Posts Tagged ‘cousumption of meat’

The original post was publish in French: http://wp.me/ppkTL-1U
It was translated into English with the support of Yahoo Babel Fish.

On the right path, each step is a journey.

The shaman said:
“you must not eat cow’s meat … Think of the ox. A strong, handsome animal. He helps man in the fields and on the road. To eat him you must kill him. That meat enters into you and turns you, too, into a murderer.”

(1) A Fortune – Teller Told Me, Tiziano Terzani, Flamingo 1998

I decided, a few years ago, not to consume Bovine meat anymore. No justification or explanation of this choice is needed as it was not founded on a dogma nor is it an indoctrination, nothing esoteric, but a banal personal reflexion. In spite of its limited practical impact it is a positive intention and, “on the right path, each step is a journey”.

The year of the ox (2) gives me the opportunity to make an apologia of this symbolic animal and to demystify my resolution. It was not without consequences on my entourage. My friends were  amused and adapted, in my presence, some gastronomical practices, even the selection of some restaurants. They accepted this change without skepticism, mocking remarks or proselytism.

My determination goes back to a time with a widespread epidemic of  the “mad cow” disease. There was no relation for me to this epizooty, however, fear to contract the Creutzfeldt-Jakob illness was an acceptable “à priori” for giving up eating ox. Personally, I was geographically far away and not sensitive to sanitary arguments about the devastations of a disease having particularly touched the United Kingdom.

A posteriori, I discover many arguments speaking in favor of a reduction in meat consumption globally. These elements, however, were not part of my decision at that time, as it was only based on a daily life’s anecdote.

When traveling the countryside of Thailand, I often stop my motor bike to appreciate and photograph the rice plantations with there random patches, delicate color shades, reflections and undulations who never fail to fill me with admiration. Everywhere, busy families of peasants punctuate the landscape with their indigo colored costumes. Now and then, small huts with thatched roofs of broad foliages, offer a precarious shelter to rest and eat. Strangers passing-by are greeted with broad smiles and any question related to the meal will immediately trigger a proposition to share it. Knowing the fondness of farmers to consume all kinds of animal proteins, from the more crawling to everything winged and flying, I generally avoid to accept this charming custom. It is then enough to tap its belly to signify that one just leaves table and is already “full”.

Without going as far as tasting the food, I am always interested to know about the the contents of the dishes. Traditionally, meals were wrapped in banana leaves, modernism has often replaced them with plastic bags. A merry hubbub introduces me to the delicacies of the day and the alternatives seasonally available according to the success of huntings and harvesting.

Communication is done with laughter and conspirator’s onomatopoeias, punctuated by the questions: “can you eat this?”. With some practice, everything can be eaten. Rodents, inhabitant of the rice plantations, and many kind of insects are delicacies. If a little money is available, poultry, ducks, pigs and shrimps will  enhance the daily repast. Pointing toward a beast of burden, I get reprobative pouts. No! Not the ox, it is a sin, this animal has value, he brings us his assistance in the fields and on the roads.

In the West, we do not consume our pets, dogs and cats are saved from butchers, sometimes even the rabbits, tortoises and other playmates. An Asian farmer can have similar feelings towards its work companions. His respect of the buffalo, the cow and other bovine family members combines a practical and a sentimental value. It is not only founded on the teaching of the Buddha (3), which protects any living being, but a personal conviction anchored in the heart of many peasants.

This attitude seduced me and I adopted it. This is not a crucial renunciation, however no stone is too small to build a road, no contribution is unimportant if the intention is positive, “on the right path, each step is a journey”.

Later on, some research and readings devoted to the environment reinforced my conviction about the adequacy of my choice. Beef has a low conversion efficiency of feed to meat proteins. The process is also intensive in water consumption and the extension of bovine breeding has catastrophic effects in certain countries. In Brazil, it contributes largely to the destruction of the Amazon forest (4,5). Perhaps more humorous, a serious study of the Australien government recommends the replacement of beef by the meat of kangaroos. The bovine emit significant amounts of methane, a polluting gas for the atmosphere (6).

Recently, the film “Home” of Yann Arthus-Bertrand (7) highlighted, for a large public, the harmful effects of certain excesses. Among the quoted examples were the consumption of 30′ 000 liters of water wasted for the production of one kilo of beef, and the use of half of cereals marketed in the world for animal food and the production of fuel.

Finally, it is also necessary to distinguish the religious interdicts, in particular in hinduism. The backgrounds are similar as the cow was protected by the Brahmans for his utility and its symbol as a source of life. It became thus taboo to kill this animal. The farmers, on the other hand, do not act because of a prohibition but through compassion.

This approach allured me some years ago. It was of course a very small step. Becoming totally vegetarian would probably be much better … and, why not?


(1)  A Fortune – Teller Told Me, Tiziano Terzani, Flamingo 1998

(2)  A New Chinese year began on January 26, 2009 and finishes on February 13, 2010. This year is placed under the sign of the buffalo (or ox),  one of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac.

(3) This attitude is not ordered by Buddhism which prohibits to kill, but not to consume the majority of the meats, if the animal was not killed specifically to be offered as a meal to the monk.

(4) Three or four reasons why eating beef might become the subject of open social disapproval:
its highly energy-intensive (the energy required to produce one kilogram on a table in the UK is among the highest for any foodstuff) its water consumption is big (instant data from Fred Pearce’s book: 11,000 litres “to grow the feed for enough cow to make a quarter pound [100g] hamburger” – compared with 500 litres for a kilo of potatoes) commercial beef ranching creates a monoculture – and can even lead to desertification of the area.
http://thenextwavefutures.wordpress.com/2007/05/24/beef-starting-on-the-road-to-disapproval/ (accessed in September 2009)

(5) The past three years have been the most destructive in the Brazilian Amazon’s history. In 2004 26,000 sq km of rainforest were burned: the second- highest rate on record. This year could be worse. And most of it is driven by cattle ranching.
George Monbiot The Guardian, Tuesday October 18 2005

(6) Professor Ross Garnaut, the man asked by the Federal Government to help save the planet and reduce the impact of climate change, has published a 620-page report, which forecast higher electricity, gas, food and petrol prices for us all, predicted that unless a way is found to reduce livestock methane emissions, that iconic Australian animal, the kangaroo, could become a regular feature on our dinner plates.
Garnaut warned that food prices will rise to a point where households will move away from traditional beef and lamb, eat more chicken and pork and re-runs of Skippy will start being shown on the Food Channel.
There are an estimated 1.5 billion cattle on the planet, their four-chamber, bacteria-filled guts generating more than 100 million tonnes of methane, about 20 per cent of the emissions thought to be contributing to global warming.

Kangaroos, apparently, are far more polite dinner guests. “Australian marsupials emit negligible amounts of methane from enteric fermentation,” wrote Garnaut, who added that scientific modelling shows the potential for big reductions in our sheep and cattle numbers. These could be replaced at the same time by expanding the present population of kangaroos from 34 million to 240 million within 12 years.
(accessed in September 2009)

(7) “Home” Yann Arthus-Bertrand, June 5, 2009 . Movie presentented worldwide, on multiple media, for the World Environment day.

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