Some More Food In The News

Cat Meat Restaurant in China Closes Due to Protests

Recently I wrote about why it is that some people object to cute animals suffering but not “uncute” ones like pigs who also suffer, and I kind of wish that I had seen this article while I was working on the essay.

I have known for a long time that in Guangdong province in China, cat and dog meat are considered to be delicacies, and are supposed to be “warming” meats that one eats in the winter. Even though I love cats and dogs dearly, and have a house filled with them, personally, the thought of eating them myself is difficult to swallow. However, I also do not think it is right for me to decry other people’s practice of eating cats and dogs as uncivilized, just because I don’t like it. That is culinary cultural imperialism, and I refuse to engage in such ethnocentric, egocentric behavior.

Imagine my fascination to discover that the nascient animal-rights movement in China has become strong enough to affect change in the form of a small restaurant serving meatballs made from cats being shut down willingly in the face of protests from pet-owners and animal lovers.

Is this good?

I am of two minds about this issue. I have heard stories of cats and dogs suffering in cages in or near restaurants in China that serve their meat, and of them being killed in gruesome, inhumane fashions that are too grotesque to go into here. I also do not know how substantiated those stories are; I always fear that they are the sorts of exaggerations that are told in order to demonize those of another race. In situations where any animal is tortured before being eaten, and made to suffer grieviously in their lives, I am angered at the unnecessary cruelty of the practice, whether that animal is a cat, dog, cow or pig. If it is a case of the animals suffering at this restaurant, then, I cannot help but applaud the actions of the protestors.

On the other hand, if the animals were not suffering, and were killed humanely, and it is simply a case of some Chinese being more “Westernized” than others, I see it as a more subtle form of cultural imperialism. What I mean is, while it is Chinese people doing the protesting, they are adopting Western ways by choice, and calling those ways superior to Chinese traditions. This -is- what happens when cultures meet and make exchanges with each other–new traditions and practices are adopted back and forth, and some traditional practices may be lost. In some cases–that loss is a good thing–if this is a case where animals were suffering needlessly, then what great loss is there? But, it may be that other traditions are left behind which -are- beneficial to the Chinese people. (If not in this matter, then in another.)

My final say on the issue is this–I am happy to see that the active parties in this issue are the Chinese people themselves. The protestors were Chinese, acting on their own initiative, without outside interference, and the owner of the restaurant is Chinese working on his/her own initiative by making a business decision which is probably for the best. (Meaning, if protestors kept coming to the restaurant, he is better off serving something else that is more acceptable to the populace at large than to keep serving that which causes uproar and strife.) So long as the issue of eating cats and dogs in China continues to be addressed and debated by the Chinese people themselves, with the rest of the world taking a backseat and being silent, I am happy, because it is a case of culinary cultural self-determination–a process which I heartily endorse as good for all the parties involved.

(Thanks to Slashfood for bringing this story to my attention.)

Raising Kids to Eat Whole Foods in a T.V.-Free Zone

I loved reading Sandra Steingraber’s book, Having Faith: An Ecologist’s Journey to Motherhood, when I was pregnant several years ago. Even though much of what Steingraber wrote about was essentially depressing–the fact that environmental toxins and pollutants cannot help but become part of our breastfed babies’ bodies–her prose is so clear, descriptive and engaging that I could not help but be both entertained and made hopeful by her experiences.

Now, I am fascinated to learn from an essay posted to Alternet, that she has a second child, and has essentially raised them from infancy to school-age without having them be exposed to television advertising or to the foods marketed to children in typical American grocery stores. All of the food Steingraber’s family eats comes from a local Itheca CSA and a small downtown co-op grocery store, so her children have been exposed only to whole foods that she and her husband prepare.

The results are interesting. They do not like candy or soda (her son calls soda “too spicy,”) and the one time they tasted McDonald’s they abhorred the artificial flavors and the limp, soggy french fries. Her daughter, now attending school, loves spinach, and even after she found out that other kids hate it, said, “I guess children don’t like spinach…but I am a child who does!”

