25 August 2008

Why I’m a vegetarian

**Update: the UN even agrees with me!! http://tinyurl.com/5qlxdt **

I don’t believe that animals should not be killed for human consumption. In fact, I think that God has most definitely provided certain animals for man — some to assist us in our daily tasks and others to provide us with the nutrients and proteins (isn’t that what meat supplies?!) that eating meat provides.

But I have been vegetarian for almost a year now. And I must say, as a meat lover, it has been really difficult to resist the urge and go for the greens. But having spent a good portion of this time travelling through many different countries, I think I have had the opportunity to taste delicious local produce that I otherwise would have missed out on completely (to be honest, some vegetables should be missed out!).

So if I’m not an animal lover or a hippie tree hugger (I’m an accountant by profession!), why don’t I eat meat? Now let me say that, while I am no expert (but I’m sure many ‘experts’ are going to be challenging these statements!), read this with an open mind and then give it some serious consideration.

While beef consumption is said to play a major role in the development of heart disease, strokes and cancer, the over-consumption of beef is being increasingly labelled as a major cause of human hunger and poverty, deforestation, global warming and numerous other global/social issues.

More than one third of the grain produced in the world is fed to cattle and other livestock. The fact that more than a billion people around the world could receive proper nourishment if all this agricultural land was used to grow food for human consumption, rather than livestock, is clearly not widely known.

With the current food crisis (being labelled by some as the Silent Tsunami) wreaking havoc across the globe, you may be shocked by these facts, but similar events have occurred in our recent past: at the height of the 1984 famine in Ethiopia, some of its agricultural land was being used to produce grains for export — to feed livestock in Europe.

The building up of various gases in the atmosphere blocks heat from escaping the planet and is expected to cause a global climate change of catastrophic proportions. Grain-fed cattle are a significant factor in the generation of three major gases – carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. The burning of the world’s forests for cattle pasture has released billions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. The over 1.3 billion livestock in the world annually release some 60 million tons of methane through their digestive systems. Moreover, to produce the feed requires the use of fertilisers which emit vast amounts of nitrous oxide.

Eight kilos of grain are used to produce each kilo of meat. While in Africa, nearly one in three people is undernourished. In Latin America, nearly one out of every seven people goes to bed hungry each night. In Asia and the Pacific, 22% of the people live at the edge of starvation. In the Near East, one in nine is underfed. So consider that these stats could be reduced by around seven for every burger meal that we eat.

Now for the chicks — celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has managed to cause quite a stir in the UK with his expose on battery chickens, Jamie’s Fowl Dinners.

But groupie mentality aside (I’m not a fan of the glorified cook), there is a tragic tale to be told. Rather being allowed to roam freely, choosing from a salad board provided by grass, herbs, insects and tree fodder, chickens are ‘grown’ in boxes these days — under the most disgusting conditions. Yet again, how many consumers are aware of the suffering of the birds and the extremely poor quality of the meat?

Mass poultry production as a whole poses serious health and environmental hazards with the ammonia and other chemicals found in the feed. In addition, the amount of energy used to transport and process this billion dollar industry makes it hard to justify that box of fried chicken.

So, I am not on a crusade to convert the masses into salad munchers — the main objective of sharing this is to try and remind ourselves that we need to be conscientious shoppers. We need to have critical minds and consider all the implications of our purchases, and taking this line of thinking to its end, our daily actions and decisions as a whole.

If you believe the claims made above and now know that kids in poor areas around the world are dying due to the shortage of basic foodstuff, perhaps you will not want to eat meat three times a day in huge portions — maybe you will start cutting down and encourage others to do the same. One of the most effective ways that you, as an individual, can do your part to reduce human hunger, poverty and global warming is to reduce your consumption of animal products.

For me, it’s not so much about not eating meat. What I try to do, and would like to encourage others to do, is to have a critical mind. Know what you are buying and the effects that your purchase has– all the way back to the source of the ingredients! While it may sound impractical and over the top, it takes a little bit of research and thought and you will know whether the coffee farmers behind your cappuccino and being exploited, whether your avocados were grown on land stolen from Palestinians or whether peasants in Paraguay were killed to ensure the demand for GM soy beans was met!

So no, I’m not a conventional vegetarian. I do eat meat. But I make it a very rare occasion when I do this, usually when a guest in someone’s home. But I still make known the facts noted above. And if it’s chicken, it must be a chicken that has been allowed to roam the earth freely and live a good life. Yes, I only eat happy chicken.

15 August 2008

Food shortages (Updated) [AGAIN]

** Update: Now in the Mail & Guardian :) ** http://tinyurl.com/6xmkls


Prices in Syria have been skyrocketing over the past year. I am here to study Arabic, like many others from all over the world, and I was told that this influx of foreign students may be responsible for the pushing up demand and hence prices. However, that argument has not convinced most. Just a week before I arrived, the cost of transport increased overnight by 100%, from SYL5 to SYL10. By transport, that means buses and the ‘service’ mini-buses (pronounced sir-vees).

Abu Ahmed is owner of Mu’ajaanaat Al-noor in Ruknudeen, the suburb on the foot of a mountain in Damascus. In his 40’s, he has his young son helping out now in his school holidays, and daily after school during the term. His bakery is a typical Damascene style bakery take-away, making and selling pizza-like bread in a clay oven. Customers usually bring their own toppings like cheese, tomato and the delicious local spice- Zattar.

Abu Ahmed complains about the price increase. The price of cheese increased from SYL150 per kg to SYL250 per kg in the past year. 50 kilograms of flour was SYL900 and is now gone up for SYL1400!

100 litres of diesel was SYL8,000 and is now gone up to a whopping SYL26,000.

