*I would like to preface this by saying I was inspired by the book Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it (he is also the author of my favourite book, Everything is Illuminated).*
In my last post I talked about the cruelty that goes on in factory farms – theres no doubt about it, we all know its bad – but are we all aware of the other negative effects caused by factory farms?
It ranges from air pollution to human rights violations – and everything in between. Take the time to do some research yourself.
In my reading I learned a whole bunch of things:
- The air around some factory farms is often more polluted than the most polluted U.S. cities. Ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, methane, cyanide are among the chemicals found in the air, contributing to the fact that children raised near factory farms are twice as likely to develop asthma, or just simply living close to a factory farm can increase your risk of heart and respiratory problems.
- In addition to poor air quality, the waste produced by that many animals in one place, in combination with poor waste management, has lead to cesspools of salmonella, streptococci, or giardia (plus many more infectious agents)
- These cesspools are not only comprised of fecal matter, but also dead animals, dead piglets, dead chicks, blood, vomit, antibiotics, syringes, hair, body parts – you name it, it’s in there.
- Factory farms have created a breeding ground for zoonotic diseases (diseases that can be transferred from non-human animals to humans). Some that might ring a bell include avian bird flu and H1N1.
- While this in itself might not be a new thing (there are plenty of other zoonotic diseases that don’t originate from livestock) we are compounding their virulence by the overuse of antibiotics. Antibiotics are used in every factory farm because animals living in a cramped and dirty place will obviously be susceptible to disease. The more antibiotics are used, the more these pathogens become resistant to them.
- The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that 70 percent of total antibiotic consumption (humans and non-human animals) is for non-therapeutic use (these animals aren’t sick to begin with) in factory farmed livestock. Sounds like a recipe for a big stewing pot of resistant viruses and bacteria no?
- This equals superbug. Scary stuff.
- Factory farms have created what is considered by Human Rights Watch as conditions that are a violation of human rights. Slaughterhouses are of a particular concern.
- Slaughtering animals all day is tiring, dangerous, and mentally exhausting. I don’t know many people who would actually enjoy this, even if the paycheck was out of this world.
- Poor training, long hours, and bad equipment lead to such statistics as this : in Nebraska plants, from 1999-2003, about 100 night cleaners lost body parts (by amputation or crushing).
- Many companies run on a competitive advantage system – the more meat you carve, the more money you get – this will obviously lead to more people working quickly and unsafely.
- Annual turnover in processing plants typically exceeds 100 percent. What does this tell you?
So while factory farming produces meat that is cheap, and tastes “good,” is it worth the cost of human and environmental health? My answer would be no. I could easily give up meat if I knew that we would have a beautiful, healthy planet and population. But obviously, one person isn’t enough. So I am asking you to spread the word, tell your friends, tell your family. It is important to talk about these things – I firmly believe that if people are aware they will make the right choice.
Factory farming is unsustainable. The amount of meat we as a human population eat is unsustainable. Vegetables are good for you.
Eat LESS meat, buy GOOD meat!
I am not a vegetarian, and the closest I ever came to being one was a couple years ago – I had a brief (two month) stint without eating any beef, poultry, pork, or seafood. This, however, does not mean that I haven’t considered it since, or even before for that matter. And the reasons I gave it up for those two months had everything to do with health reasons and nothing to do with animal welfare issues.
I always thought that vegetarians were abrasive, quick to judge, and very, very disdainful (in a pretentious-kind-of-way). And actually, some are. But we all know that you can’t judge an entire group of people based on a few bad apples. So, because of this, and in combination with my insane stubbornness, I refused to give into their beliefs because I did not want to give them the satisfaction. In fact, my sister was a vegetarian for eight years (or something) and I never once considered her ideas as legitimate because shoving ones ideas down another’s throat is a sure fire way to make someone NOT listen.
