Category Archives: consumerism

An Unusually Bird-Brained Marketing Strategy

Image source: www.chickenfries.com

Image source: www.chickenfries.com

Burger King has a new promotion going: a live chicken, named “Gloria”, will travel to “select” Burger King locations across the U.S. and, by pecking at one of two food bowls marked “yes” or “no”, will determine whether or not that location will serve “chicken fries“, which are strips of chicken made up to look like french fries.

Since Gloria is a chicken, she has no grasp of the metaphysics of what she is doing: “deciding” whether or not, say, 500 of her fellow chickens will be turned into “fries” rather than chicken sandwiches on that day, based on her (possibly) random actions.  All she knows is that she pecks the bowls, and gets food.  I am not a chicken, and I find the image of a chicken deciding the fates of its fellows obscene.  It’s a little like the happy painted pigs you see on the signs at barbeque restaurants, merrily encouraging guests to eat them and their friends. (What would Burger King do if Gloria pecked “no” at every stop?  Held up a little sign that said “GO VEG”?)

I am also interested in that, as a being with a name, Gloria is Not Food, and is afforded the status due a named chicken: an “expert handler”, a “plush coop” and a “custom decision-making stage” from which to issue her decrees.  Note also that Gloria is very unlike the chicken hoi polloi which are used in the fries: according to her web site, she is a “three-year-old Rhode Island Red chicken”.  She has already lived nearly twenty times longer than the five-to-nine-week-old hybrid, white-feathered “broiler” chickens Burger King (likely) uses in their nuggets and sandwiches.  She is from “Starlight Ranch, in Lake Elsinore, CA”, a facility so small even Google can’t find it.  Why not choose a representative factory farm chicken from one of the big broiler producers?  (Oh, yeah, they’re crippled, have no feathers, and die early of respiratory diseases.  Not a good mascot.)

What message are we supposed to take from this?  “Watch as the random actions of a factory farm chicken’s privileged cousin determine what shape your meat will be”?  I have been led to understand that Burger King is at the forefront of what we must, alas, call the fast food revolution toward eventually, someday, provided it is financially feasible, possibly being slightly nicer to the animals we eat.  I am not certain this advertising campaign fully supports that theory.  (On the other hand, I certainly noticed it, so, in that regard, it worked perfectly.)

(From the primordial television series of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)

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Making Foie Gras Illegal Sadly Not the Answer

Photo source: Morguefile.com, Sgarton.

Photo source: Morguefile.com, Sgarton.

In July 2012, foie gras, a paste made of the livers of force-fattened geese and ducks, was banned in California, on the reasonable grounds that pretty much nothing about making it is particularly nice to the birds.  On January 7, 2015, a judge threw out the ban, saying it “attempted to override existing federal law regulating poultry products”.

I am more interested in the reaction of people to the ban: before it went into effect (it was actually passed in 2004 and had a seven-and-a-half-year “grace period”), people had culinary foie gras orgies, putting it on everything.  While it was in effect, some restaurants gave it out for free as a way to get around the law.  And now that the ban is over, foie gras, the “forbidden treat”, is now trendy, with restaurants scrambling to get it back on the menu.  Basically, banning foie gras made it even more popular, rather like banning alcohol during Prohibition.

Clearly, simply making inhumanely produced animal products illegal is not the answer.  What is the answer?  Telling people how it is made doesn’t seem to help, although you’d think it would be primary (that’s certainly what convinced me not to eat it).  I am completely perplexed by people who hear: “This stuff is made by repeatedly holding down a live duck and filling it with fatty food until its liver reaches eight times normal size” and respond with “I want to eat that!” — even when there are alternatives presented.

No answers today.  Just a little “WTF?” as this goes by.

“Weird Al” Yankovic: The Mystery of Meat

This (sort of) reminds me of that precipitous moment when I realized just how much was going into getting me a cheap hamburger.  I knew it was made from dead cow, but I had this mental image of just one cow — you know, that old picture you got in elementary school of one cow, kept at grass, with lots of space and love.  You don’t picture how many cows died, and what they went through beforehand, until someone grabs your head and shows you and you see it.  I’d like to see what would happen if McDonald’s put out that commercial.

Keep it real, Ronald. Keep it real.

