot knives (without any pain relief) so that they will not resort to pecking each other to death as a result of their unnatural, stressful environment. Birds on lower tiers endure having excrement fall onto their heads from birds in tiers above them. Ammonia, dust and feathers fill the air, making breathing conditions difficult. And when their bodies are too diseased or unable to produce any more eggs, they are sent to slaughter, destined to have their bodies ground up into soups, or low-grade chicken products which camouflage the bruises of their flesh. Male chickens, since they cannot produce eggs, are disposed of by suffocation, grinding them alive, or by merely throwing them into a dumpster to suffocate or starve to death. These conditions are not rare, for about 99% of egg laying hens in the United States (about 300 million of them) live in such conditions.

Recently “free range” eggs have come to be thought of as a more humane alternative. However, the treatment of “free range” hens is not much better. In fact, in most cases, “free range" really only means cageless, because there are no standards in place to govern using the term “free range” on egg cartons. Male chickens are still killed because they are of no use. Each chicken has only about 1 to 2 feet of living space. Chickens are still housed in a shed with no access to the outdoors. If there is an exit for the chickens to venture outdoors, the cramped conditions in the shed make it possible for only those chickens closest to the exit to actually go outdoors. The outdoor environment itself may consist of merely a gravel area for exercise, but no way for the animals to forage.

Patriarch Bartholomew stated, “God is love and has created us in His image to love like God. Therefore, our relationship with creation should be based on respect and justice.” How we can celebrate Pascha, the Passover from death to life, with the eating of chicken eggs, the product of suffering and death? How can we reconcile the suffering of these animals with a Christian ethic of mercy? Isn’t our hope as Christians that God will restore a universal peace, a world in which there is no longer any violence, cruelty, or suffering? Jesus said “Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.”(Luke 6:36) Would God condone the suffering these chickens endure simply to satisfy our palates?

There are many alternatives to eating eggs. A number of egg-free recipes can be found online, and a multitude of vegan cookbooks are available. (I’d be happy to give you the names of some of my favorites.) And if you want to remove eggs from recipes you already have, there are a number of ways to substitute for the eggs. Below are some examples.
Crumbled and seasoned tofu can be used in place of scrambled eggs or egg salad sandwiches. Fantastic Foods even makes a Tofu Scrambler mix for seasoning these types of dishes. There are egg-free mayonnaises on the market, such as Veganaise (my husband’s personal favorite) and Nayonaise.

Instead of using an egg to bind together a loaf or burger, you can use mashed potato, avocado, bread crumbs, rolled or quick oats, tomato paste, tahini, peanut butter, nut butters, or a little more vegetable oil.

For baking, you can try one of the following substitutions:
3 T silken tofu blended with the liquid in the recipe
2 T cornstarch, potato starch, or arrowroot powder mixed with 2 T of water
½ of a mashed banana
1 T ground flax seeds & ½ cup of water blended for 1 to 2 minutes until the mixture has a thick consistency similar to beaten egg whites
2 T to ¼ cup applesauce or apple butter
Commercial powdered egg replacer like ENER-G egg replacer. Use 1 to 1 ½ tsp. mixed with 2 T water
For lightness in baking, use some extra yeast or baking soda. You can also use fruit juice or tomato juice to replace some or all of the liquid in a recipe.
Photo Credit: Farm Sanctuary

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Everyday Synergy

There is nothing we can do without God. Yet, one glance at our daily newspaper demonstrates how often we try to live without God guiding our lives. We are inundated with stories of war, poverty, cruelty, and injustice. Some stories become a source of common entertainment and casual conversation. Television news shows consistently highlight violent crimes as the major stories of the day.

Many students are welcomed to school in the morning by metal detectors or police officers. Children and adults in distant countries suffer the cruel working conditions of sweatshops to provide us with fashionable garments and decorations. Billions of animals endure suffering and ultimately death in factory farms and slaughterhouses to provide people with foods that are pleasing to our palates. Environmental destruction and resource depletion are escalating.

The "American way" has become a model of conspicuous consumption and a seemingly insatiable desire for more, more, more. Corporations have such a vested interest in ensuring that children become a new generation of consumers that they have infiltrated classrooms with marketing materials thinly disguised as educational supplements.

These are some of the themes common to the world today. The enormity of the issues we face can seem overwhelming. But there is hope for a way out of this darkness. We do not have to sit by idly, resigning ourselves that the way things are is simply the way things will continue to be. We can challenge the cultural assumptions and live our lives in a more Christlike manner. By working with God, instead of against God, we have the potential to help usher in a more beautiful world.

Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope John Paul II, in their Declaration on the Environment, noted that "The problem is not simply economic and technological; it is moral and spirutual." The world has been corrupted by the sins of humankind. But as Christians, we should be standing against injustice, and making conscious choices that take into account the suffering of people and the rest of God's creation. It is incompatible with a love of God to turn a blind eye to the suffering we are inflicting upon God's creation. Joanne Stefanatos, in her book Animals and Man: A State of Blessedness, stated this beautifully when she wrote that "We are called by God to reflect divinity, to become icons of Jesus Christ.... By our lives we must demonstrate the Gospels and the presence of Jesus Christ."

But where do we start... what can we do... how do we do it? In a world plagued by so many problems, it can be overwhelming to know what to do. And in our fast-paced society, most of us have so many responsibilties with our jobs, our families, and other obligations, that we don't feel we have much time to do anything about the world's problems. In this blog, I hope to bring some of these issues to light. I also hope to show some simple choices we can make in our everyday lives to help manifest a more compassionate world. If we open our hearts and our minds, we will see that God has given us the wisdom and the gifts to discover creative solutions to the violence and injustice in this world.