Now this leads me to my main point. These days, I have been having a hard time actually justifying eating meat. Over the last couple of years, and more so the last one in particular, I have learned a significant amount about the food that we eat. I have learned about factory farms, organic food vs. non-organic food, antibiotics in our livestock, etc. etc. The list really does go on and on, and if anyone is curious about what actually happens on these farms, there is plenty of reading you can do and I would be more than happy to point you in the right direction (typing “how animals are treated in factory farms” in Google is also a good start). These are very important things to talk about, but still not enough to make people change. Hey, I am a prime example of this.
I firmly believe that humans are supposed to eat meat – after all, thats what I learned in biology class. Our ancestors did it, our closest relatives do it, our most distant relatives eat other animals too, so why shouldn’t we? My issue now: human beings have turned eating meat in a respectful and necessary way into an assembly line of genetically altered animals (no mating, no reproducing AT ALL) that are raised and slaughtered in the most unimaginably horrible ways. Combine this with the massive global demand for dirt-cheap meat and we have what is called a vicious cycle. As long as the human population continues to eat meat at an extremely unsustainable rate, there will always be animals raised and killed in this manner. And I also firmly believe that just cutting meat out of your life is not enough – hear this vegetarians – if you are going to give up meat because you don’t agree with how animals are treated, there are actually much more effective ways to make a difference (that aren’t so passive)!
But, for those of you who find it hard to cut that bacon and those chicken wings out of your life, there is good news. We are lucky to come from a country where humanely raised meat is available. And we are also lucky to come from a country where consumer choice matters, in fact it is huge. All it takes is a little research and some extra time on your part. In fact, I have already started some of the work for you.
Where to buy cruelty-free meat in Calgary:
I encourage everyone to think about what they are eating. Is properly-raised meat important to you? Is it worth the extra five minute drive, two dollars, or time to research?
We all have the ability to make a difference in how animals are treated, it’s called money, choose where to spend it wisely!
I thought this was going to be a one-post wonder, but I think there is much to say, so stay tuned!
Planet Organic has two locations in Calgary: 4625 Varsity Drive NW, and, 10233 Elbow Drive SW
The Calgary Farmer’s Market has moved and is now located at 510 77th Avenue SE (Blackfoot and Heritage)
Community Natural Foods has two locations in Calgary: 1304 10 Avenue SW, and, 202 61 Ave SW (Chinook Station)
When all was said and done, I learned a lot in Tanzania. I learned about the history of Ruaha (probably 15 times total), I learned some tips and hints – tricks of the trade – when it comes to searching for animals in the wild, and I learned how to do my laundry in a brown river.
Really though, I never thought that I would learn as much as I did, and if I have to be honest, I didn’t realize how much I had learned until I left and saw things from the outside. When I was there it was very easy to push things aside, but let me tell you, I had reverse culture shock when I finally landed in London. It really put things into perspective.
Some lessons I learned include:
– things on the clothesline better be secure or the dogs will think your panties are their chew toys
– always make sure you close the tent so rats don’t run over your body at night
– chili sauce is a necessity for every meal
– for that matter, so is 3 tablespoons of salt
– no matter how hard you try, diarrhea is inevitable
– solar panels can be used to charge your computer, phone, cameras, and ipods
– bread can be baked using charcoal
– that I will never eat a mango outside of East Africa again
I learned countless facts about animals, and I could now describe the meaning of many animal behaviours that I would never have known before. I also know now that Ruaha must be one of the most beautiful places on Earth. It is what one dreams about when they imagine the African wilderness. It was dry, everything was golden. Animals were hungry and thirsty. It was harsh – I wouldn’t last more than 2 hours. I preferred the safety of the vehicle. The sun was huge, the wind was hot, and when the rain finally came, we all took our clothes off and danced in it.
Above all though, I learned about appreciation. The things I learned in India were just reinforced by the experiences I had in East Africa. That those with the least amount, are always the most generous. That those with nothing to share, share everything they can with their community. These community bonds are so strong and family support cannot be compared to anything you have ever known (unless of course, you are from rural Tanzania). Honesty is something to be rewarded, and everyday citizens won’t hesitate to take the law into their own hands when their own government has failed to provide this security.