Use of Alternative Sources Does Not Solve My Problems with Meat

As an omnivore who has chosen to live without meat because no animal should have to go through our factory farming process just so I can have a sausage, I am constantly on the lookout for alternative options.  Unfortunately, I find tofu about as appealing as Kleenex under most circumstances, and the vegan “replacements” for my formerly favorite foods (hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken strips) don’t so much mimic those foods as taste so completely unlike them as to reinforce how much I miss them.

For example, I can try adding “tofu crumbles” to my spaghetti sauce to remind me of the ground hamburger I used to put in there, but there are three problems: 1) the tofu crumbles cost twice as much as the rest of the ingredients put together; 2) they take time and effort to cook properly; and 3) they do not actually taste like ground beef (or like anything).  I do not need the texture of ground beef in my spaghetti sauce so badly that I must go out and buy tofu crumbles for it.  (Bring on the mushrooms and fresh peppers instead!)

There is a new movement wandering around which is trying to encourage people to eat less beef, poultry and pork by using replacement meat sources instead of removing meat entirely from the diet.  This is supposed to appeal to carnivores because you don’t have to declare yourself a granola-eating vegan (I do not like granola, myself) in order to reduce the amount of beef in your diet: you can remain a dedicated carnivore, and even say you’re doing it for the environment, rather than for the animals, further reducing any appearance of sympathy you might have had.

Perfectly edible even without the "scraps" of mouse meat.  (Source: Vice.com)

Perfectly edible even without the “scraps” of mouse meat. (Source: Vice.com)

Along these lines, a journalist from Vice decided to eat live food from a pet store for a week, one meal a day, to see what replacing traditional meat sources with something less environmentally intensive to raise might do to her diet.  Her actions, including grinding crickets into a replacement pancake flour and the creation of what is essentially a mashed potato casserole with mice in it, remind me strongly of my trying to find alternative meat sources for my spaghetti sauce.  The recipes take additional work and time; the unusual additives don’t add much pleasure to the meal; and in every case there’s a cheaper, faster, vegetarian option available — simply don’t add the alternative meat source.  Hey, look, it’s a perfectly serviceable potato casserole with no mice in it!

….those little guys were raised in a sterile lab, which is more than you can say for your average chicken nugget.”

Plus, well, the mice are often being raised in the same kind of factory farming conditions to which I object with beef, poultry and pigs.  It doesn’t have the same impact on the environment, because mice don’t need the same kind of space or materials that the larger animals do, but it certainly has a similar impact on the mice, which was kind of my problem with meat in the first place.

toilet-fish-tankThe author’s problems with killing the live minnows (You do not euthanize fish by adding salt to their water.  You do not euthanize fish by adding salt to their water.  You do not euthanize fish by adding salt to their water!)reminds me that even — and especially — these tiny animals are “slaughtered” for consumption in terrible ways, mostly because they’re too tiny to scream audibly and therefore any method is “painless”.  Mice are generally gassed with CO2, which can be a terrible way to go if performed badly (which it usually is).  This also fails to solve the issues with factory farming that led me to give up carnivory.

Whether they have a smaller impact on the environment or not (they probably do), and whether their handling of them is in some way “better” than our treatment of pigs, cows and chickens (it probably isn’t), I don’t need crickets (or minnows, or mice!) so badly as a source of protein (peanuts! almonds! peas! quinoa! spinach! sunflower seeds! beans!) that I need to kill 50 of them to add texture (and, apparently, an almond or shrimp flavor) to my plate of spaghetti.  I had enough problems using 1/50 of a cow to get the flavor I actually wanted!

How about an option that’s plentiful, cheap, lives naturally in crowded conditions and is easy to obtain?