Her two children still go through the typical and age-appropriate food dislikes/cravings where one week, bananas are declared hideous, and the next, they are clamored for, but there are apparently not any tearful tantrums over not getting a cartoon-character endorsed box of sugar cereal, nor are Steingraber and her husband preparing separate meals of processed “kid food” for their children.

I cannot help but be interested in Steingraber’s experiences because in our home, we have a television, but we only use it to watch DVD movies, documentaries and downloaded Dr. Who episodes. I cannot remember the last time we regularly watched broadcast or cable television regularly, and I have noticed that because Zak, Morganna and I are not exposed to television advertising, we don’t hear about the “next big processed food/fast food/plastic food product, and so we do not shop for it.

I am wondering if, in our household where we, too, eschew processed foods and fast foods, and prefer to eat locally grown, seasonal products, we can manage to raise our baby, Kat (yes, she has a first name now–Katherine, called “Kat” for short) with similar tastes in wholesome vegetables, fruits, grains and dairy products. Time alone will tell….

(Thank you, Zak, for sending me this article.)

International Agricultural Legacy Gains Secure Home

A massive seed bank, larger than any other of its kind, with the inventoried items kept to international standards, will be made secure on the Norwegan outpost of Svalbard, according to the Washington Post.

The “doomsday vault,” as it is sometimes called, will contain seeds that represent 10,000 years of worldwide selective breeding, and will stand as a carefully guarded backup in the case of a planet-wide disaster such as a direct asteroid hit (such as the one that destroyed the dinosaurs), or a nuclear or bioweapon holocaust. In such a worst-case-scenario, having this protected seedbank would mean that once humanity began rebuilding, they would not have to start over at the beginning when it came to plant-based agriculture.

The facility will be built within the next two years, and then will start accepting donations of seeds for food plants from other seed banks. When the archive is filled, the vault will be sealed airtight, and humanity’s insurance policy will be saved, hopefully to never be opened again.

It is a remarkably far-sighted effort that is being undertaken and I am pleased to see it. Humanity tends to look only at the short-term future, and does not often look towards a far future, particularly if it includes some sort of unpleasant occurance such as war or ecological devastation. Seeing scientists from around the globe participating in this event gives me hope that humans really -can- think ahead and try to do the right thing.

Of course, I cannot help but wonder if anyone is looking toward the animal species, and is preparing a genetic “ark” to preserve DNA, sperm and egg samples from various fauna, both wild and domestic, in the case of such a catastrophic event.

(Thanks, once again, to Zak for sending this article–I was already aware of the project, but this is a really good explanation of what is happening that I had not caught.)

That’s it for Food in the News this time around–I am signing off for the rest of the day so Zak can do some work updating my computer. I am getting some new hard drives with lots of memory space on them, and a new color monitor so I can make Tigers & Strawberries better, faster and stronger than before, with prettier pictures and all of that good stuff.


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  1. Even before you mentioned it, I just knew Sandra Steingraber would be living in Ithaca (that’s where I am)!

    Between Greenstar’s two outposts, Ludgate Farms, the farmer’s market, and various CSAs, one could do quite well for themselves around here, food-wise. I wonder how similarly-minded parents cope when living in areas that aren’t so abundant with alternative options, though…

    Comment by Stefanie Noble — June 20, 2006 #

  2. Hi Barbara,
    You have more patience to write this.Dont think too much about dear in this stage .Be cool . And coming to this iam vegetarian and i do have cats and dogs in my house(in india) but this issue made me to think for poor little animals.
    take care.

    Comment by vineela — June 20, 2006 #

  3. I think it is possible to raise a child to not like processed food.

    I did not taste a comercial hamburger untill I was 10. Not did I taste soda untill I was around the same age.

    Advertisine or not, I didn’t care. I didn’t like it. As an adult I still escew soda and comercial foods.

    And after my best friends death from colon cancer last year at the age of 32 I am once again refusing to do fast food.

    I have also been converting friends who after many years are begining to admit that real butter tastes better and home cooked food taste better than boxed. But they were raised on boxed mixes.