The problems in East Africa are obviously very complicated, and I wouldn’t even attempt to explain them here. But what I do know is that despite these problems, Tanzania (Uganda and Kenya I didn’t have the privilege of staying as long) is one of the most peaceful places I have ever been. The slow pace of life, the easy going nature of the people and the fact that much of their material wealth and opportunities are out of their control (weather, drought, disease) I’m sure all play a role (but again, I am just making observations). It seems that the less you have, the less you have to worry about.
Although I can and do appreciate nature (the birds, fresh air, you get the picture), I definitely wouldn’t describe myself as outdoorsy by any stretch of the imagination. Anyone that knows me would say that I am all talk.
When I found out there was a potential for poisonous snakes (MAMBAS), creepy crawly spiders and millipedes, I completely forgot about the likelihood of something more deadly catching up with me, malaria! Lucky I never got malaria, but one of us did (shes okay now!). I am telling you, for someone who actually spent much of her university career studying insects, I am terrified of them. All that being said, when you are thrown into a situation where no matter where you are and what you are doing, there are going to be insects in your food, clothes, bed, tent, toilet, blah blah, you get used to it very quickly. The beasts we encountered cover everything from the infamous camp critter “cup bug” (see picture below) whose body took up an entire cup, to the wasps nest that hung outside the bathroom (one of Emily’s eyes went missing for a few days). Nightly tick check was a must, as was the scorpion shoe test. I endured more than enough tse-tse fly bites (not fun!) and I think I can speak for all of the girls I was hanging out with that, although they were the least of our worries, mosquito bites were incredibly annoying. The mosquito that resides in Tanzania is tiny and cunning!
Insects aside, life at camp was very fun, if at times hot and uncomfortable.
Pawaga was a camp in the middle of butt-f***. We lived on a farmer’s land, right beside his corn field, and on the river. He was an incredibly generous man, who showed us the farm, gave us lots of fruit and vegetables, and got a big kick out of us when we wanted to help with the corn harvest. The night sky at Pawaga was amazing, and although I often cursed my M&M sized bladder for getting me up in the middle of the night, seeing 46 billion stars (at least…) was incredible. Not to mention, one of our camp dogs, Cheetah, would follow me to my squatting position as my guard. The sunset was something we set our chairs up for every night, and I had a perfect view of the sunrise from my sleeping position in the tent. These are the things I want to remember about Pawaga. Not the snake I found under my bed, or the night our camp helper Oscar killed a skink – also found under my bed – with my malaria medication box, or the dogs tick-removal, or the gunshot I heard from the neighbouring farm to scare away animals (at 3am, not cool), or the rat that was in our tent one night, or the fact that it was 45 degrees everyday and our water was hot and tasted like charcoal, or not even the fact that I was suffering from Giardiasis for almost 6 weeks and our toilet was a hole in the ground. All being said, I loved camp. Where else would I get to tie beer bottles up with fishing line and dangle them in the tepid river water to cool them down to room temperature?
Chogela was our other camp, and usually proved to be a nice retreat from the harsh realities of Pawaga. We had a nice banda (thatched-roof hut) over our tent, we had a big dining banda to eat and hang out in, as well as a kitchen. But above all, we had HOT showers! The amazing guys that owned the camp (family-owned) and the local guys they employ were so great. They would heat water up for us, help us cook rice, kill any bugs we had in our tent. One night, a beetle flew into Ali’s chest, and three of them came running with sticks and machetes. It was amazing. If you are ever make a visit to Ruaha, please, please stay at Chogela!
In between our life at camp and the project we had our fair share of hilarious experiences. I met some very entertaining characters!
For example: (The following are text messages I received from someone I met in Iringa)
– Hello Mamy i thnk ya fyn! Av a golden day. Back to me am fyn. Hallaa @ ya sisters. Tchaoo
– Yap its true dat we never mean to met but its just happened so by dat I take u as a biggest fancy of mine
– Yap I was fillin lyk i was controllin da world
All in all my camp experience cannot be summed up by stories of flat tires, lost dogs, cows pooping in my drinking water, being in Tanzania for the Presidential election, or even the elephants that came through camp and woke me up with their big sounds! They are just part of a much bigger picture of the beautiful people I met and the incredibly valuable lessons I learned about generosity, family and community, and happiness.