Meat Is Hiding Inside My Cold Medicine

I have this season’s Martian Death Flu; my brain feels like it is bouncing gently against the ceiling, tethered to earth only by the flimsiest of strings.  I am not in the right frame of mind to be reading ingredients lists, but I happen to glance at the back of the box containing the little white pills which are the only thing that stops my brain pouring out of my nose, and see:

Inactive Ingredients: acesulfame potassium, artificial flavors, carnauba wax, colloidal silicon dioxide, corn starch, croscarmellose sodium, glycerin, glyceryl behenate [likely from the Ben-oil tree], hypromellose, lactic acid, lecithin [probably, but not 100% definitely, vegetable-derived] maltodextrin, medium-chain triglycerides [from palm oil, the harvesting of which threatens orangutan habitat], microcrystalline cellulose [“refined wood pulp” — yum!], pharmaceutical ink [which may contain shellac!], polydextrose [reportedly made from corn], polyvinyl alcohol, pregelatinized starch, propyl gallate [which one study sort of claims is a carcinogen — in male rats and mice], silicon dioxide [sand!], sucralose, synthetic iron oxide, talc, titanium dioxide, triacetin [made of glycerin/glycerol and acetic acid, and therefore possibly not vegan], xanthan gum.

(As for the active ingredients, it’s hard to tell, but ibuprofen itself appears to be non-animal-sourced.  Chlorpheniramine maleate may or may not be made with bone oil, which contains pyridine, from which chlorpheniramine maleate is made, and, frankly, I haven’t the foggiest idea about phenylephrine hydrochloride.)

Glycerin pings my radar as being possible to make from vegetables, but much easier to get from animals.  (Later, doing research on every item on this list, I also find triacetin, which is made from glycerin, and therefore equally suspect — and, what the hey, pharmaceutical ink, which apparently can contain shellac, made from bugs.  Also, as you can see above, it eventually occurred to me to ask if the active ingredients themselves were also vegan.)  Oh.  Well.  Off to research….

Unfortunately, Google is not a big help here.  I found a site which tells me on two pages (here’s one, dated 3/3/14, Pfizer reference number 214905A; here’s the other, using the same reference) that my currently preferred little white pill, “Advil Allergy and Congestion“, is completely animal-product free, and on another page (dated 11/4/13, Pfizer reference number 188656A), tells me the glycerin in that product is derived from either beef or pork fat.  (This article about gluten-free medications tells me glycerin is mostly derived from petroleum these days…and the Vegetarian Resource Group tells me glycerin is the same as glycerol, and that glycerol is “typically vegan”, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the glycerin in Advil is — and on another page, the Vegetarian Resource Group tells me that glycerin is typically non-vegetarian, so what do I know?)

(I don’t mean to be dinging on Advil.  For all I know, they are vegan, they just aren’t labeled that way.  They don’t make it easy to find out, which leads me to suspect that they aren’t.  If they aren’t vegan, then they’re certainly not alone.)

Since my place of business dings me for calling in sick, not taking something (at least on work days) is unthinkable — I must be able to see and interact with other humans, whatever my immune system feels it ought to be doing instead.  A search for “vegan cold medicine” turns up nothing I’d consider scientifically tested, or remotely functional.  You’d think someone would be working on getting this “niche market” filled by now — it’s not like glycerin, lecithin and food-grade ink can’t be plant-based, and you’d just have to stamp the end result “vegan” for me to come rushing in to buy it preferentially.

Alas, this may have to be filed under the “99.9% vegan” category, like Cheerios, at least for the moment, with an eye out for swapping brands at the first available opportunity.  At least I know to avoid the “gel-caps”, which are outright made of gelatin.  In any case, all medications, by US law, have been tested on animals, so by taking any medication whatsoever I am directly contributing to that part of the machine.

Somehow, that makes me feel worse than the flu.  Fortunately, staying in bed with the covers over my head is vegan….

Would an Animal Shelter Import a Puppy?

In an article decrying (with some justification) the tendency of animal-rescuing persons to refer to animal-breeding persons with derogatory names, the author stated (emphasis theirs):

Animal shelters in the USA have been casting a wide net to fill their kennels for years. According to the US Public Health Service, Chicago O’Hare was the destination airport for 10,125 dogs imported from overseas in 2006, half of which weren’t vaccinated. Scientists from the Center of Disease Control estimated that over 199,000 dogs (38,100 unvaccinated) came into the country through the Mexican border that year alone, and in 2007, one organization in Puerto Rico by itself shipped more than 14,000 strays in seven years to the United States for adoption at shelters. ABC News reported that according to G. Gale Galland, veterinarian in the CDC’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine, as many as 300,000 puppies a year – most from countries with little or no health safeguards, are being imported to satisfy the demand for puppies at shelters.