    I think that if you raise your child on good, home made food that tastes like it should, they will forever be biased against the commercially produced counterparts.

    I know you will have great success with it! As you are a wonderful cook I am certain that you will pass your love of food to Kat!

    Comment by Kitarra — June 20, 2006 #

  4. Re: your 2nd article – I can attest to the power of not having TV improving your eating. Well, let me rephrase that. I can’t say for sure there’s a cause and effect, but there is at least a connection.

    About 2 years ago (little more), the hubby person and I moved from the Bay Area of California up to the Tahoe National Forest (maybe 2 hours west of Lake Tahoe). Since we moved up here, we haven’t had a TV. The remoteness also means that we don’t eat out hardly ever, and fast food even less frequently than that. In order to keep us fed, I cook most of our meals. And around here we have so much beautiful produce and such. In fact, if you starve at this time of year, even if you are homeless, it’s your choice.

    We’ve both started eating much healthier, and we both feel much better.

    Comment by Kymster — June 20, 2006 #

  5. Interestingly (to me), this is the first time I’ve heard of cats being considered a delicacy. I’d always heard they taste bad.

    Anyway–I watched TV only a handful of times before I turned 16. These days I use it to watch DVDs, and if I tape shows, I fastforward through the commercials. My parents also didn’t get glossy magazines aside from Discover (which doesn’t have food ads), and I wasn’t allowed to have sugary cereals or twinkies–but I was allowed juice and the occasional candy. I do like fast food occasionally, but I generally prefer to cook for myself (which is not the case among my peers). On the other hand, I really don’t like most vegetables (believe me, I’d like to, and I eat more than I used to), which may be part genetics and part a legacy of having a father who went through crazy fad diets and was incessantly annoying about pushing his miracle-food-of-the-moment on my and my mom, whether it was bananas, steamed rice, or mushy overcooked vegetables. I refused to eat bananas for years out of sheer stubbornness. So I think perhaps it’s a bit more complicating, but avoiding advertising and processed food definitely helps.

    I’m kind of anti-TV in general. I’ve realized that nearly all of my close friends don’t “watch TV” — they may tape a show or two or use the TV to watch movies, but they don’t channel-surf. I didn’t choose them because of this, but I think it’s an interesting trend.

    Comment by Mel — June 20, 2006 #

  6. Hmm..I’m fascinated by the idea of raising a child and not exposing them to processed foods (fast food, junk food, etc.). I’m pregnant right now so I’m very interested in that idea. I’ll have to check out the article. Thanks for posting about this!

    Comment by Kady — June 21, 2006 #

  7. Barbara, you know it will work! Kat is going to be one very lucky little lady, growing up in your kitchen.

    As for the TV issue, it’s an interesting point. Our TV is on far too much (especially during the World Cup finals!) but so far – at 18 mos. – Kieran has shown almost zero interest in it. I tend to avoid the children’s channels because I can’t stand the ads (!) but even when I put on a Loony Tunes DVD of a Sunday morning it’s mostly for me, not him!

    But I guess it’s something we’ll have to think about in the long term…!

    Comment by Meg — June 21, 2006 #

  8. I wonder if learning to cook at a young age, and liking to cook reduces the desire/need to eat fast food. I was raised in the early days of the “natural food movement” with no soda, fast food, etc etc – but I think the real reason I never really liked all that stuff is that I always cooked with my Mom and knew what real food tasted like. My Mom isn’t the world’s greatest cook, but she always made cooking fun.

    Comment by Diane — June 21, 2006 #

  9. The thing about tv is that it is, on the whole, terribly boring.The good stuff that is on, you can rent later, on dvd, and watch when you want to watch.And there is interesting stuff, but who can afford all the premium stations, or remember to look for it when it is on?

    I think if you don’t use tv for a baby sitter, and provide actual interesting stuff for kids to do, the actual interesting stuff will be chosen by almost every child, most of the time….unless they are tired, and want a bit of mindless distraction occasionally, just as an adult might.

    My daughter thinks otherwise..she hasn’t had a tv for more than 10 years, since she went away to college… she and her husband watch dvds on their computers. They don’t have any kids to complain about this yet.