A ration is available from government outlets at 8000 SYL, but only to households. Each household has a limit. He uses most of his household limit for his shop, and hence has little left for personal use. He is willing to buy a ration card from someone who is willing to sell theirs...

Down the road Abu Maajid runs a small supermarket, selling basic groceries, cool drinks, snacks and other odds and ends. He used to sell Egyptian rice (Zarzour) for SYL30 per kg and claims that the price has increased steadily to SYL90 per kg. ‘But not for long, it will go up again soon. I just know it!’ He used to sell 100kg of rice a week and now he sells anything around 5 to 10 kg a week.

Many people have stopped eating rice and now eat local wheat known as ‘Burghur’. Even this has gone up from SYL20 to SYL50 per kg so sales have only marginally increased. ‘One customer is my friend- he told me he is now eating just tomato and bread! Things are really bad and people are suffering’, says Abu Maajid in broken English.

Canisters of gas used to sell for SYL175 when the cost price was SYL150. Now the government outlet is selling it for SYL275, the man who transports it adds on SYL25 and it’s sold for SYL325 with a SYL25 SYL mark-up. ‘Petrol is the problem’, he says. But he has no idea why the petrol price has gone up or who is to blame. There is no time to worry about that and there is nothing one can do but just try to work harder.

In some shops the employees make more than the owners. But jobs are not easy to find- his four married sons are all struggling to get proper jobs. The supermarket used to give him SYL10 SYL profit for every SYL100 of sales- this has now dropped to 5%, and with the drop in sales, it is really tough to make ends meet. He has not paid the last 4 electricity bills and his phone has been cut because he couldn’t pay the bill. He forces me to take the phone and listen- the line is dead and I’m greeted only by silence.

SYL- Syrian Lira
ZAR- South African Rand
Effective exchange rate: ZAR1 = SYL6.5

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This was written as part of a global project to raise awareness on how the food shortages are causing strife across the globe. For the full article, please visit: http://www.pambazuka.org/en/category/comment/49918

Food shortages: stories of strife across the globe

07 August 2008

Patani- The forgotten suffering (Draft 1)

26 July 2008- The former Malay kingdom of Patani is composed of what are now the three Thai provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat. They are home to 1.8 million Muslims or 80 percent of the populace. The most that people from other countries know about this region, is that it has a majority Muslim population in a country which is overwhelmingly Buddhist.

Like many of the states in island Southeast Asia, its rulers and then its people embraced Islam and this led them into various societal and behavioural norms that differentiated them from non-Muslim people. Diet, dress and language were all affected, for example.

Thus, The General Union of the Patani Revolutionary Students held a Patani cultural day at the University of Damascus on Saturday 26 July 2008. The event, which showcased the dress, music, language, dance and martial arts of the Patani people, was attended by university students from many different countries.

Almost without exception, university students from all over the world knew little of the suffering and abuse that the people of Patani are enduring. The people of Patani, who have been resisting the suppression of their language and culture by the Thai authorities, have met the most brutal of torture and oppression which has largely escaped any significant attention of global media. The wish of the Patani people to obtain independence from Thailand has led to the deaths of hundreds in an armed struggle that has intensified over the last couple of years.

The issue goes back to the arrival of the British in the region. With the seizure of both Malaya and Burma, a very pronounced threat to the Siamese throne appeared, since Siam became squeezed on all sides. The Malayan peninsula became something of a buffer state between British and Siamese and gradually the questionable territory in between was annexed by one side or another. In 1902, Patani finally came under formal control of the Siamese throne.

The southern region has a heavily Malay-speaking Muslim population, which historically formed the Muslim kingdom of Patani until it succumbed to Siamese control in the 1700s. People here share similar cultures and habits with the Malay Muslims in Malaysia, but Bangkok has traditionally suppressed their identity, for example by discouraging the use of the Malay language. This cultural imperialism has been opposed by the Malays, culminating in an armed struggle in 1948 by Patani Muslims to break away from the kingdom, and again in the 1960s by the Patani United Liberation Army, the armed wing of one Thai group, the Patani United Liberation Organisation (PULO), whose members laid down arms in response to Bangkok’s blanket amnesty in the 1990s.

The people of Patani feel not just that their independence has been taken from them but that their traditions and history have been suppressed. Siamese (and now Thai) authorities have taken steps to try to integrate the Kingdom into one people. Thai Muslims have long complained of heavy-handed practices by the military in the South.

Ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra flooded the south with 30,000 troops and police, further alienating the Muslim population, especially after 78 Muslim men arrested after a protest died of suffocation in army custody.
After Thaksin was ousted in a 2006 coup, Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont travelled to the south to apologize for the heavy-handed military response, but the "hearts and minds" campaign failed to stop the violence. Mr. Surayud apologized for the harsh policies of his predecessor during his six years in office, promised to investigate abuses and restructured the military command for the south.

After General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, the former coup leader of Thailand’s military government, offered to negotiate with the ‘insurgents’, PULO, which is often accused of perpetrating attacks in the south, welcomed the suggestion of dialogue by General Sonthi, amid accusations by pro-Thaksin and anti-Muslim voices in Bangkok that Sonthi was being pro-Muslim.

Kasturi Mahkota, PULO’s exiled foreign affairs spokesman in Sweden, even said that PULO were prepared to talk about autonomy: something that had previously been non-negotiable in the Muslims’ quest for complete independence. Speaking in Damascus, Mahkota said that his organisation is fully committed to finding a peaceful resolution to the conflict. The situation appears rarely in global mainstream media, even though more than 3,000 people have died in recent years. Most have been innocent bystanders, both Buddhists and Muslims. The question is whether the Thai authorities take any serious steps towards a reasonable solution while there is such media silence from this region.