Monthly Archives: March 2013

Celebrating the Deformed

This deformed cat is not funny“Grumpy Cat” — whose actual name is “Tard“, theoretically short for “Tartar Sauce” — is just one of many “oh look at the cute animal” memes that have gone past my radar over the past few years.  I’ve seen Sam, once voted the World’s Ugliest Dog; Thumbelina, billed as the world’s smallest horse; and an infinite number of critters on sites like Cute Overload.

I have a difficult time enjoying such photos.  The animals in them are not natural.  Their appearance is generally the result of man messing with animal genes; of overzealous (over)selection for extremely specialized traits; and of practices such as “line-breeding” (a polite term for inbreeding).  Animals don’t look like that naturally (the rare ones which do generally do not pass on their genes).  Those mutations — usually extremes of the brachycephalic mutation wherein the bones of the face stop growing before the rest of the head — give the animals “human” expressions — and incidentally produce malocclusion of the teeth, tear duct abnormalities, facial deformities, and a variety of other ailments.  (Another “popular” mutation for internet-photo-sharing is dwarfism, producing animals with short, twisted limbs, overlarge heads, and, again, a variety of other problems.)

These are not happy animals.  I cannot laugh at them, not even if they are humorously posed and captioned.  They look the way they do because some humans got together and thought, Wouldn’t it be great if dogs/cats looked more like human babies? and bred siblings to each other until the offspring looked sufficiently funny.  The fact that the animal can’t breathe, can’t see, and can’t eat is meaningless — look how cute it is!  It almost looks human!

I am not arguing that we should not breed, for example, Persian cats, because breed-standard Persian cats do not necessarily look like “Tard”.  (It should be noted, however, that there are good arguments against extreme type-breeding in purebred animals.)  I am arguing that, when man’s interference with nature produces its inevitable sports, we not give the poor things contracts to do television commercials and buy T-shirts celebrating them (and, indirectly, the process which produced them).  I don’t support irresponsible animal breeding — why should I support its byproducts?

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Real Chicken, with Artificial Chicken Flavor

Another reason (as though we needed another) not to eat factory farmed meat — we’ve “streamlined” the process so thoroughly that the poor chickens who go through it never have time to develop anything that would provide flavor.  They shoot out the other side as essentially large blocks of tofu — thus, a factory farmed chicken must be chemically treated in order to taste like chicken.

Take three different whole chickens, [Marie Wright, chief flavorist at German flavoring company Wild] said — an average, low-priced frozen one from the supermarket; a mass-produced organic version like Bell and Evans; and what she termed a “happy chicken.” This was a bird that had spent its life outside running around and eating an evolutionary diet of grass, seeds, bugs and worms. Roast them in your kitchen and note the taste. The cheap chicken, she said, will have minimal flavor, thanks to its short life span, lack of sunlight and monotonous diet of corn and soy. The Bell and Evans will have a few “roast notes and fatty notes,” and the happy chicken will be “incomparable,” with a deep, succulent, nutty taste.

While I am slowly weaning myself off of eggs and dairy — mostly because of the byproducts of these industries — I have in the meantime at least switched to the eggs of “happy chickens” — not just “free range” but “pasture raised” — from small local farmers (the egg cartons have hand-written expiration dates, and one farm even includes newsletters from their chickens).  I note that the eggs are immediately identifiable as such.  They are huge, and they taste wonderful.  There is really no comparison.

It’s kind of frightening how many chemicals need to be poured over (and fed to) factory-farmed products so they are recognizable to the consumer.  Even if you aren’t particularly interested in how the animals who produce your food are treated, you might be interested in what you could be missing (or adding!) when you consume factory farmed meat.

Bonus link: a look behind the scenes at American flavoring company Givaudan, courtesy of the Huffington Post.

Tigers Being Bred for Trade in China

So tiger parts sell for more money than you’ve ever seen, but it’s hard to find them in the wild any more for some reason.  What’s an enterprising businessman to do?  Why, build a tiger farm, of course.  Grab a few tigers, start a “conservation” operation or a “zoo”, and once you get 500 animals you can get a permit to sell your surplus to make “tiger bone” wine:

[Alas, this excellent article on the Asian tiger trade will not embed here.  Please visit it in person (it’s free to view).]

Wildlife traffickers don’t even have to actually breed tigers.  They can just set up a location where it looks like they are captive-breeding tigers, then poach tigers from the wild and sell the parts as though they were from captive bred animals.  This apparently works for any species, not just tigers.

Although it does certainly appear that people are breeding captive tigers to sell for parts (in what way does this significantly differ from modern cattle operations?), I have been unable to verify whether or not the farms are also, specifically, starving tigers to death to satisfy nebulous legal issues requiring that the animal have died of “natural causes” for its parts to be sold, as in the following image I found floating around today.  The image appears to be a scan of this news article, sourced from this blog entry from the TigerTime web site, which appears to reference a paper called the Straits-Times but was written by a TigerTime employee with no readily apparent source.

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This image was what originally made me look into this subject.  It just seems too awful to be completely true, and it isn’t.  The report quoted above does not mention any requirement in Chinese law stating that animals which have died naturally are specifically legal (it just requires that the parts be “legally obtained”), and research suggests that the starving tigers are a different, though quasi-related, event: the tigers in question appear to have been starved (actually, fed “cheap cuts of chicken”, leading to malnourishment) when the facilities handling them “went into financial difficulties”.  Not that it’s much of a relief, especially to the tigers, but it does not look like they were starved specifically so their parts could be sold legally (although I suspect the facility owners did not object to the “happy” appearance of an “extra” carcass or two).  It just looks like that’s a “normal byproduct” of their “farming” operation.  (Why does that distinction matter to me?  Is “inconceivably terrible husbandry practices” better in some way than “deliberately starving animals to death”?  Is it even different?)

Just another place where minor curiosity (“Hmmm, that headline looks a mite sensationalistic”) leads to a major facepalm moment: even “wildlife” is being factory farmedEverything is being factory farmed, somewhere — and factory farming is never pretty.  (Check out that National Geographic photo gallery for a picture of what it looks like when humans “captive breed” snakes for the pet trade, if you’re interested.)