    She had tv more or less available at will as a child, but was never big on junk food, and always read and wrote much more than she watched tv. She became both a vegetarian and a dynamite cook.

    We all have a bit of the luddite in us. They have a car and computer-no microwave or tv.I have a 15 year old tv and landlord supplied microwave, but no car.We both have kitchenaid mixers, though. Priorities in technology, I guess.

    Comment by lindy — June 21, 2006 #

  10. Enough “multi-culti!!” Having traveled through China, and meeting other travelers as well, we can attest to the markets like Guangdong being full of poorly bred (i.e. bred for numbers)cats and dogs, raised for food and fur (everything in China stores in the winter has a fur collar). The worst part is they are executed in extremely inhumane ways. You don’t wanna know!
    But maybe you should – so these cruel practices may end. Let’s all try to evolve okay?

    Comment by Rose — June 21, 2006 #

  11. So Svalbard may be the world’s next Fertile Crescent? I love the idea of the seed bank, but in the event of a catastrophe, I’d like to know how the seeds would the be delivered to, shall we say, more agricultural parts of the planet?

    Like I say, I love the idea, but I think a vault for each continent will be the next wise move.

    Comment by Kristi — June 21, 2006 #

  12. Rose–your testimony on the issue of inhumane practices when it comes to eating cats and dogs in China, I will believe. I -do- want to know how it is done, because I cannot make an informed opinion otherwise, but I am not always as trusting of what some Westerners will say about Chinese eating practices than I might otherwise be, because often thier opinions are colored by racism.

    (I ran across a racist high school teacher at Morganna’s high school when it came to Chinese food, and this has strengthened my already basic tendency to suspect many Westerners of being anti-Chinese when it comes to talking about what the Chinese eat and don’t eat and how they eat it.)

    That said–I cannot support making any animal suffer needlessly–whether or not making them suffer is culturally acceptable where it is happening. Suffering is suffering, and if you, Rose, whom I know and trust, tell me that the methods of slaughter in Guangdong really are as horrific as I have heard, then I stand with you and applaud the evolution of Chinese sensitivity to the issue.

    That said, I am still happy that the protest was created and led by Chinese people themselves, and not by Westerners–such change, coming from within, is more likely to stick with the Chinese people, as they will not feel like it is culture imposed from the outside by outsiders.

    Everyone left great comments–I will respond later today–I have errands now!

    Comment by Barbara — June 21, 2006 #

  13. I wholeheartedly agree with you on the prevalence of an embedded culinary cultural imperialism and racism. A gnarled issue for sure. I’ve learned to laugh-off a certain relatives’ jokes regarding the Chinese and dog-eating(I could be marinating chicken thighs, say, in an “Asian” marinade and a “kidding” dog-eating reference will suddenly appear). I used to try to elucidate or charmingly challenge..and I know said relative doesn’t really mean it so terribly…but the onus remains.

    Comment by Christopher Gordon — June 21, 2006 #

  14. Well, I probably should have read the entire article on the seed vault before I commented, or I would have known that there are several storage facilities distributed throughout the world, even if they’re not “vaults” as in Svalbard. Very interesting information, thanks to you and Zak for the link!

    Comment by Kristi — June 21, 2006 #

  15. Aw criminy. We’ve got a tv and we use it. While we don’t visit fast food restaurants, we do have ‘some’ crap in the cupboards. We keep an even keel with these things and no one item gets abused. I’d like to think if we lived in a rural community where we could hide away our children from society that I would lead a less bothersome lifestyle. But we live in a large metropolitan area. We have trucks for crissakes that drive down the center of the freeway with moving billboards on them!
    My two boys are 6 and 11 years old. They’re smart, bright, and in excellent health (not 1 pound over weight). The 11 year old is on his 3rd year of Latin and enjoys his guitar lessons. The little guy has a memory like a steel trap and loves money. They’re kind to to others and help younger children without being asked.
    And we all watch TV and enjoy it. Personally, I love it.


    Comment by Dr. Biggles — June 22, 2006 #

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