Friday, August 5, 2011

Eating Animals

Fun Fact: After reading Eating Animals during the spring semester of my freshman year, I entered a brief stint as a vegetarian. My conversion to vegetarianism was mainly spurred by my newfound knowledge of the horrors of the factory farming industry. Embarrassingly, it lasted only until the semester ended -- when I arrived home for summer vacation and was greeted by my mother's home-cooking, I succumbed to temptation. Nevertheless, I remained optimistic that one day, under the right circumstances, I would able to return to vegetarianism again.

Before we came to Vietnam, our group was told that vegetarians would have a difficult time having their dietary restrictions met here. While I don't think that is entirely true (at least, not in my experience so far), meat is definitely in at least one or two dishes at lunch and dinnner, and if you are a vegetarian, you would have to pass on having pho for breakfast.

Now, here's the twist.

I think I have seen more baby animals here in the last two months than I have seen in my entire life in the United States. How often do you see puppies scampering about the roadside in the US? On a side note, yes -- it's true that you can eat dog here in Vietnam. In fact, puppies are apparently the ideal dog meat because their meat is tender.

I have no intention of eating dog meat, but I face quite a different dilemma when I see piglets and ducklings here. During one of our community assessments in Quang Tri, we stopped by an elementary school. At the front of the gate was a man on a motorbike with a basket cage full of little piglets. The cuteness attack that Kathy and I faced was tempered by the fact that chances were, one of these piglets would end up on our dinner table. In fact, at the closing ceremony in Quang Tri, each table was served a dish of roasted piglet.

Baby animals aren't just the problem. On Tuesdays and Thursdays in Quang Tri, we were given a stipend and allowed to explore the town and buy our own dinner. A group of us went to look for a certain kind of noodle soup whose name I have suddenly forgotten. We found the restaurant that served it, and upon entering the "dining area" which was really a person's yard, we saw a couple of chickens clucking around the yard. Immediately, the American students asked their roommates to not order anything with chicken -- the last thing we wanted was to hear the death wail of a chicken before dinnertime.

The thing about eating meat in Quang Tri town and our current village in Ben Tre is that the animals we are eating are not products of factory farming. These animals have at least being able to roam around somewhat freely on a village farm before winding up at the village market. I thought I would feel a little bit better about eating meat as a result. Instead, I'm starting to think I might end up going back to vegetarianism when I fly back to the United States. Something needs to change when you start thinking your food is cute.

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