Wednesday, September 30, 2009

(Cruel) Food For Thought

People in Singapore love food.

There are many exciting food blogs which promise great gastronomic indulgence. Some of these blogs make you want to chomp the recommended dishes right away. I am no gastronome and I am in no position to endorse any of those sites. I suppose visiting the 'Best 10 Food Blogs' which were the finalists for the 2009 Singapore Blog Awards may be a good start. (The winner is Cuisine Paradise)

I am going to do a food blog today too. It is going to be a 'food blog' of a different kind: Something to eat and something to think about.

Many people discuss about issues relating to animal cruelty from time to time (I am one of them). Normally, images of physically abused pets or strays would come to mind. Few would have thought much about animal cruelty in relation to the food they eat.

Food cruelty is indeed a tough issue to discuss because there is a strong linkage between food and culture. Being more familiar with our own culture, we tend to accept our ways better than others'. Inevitably, we will view the issue of food cruelty from our respective angle and there is bound to be some grounds for disagreement.

In Singapore, we are blessed with a wide variety of food choices which originated from different parts of the world. Even then, there are some food that will make us go 'Ewww..!' Try suggesting to anyone in Singapore about the idea of eating cats, you will be sure that the reception will not be a friendly one. (By the way, get this right once and for all, we do not eat dogs here!)

I have cats as pets and the thought of eating them is a horrifying one. In "Sorry Moggies", I wrote about how the people in Lima would eat cats during their annual 'Gastronomical Festival of the Cat'. While it is totally hair-raising to me, it is a 'norm' for the south Americans there.

If you think about it, some of the food we eat here do not really put us in a good light either. Here are just two examples.

1. Shark's Fin

Don't we adore this dish? In almost all Chinese banquets, we will find the host proudly include this dish in their 10-course menu. Shark's fin broth is considered a delicacy and the premium ones obviously do not come cheap.

What many people do not realize is that there is great suffering behind this dish. Sharks are captured live and their fins are hacked off while they are still alive. The sharks are then thrown back into the sea. There, they are left to die slowly, finless and bleeding.

This wasteful practice has become common because a shark's fins are so valuable while its meat is much less so.

I wrote "Sharks: Prey or Predator?" after some shark attack incidents took place at the Australian coastal area in Jan 09. I lamented that sharks were probably more of a prey than predator. After all, about 40 millions sharks are killed by people in commercial fishing every year.

According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, some 18 species of sharks are already listed as endangered. At the current alarming rates of finning, some may become extinct within the next decade.

Thanks to greater awareness and international pressure from shark conservationists, the Singapore Airlines and Thai Airways have stopped serving shark's fin on their flights in 2001. In 2005, Hong Kong's Disneyland also scrapped sharks fin soup from its wedding banquet menu.

In Jan this year, the Fairmont Hotel Singapore decided to 'make their culinary choice a responsible choice'. Sharks' fin has since been taken out of their menu too.

Some progress is seen but we still have a long way to go. The European Shark Week 2009 is coming up soon (10-18 Oct 09). You can help by sending in your petition to support shark conservation.

2. Foie Gras

Foie gras means 'fatty liver' in French. It is the fattened livers taken from ducks or geese. This dish is controversial because the birds were force-fed and the production process is considered cruel.

According to the World Society for the Protection of Animal:

"The birds are commonly fed using a pneumatic pump forced down the throat, which injects up to half a kilo of maize and fat in a couple of seconds. This is repeated two or three times per day for up to three weeks, so that by the time it is slaughtered, a bird's liver will have swelled to between six and ten times its natural size. Many ducks and geese die prematurely from cardiac and renal failure, and liver hemorrhage."

Some countries prohibit the practice of force-feeding for the purpose foie gras production. Amongst them are Germany, Italy, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland and UK.

As a French delicacy, Foie gras used to be promoted only at gourmet dining places. In recent years, this dish has become more commonly available in Singapore. It seems that the consumption trend here is hitting north for the time being.

Would you want to know what happens before foie gras is served to you? Watch this footage taken from the largest foie gras producer in Canada. Here is another.

Ignorance is bliss. I know.

I am not sure if 'humane killing' is considered an oxymoron. Somehow, it appears that if we have to kill the animals, the least we could do is to let them have the quickest and the most painless death.

Animals are both friends and food to us. Like I have said earlier, it is unthinkable to view cats as our food because they are pets to us. We tend to think that eating 'cute' animals is an act of cruelty. Does that mean that those which are less 'cute' deserve less? Well, is it their fault that some animals are just not so 'cute'?

Having said that, we do have people in the Andes raising Guinea pigs as food and the French have horse meat in the menu. Rabbits are also eaten in many parts of the world. Seriously, does the level of cruelty depends on the cuteness of the animals? I do not think so.

I am not suggesting that we should all become vegans. All I am saying is that we need not obtain our food in a cruel way.

Food for thought, literally.

"Until one has loved an animal,
a part of one's soul remains unawakened."

~ Anatole France~

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