Last September I did something I had been dreaming of doing forever…go on a safari! My experience in Tanzania was definitely a safari, in the true sense of the word. Safari is a Swahili word for trip (or in many cases, adventure), and it was truly the trip of a lifetime.
My adventure started last February, when I contacted a woman named Sarah about a possible research assistant position in Tanzania and it took off from there. I didn’t think I would ever make it there, but after much struggle, saving, arguments, begging and pleading in the months leading up to September, I finally boarded a plane and traveled halfway across the world. (Shoutout!!! I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the help of my family (Mom+Alan, Dad+Kelly, and Chelsea) or my amazing and supportive boyfriend Aman)
It would be impossible to summarize my experience into one blog post, or even ten, but I will do my best to give a good introduction. It is also impossible to describe the biology and issues in full detail, but important points are here!
Sarah has been a presence in Tanzania for a few years doing work in animal conservation, but has since started her own PhD. project on Human-Elephant Conflict near Ruaha National Park. The problem in this area of Tanzania is not that the elephant numbers are dwindling (Ruaha has one of the highest elephant populations in East Africa) but that the elephants and the humans that live around the park are at odds with one another. The park is surrounded by very rural, subsistence farming. This means that any damage to crops, whether how big or how small, is potentially detrimental to the farmers livelihood. If you know anything about elephants, it is probably that they are big, and they eat a lot! Therefore, a family of elephants that leaves the park to find food or water, and raids a farm, could very well eat the entire crop in one night. This doesn’t bode well for the farmer, or the farmers family, and therefore, doesn’t bode well for the elephants when the farmer catches them red-handed. Not to mention, running into a wild elephant can be insanely dangerous. Mitigating (or lessening) this conflict is a very important step in protecting not only the strong elephant population of Ruaha, but all the animals that live there.
Many of these farmers and villagers that live near Ruaha have never been into the park, have never learned or experienced the true value of the biological systems that are sitting there in their backyard. Parks have been set up to protect wildlife, but as a result, have restricted access to those most important in protecting it. Nobody has vehicles to go into the park. Therefore, to most of the locals, elephants and other animals are simply that – animals, sometimes pests, sometimes food. What Sarah is doing in Ruaha is taking these farmers and villagers into Ruaha National Park and showing them what thousands of travelers from all over the world come to see, and shes hoping that these experiences change how they feel about wildlife. She believes that educating the local people about wildlife and conservation biology will make them passionate about protecting these very valuable assets
I finally got to fulfill my dream of being a safari guide (even if it was only for a little while, and I wasn’t actually guiding, just coming along for the ride). For three months I went with Rowland (our amazing local guide) into the park, in a 20-year-old Land Rover packed with people (12 to be exact, or 14 when Mama’s brought their babies), and saw the most incredible and amazing animals, landscapes, sunsets, and sunrises I have ever seen.
Parts II and III to follow!
Don’t let the title of this post fool you – this isn’t a complaint on language barriers – just some observations and thoughts I have had over the last five months.
Language barriers are something I am actually quite used to, and I like going way outside of my comfort zone when it comes to them. From Italian, to Hindi, to Swahili, and even being around my boyfriend’s family when they are speaking Kutchi (a language I didn’t even know existed before meeting him!), I have never minded being an outsider, in fact, I really enjoy being immersed in a situation where I watch people interact in their own languages and trying to imagine what they are talking about. What I find interesting is that, in each situation, I was treated differently for my own ability (or should I say inability) to speak the common language at the time.
In Italy, people were very enthusiastic about teaching me Italian. Everywhere I went, everything I ate, everything I touched or held was translated to me in Italian and I had to repeat it, sometimes for dozens of people at a time. And every subsequent time I went there, ate that one thing , touched it or held it, I had to repeat it. And no one ever laughed at me, they genuinely wanted me to learn.
