29 November 2014

The story of a puppy dog, a calf and an infant

I was thinking of dogs and remembered an observation attributed to the irrepressible Ranbanda Seneviratne: ‘There was a time when if a dog died, there would be 50 people there immediately wondering whose dog it was, how it died and what needs to be done; now, if 50 people died, not a dog would be bothered.’  I believe this comment was made in those terrible UNP-JVP ‘bheeshanaya’ days at the end of the 1980s.  I don’t think that his lawyer-lyricist meant any disrespect for dogs.  A dog, after all, is ‘man’s best friend’. 

People love dogs, they pamper them and some cultures even worship them (some eat them, but that’s another story).  I don’t understand how some people can get all weepy when hearing of or seeing a dog in distress but are quite oblivious to a lot of nasty things that people do to other people, much of which is quite in-your-face when you come to think of it.  I suppose people have preferences and some prefer dogs to human beings.    As for me, I am no dog-lover but this doesn’t mean I am given to kicking or throwing stones at them. 

My dog-day began last evening when I heard a dog-story.  The dog concerned just had its first birthday.  Well, this is the first time I heard a dog having a birthday and one which was actually celebrated, but then again I am acutely aware that the universe of my ignorance is infinite.  Let me call the dog ‘Jo’ and get on with the story.

Jo, a Portuguese Water Dog (I never knew that such a breed existed but again, I am no dog-lover), had a birthday bash. I mean, Jo’s owners/family (some dog-lovers are sensitive about these distinctions, I know) celebrated the little guy’s birthday by throwing a party.  Jo got a unique birthday gift: a doghouse.  Not that Jo was homeless before, of course. Jo already had a home.  And a family. And was a celebrity in his own right. 

What was remarkable about this gift is that the doghouse was edible.  ‘Cute’ and ‘sweet’ are the exclamations that dog-lovers would respond with, I believe.  Jo’s doghouse was made of veal.

I checked ‘veal’ in the food dictionary and found that there’s more to ‘veal’ than ‘baby-calf’.  The following is an extract:

Though there are no precise age standards for veal, the term is generally used to describe a young calf from 1 to 3 months old.  ‘Milk-fed veal’ comes from calves up to 12 weeks old who have not been weaned from their mother's milk. Their delicately textured flesh is firm and creamy white with a pale grayish-pink tinge.  ‘Formula-fed veal’ can come from calves up to about 4 months old, fed a special diet of milk solids, fats, various nutrients and water; it is not as rich or delicate  because there’s no milk-fat in the diet.  ‘Bob veal’ refers to calves younger than 1 month old. Their pale, shell-pink flesh is quite bland and the texture is soft. In all true veal, the animals haven't been allowed to eat grains or grasses, either of which would cause the flesh to darken. Calves between 6 and 12 months old are called ‘baby beef’, and have flesh that's coarser, stronger-flavored and from pink to light red in color. The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) grades veal in six different categories; from highest to lowest they are Prime, Choice, Good, Standard, Utility and Cull. The last three grades are rarely sold in retail outlets. When choosing veal, let color be your guide. The flesh should be creamy white — barely tinged with grayish-pink — and the fat white. Meat that's pink turning red means the so-called "veal" is older than it should be. Veal's texture should be firm, finely grained and smooth. 

I was stunned by my ignorance.  I am not what kind of veal Jo’s ‘doghouse’ was made of, but at this point it does not matter.  It’s just a calf. A baby.  Even younger than Jo.  Some would say ‘extravagant’ given that veal is expensive, but then again if it’s available and is affordable to ‘the family’, one can’t find fault with the amount of money spent.  That a lot of people in this world are starving is beside the point. We can’t ourselves starve because others are and/or we can’t feed them all. 

Jo didn’t have a choice. Jo didn’t ask for veal and probably didn’t know where his ‘doghouse’ came from, and nothing of course of the process from the womb of a cow to the ‘family garden’ or wherever the birthday party was held.  The ‘family’ knew, though. The family didn’t really care. 

I know of course that different cultures have different tastes and food preferences, even in this globalized world we live in.  Some kill and consumer because there is no other way to survive.  Some kill for sport.  Some kill and consume even when there are a million other forms of food available, different in taste perhaps but equally nutritious.  Who am I to impose on another culture the key defining values of my culture?  Who am I to say that the life of a fellow creature is as precious as that of a fellow human being?  Who am I to tell Jo what he should or should not eat?  But are talking about a calf and one that may have not been weaned from its mother’s milk.  It shook me up and all the relativist and arguments that reference the culture-specific aspect of food preference could not console me.

If we forget for a moment the relative character of the value we assign to various species, if we assume that all creatures, sharing our will to live and fear of death, have an equal right to live on this earth (which does not belong to our species, although we do a lot of buying, selling and killing over it), then we could think along the following (brutal) lines.

A human mother gives birth to an infant.  That infant is separated from her mother and put on a special diet for a few weeks.  The infant is then slaughtered and her body parts displayed in a supermarket, neatly packed in a freezer.  A few hours later, a lion walks in, looking for an appropriate gift for its cub, who is going to celebrate a birthday.  The lion picks up the ‘tender’ meat (say, a couple of kilos), goes home, makes a ‘cave’ out of it and offers it to the cub saying in lion-lingo, ‘happy birthday son’.  

Gross?  Yes.  Need I say more?

*This was first published exactly 5 years ago in the 'Daily News', to which paper I wrote a daily column titled 'The Morning Inspection'

Malinda Seneviratne is the Editor-in-Chief of 'The Nation' and can be reached at msenevira@gmail.com


Daya Ananda R said...

I quite appreciate this beautifully written, thought-provoking essay of Malinda that depicts varying aspects of quick human thinking and behaviour without giving much thought to where it all might end up. Isn't this sheer human ignorance what is described as ' Avijja' ?

Daya Ananda R said...

I quite appreciate this beautifully written, thought-provoking essay of Malinda that depicts varying aspects of quick human thinking and behaviour without giving much thought to where it all might end up. Isn’t this sheer ignorance what is described as ‘ Avijja’ ?