Of course, I try to get them to explore the cultural ramifications of what we eat. Why do we eat cows, pigs, sheep, various fowl—and not dogs or cats? The discussion can go many directions—being vegan, eating meat during travels that one does not traditionally eat, having religious restrictions on what meats we eat.
I had sort of settled this question of the cultural influence on what meats we eat in my own mind until a recent post by Julie Zickefoose on agoutis got me thinking again. While you can read her post for yourself, one of the things she points out is that she had not seen an agouti in the wild because of the “edible–animal syndrome: anything big enough to roast on a spit is pretty much extirpated wherever people live.” So that’s what got me to thinking. Is there anything wrong with eating bushmeat? If you say yes—what? If you say no—why?
I struggle with the implications for survival of species if humans have no limit on killing bushmeat for food. While I was growing up in Rhodesia, Africa, we occasionally killed local animals. Mostly our meat supply came from livestock on the mission station, such as cattle or pigs, but there were also various antelope such as kudus that missionaries killed. Such meat was never a staple, but the meat could be eaten and was used. That was the extent of my exposure to bushmeat in Africa.
Bushmeat now means something altogether different. One of the websites dedicated to education about this issue states baldly that “In Africa, the unsustainable bushmeat trade is wiping out wildlife including gorillas, chimpanzees, antelopes and many other species.” (Bushmeat Crisis Task Force) It is the permanent loss of species that haunts me. The dilemma is how do we balance the needs of humans against the existence of other animals?
For desperate people in some parts of the world, Africa for example, eating bushmeat is the one available means to stave off starvation. Here is a thought-provoking piece on the role of bushmeat in Africa.
photo from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bushmeat
Of course, this practice is as old as humanity. Before humans domesticated animals, they killed game—this term is a far less objectionable one than bushmeat. Obviously, I am not opposed to humans killing and eating game that is plentiful. But I really shudder at some of the types of bushmeat that is now being sold in some African markets—for example, gorillas. The one photo that I include here is of an African porcupine being sold as bushmeat. There are far more graphic photos on the Internet of bushmeat for sale—particularly chilling are gorilla heads. The great apes are virtually our cousins, so how can we possibly eat them?
So, I wrestle with the problem—how can we humans co-exist with other animals on this earth. Humans eating other animals and in so doing possibly wiping out species is not the only way we threaten animals. There are so many ways that humans and animals clash. Another thoughtful blogger addressed one of these problems—humans encroaching more and more on habitat that displaces animals. Then when those animals come around where we live, we take action that sometimes harms them. See Natural Notes 3 thoughtful post on Birds or Bears.
We humans have to accept that we are part of all creation, that the destruction of habitat affects us, that the loss of species affects us, that the great web of creation sustains and supports us. Destroy it and we destroy ourselves.