Contrast this with Tanzania. People were very enthusiastic about teaching me Swahili, but not for my enrichment, rather for their comedic enjoyment. Every single word you say in Swahili is an invitation for an entire group of people to laugh at you (including finger pointing). Talk about nerve wracking right? Wrong. It was actually so much fun to speak Swahili knowing how much fun Tanzanians were having with you, and as much as it seemed like they were laughing AT me, it really was a situation in which they were laughing with me. And without experiencing it, it is impossible to describe a Tanzanian sense of humour, it is in a realm all on it’s own, but worth exploring yourself, and also something often worth pondering.
France. I know people have heard, without me telling you, that Parisians hate when tourists can’t speak French. What I am not going to do is say that this is false, because it isn’t. It is just very oversimplified. Aman and I have encountered the Parisian we all hear about:
Us: Parlez-vous anglais?
Us: Uhhh avez-vous…DISH..rack? *cue sign language*
Parisian: Have a good day!
I will admit that at times it is frustrating, but imagine being the top tourist destination in the world (France receives the most tourists visits per year out of any country in the world), with most tourists strolling in like they are doing France a favour by being there, and assuming everyone here speaks English because of it. I guess brushing up on the French basics is a necessity. And I don’t blame them, I think showing you have tried to learn the language is a huge sign of respect.
More than anything, all of these situations, and in particular the last five months, have put things into perspective for me. Do you know how many people immigrate to Canada and don’t know a lick of English? Let me tell you, tonnes. Something I would have said a few years ago is, “of course, it is frustrating for them, not speaking English, but this is an English speaking country so they should learn.” Well, now being thrown into very similar situations, I know that it is not so easy. One thing I have learned while traveling is that, showing you know a little bit of the language, are aware of how locals interact (taboos, courtesies, etc.), and respecting the local culture – through dress or the like – is an amazing way to experience the country you are in. It leads to an extremely different adventure than what you were planning!
Now dating a lover of all things food has opened up my eyes, and also my mouth (excuse the innuendo), to a whole new world of food. There are some things I always meant to try and knew I would like, oysters, or veal cheeks are a couple of examples. But I am also talking things I never would have touched or considered touching before I met him: camel, crocodile, kidneys, bone marrow, and lamb’s tongue, to name a few. Some of these I enjoyed quite a bit (bone marrow was delicious, and the crocodile has definite potential), but one food product that has lead me to some intense debates and discussions with my beloved to-be chef boyfriend, is foie gras. And considering I am surrounded by it everywhere I go these days, it is worth talking about.
For those of you who don’t know, foie gras literally means “fat liver” in French, most traditionally, the liver of a goose. The liver is extremely fatty, and as a result, incredibly tasty. This liver is then made into different forms, mousses or pâté are examples, and is a well-known delicacy the world over. I tried foie gras with Aman and I will admit, although I have an aversion to things made from the innards of animals, I thought it tasted good. Now the problem with foie gras is that in order to make the goose livers fatty, they force feed geese, with a method called “gavage.” I am talking tube down the throat, directly into the esophagus, eat-more-food-in-two-weeks-then-they-should-eat-in-an-entire-lifetime. This makes the liver 12 times the size of a regular goose liver. Sound good?
After learning this, I find the thought revolting. I am by no means an over the top animal welfare activist, but I believe in sustainable agricultural practices, and humane raising and slaughtering of livestock. I don’t see the force-feeding of geese as fulfilling either of these categories. When I did some further reading, I found that there are plenty of free-range geese and ducks that are allowed to gorge on their own (no force-feeding), that produce wonderful “foie gras.” The problem being that, by definition, it isn’t considered foie gras because there is no force feeding involved.
I guess this highlights a disconnect between the current movement for sustainable, free-range, and pasture-fed livestock and the culinary history of France, among other places, that might involve not so ethical (by today’s standards) methods or preparations that define their culture. There are plenty of other examples all over the world. So at what point do we draw the line? When do some practices become backward?
This also gives people the perfect opportunity to make responsible choices about what they eat.
If you are interested in learning more about properly raised fatty geese, here is a great TED talk to watch: http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/dan_barber_s_surprising_foie_gras_parable.html