This set off my WTF detector, because, in my experience, I think the last thing the workers at the shelter where I work would ever want to do would be to purchase, with money, more animals for the shelter.  People walk in their door every day with baskets of puppies, often purebred.  At this exact second they have four purebred Beagles, a purebred German Shepherd, a Labrador retriever, a handsome white Boxer, and a mother Pug with two puppies.  Speaking of puppies, there is also a litter of five little Lab/Beagle mixes, at least three other, single, puppies, and some lovely juvenile (teenage) dogs, as well as possibly an infinite number of kittens.  Every cage is full.  For what possible reason would they want to ask for more dogs?

The original G. Gale Galland quote, in a 2007 article about how importation of unvaccinated dogs is prompting concerns about rabies, does indeed say that “as many as 300,000 puppies a year” are being imported — but it does not say that all the animals are specifically going to shelters.  Two paragraphs down in the same article, the Border Puppy Task Force in California describes the puppies as being “sold for $1,000 each in shopping center parking lots on the street”.  The Task Force web site exhorts people not to “pay in cash” for a puppy “on a street corner, in an alley or parking lot, or at a swap meet”.  Most shelters do not sell dogs on the street for $1,000 cash.   Perhaps these imported dogs are not all going directly to shelters?

from Kenny123 on morguefile.com

from Kenny123 on morguefile.com

I was surprised to learn that the bit about getting “14,000 strays in seven years” shipped in from Puerto Rico was true, but again, the quote is incomplete: these animals (known as Satos, or Sato dogs) are not just puppies, they are dogs of all ages.  The shelters say that they are being shipped from an area where there isn’t a lot of help available for them to places where they are more likely to be adopted. Critics say that shelters in areas where there aren’t a lot of stray dogs are importing strays from Puerto Rico rather than “go out of business”.  This letter from someone decrying the practice and its matching rebuttal do a pretty good job of summing up this mess.

This National Animal Interest Alliance (NAIA) paper appears to be the source of the “10,125 dogs imported through Chicago” as well as the “199,100 dogs entered from Mexico” statements.  Note that the paper refers to dogs, not puppies.  When considering where these animals go, the same paper states: “Some of these increases [in importation] may be explained by the apparent recent expansion in a high-volume international commercial puppy trade.  Breeders overseas and across borders ship puppies to the United States for sale through commercial pet stores, flea markets, and internet trading sites.”  Then it adds, “In addition to imports for commercial sale, several animal rescue operations import dogs from other countries for adoption in the United States.  For example…a humane rescue organization imported 295 dogs to the United States from the Middle East.”  Again, the true answer seems to lie right in the middle: yes, there are clearly shelters importing dogs (and puppies).  There are also breeders and commercial facilities importing puppies.

There seems to be a shouting match going on concerning shelters shipping in animals from other rescues.  My animal shelter would tell you that this process (NAIA calls it “humane relocation”) is a great thing; they are thrilled to be able to send animals to shelters in other states so they have room for the new ones constantly walking in the door.  NAIA (which is headed by a number of people who love animals, many of whom also happen to perform animal research, and also breed dogs) seems to have a number of articles putting down this practice as “money-making” on the part of the receiving shelters.  It’s likely that both sides of the story are true, depending on which shelter you look at, and where you live.  This shelter in Atlanta may well be slowly becoming a for-profit organization and is shipping in animals to keep itself financially afloat, but not all shelters behave like this one, and not all relocation programs are primarily intended to raise money for the receiving shelters.

While it is true that some shelters import pets, from both other US shelters and shelters in other countries, it feels to me as though this is more about NAIA (the primary source of a lot of articles, as well as the term “humane relocation” referring to movement of animals between shelters) using articles about a real concern (unvaccinated imported animals bringing in zoonotic diseases) to support an attack against animal rescue groups’ negative attitude toward pet breeders.  I can see (some of) the thought behind their position: in general, dog (and cat, ferret, horse, etc.) fanciers who take good care of their animals should always be encouraged, be their animals from (reputable) breeder or (reputable) shelter, and, in fact, some breeders are also rescuers.  (Responsibly) breeding pets is not intrinsically a terrible act.  On the other hand, portraying all shelters as money-grubbing, fanatical and untrustworthy “pet shops”, and denouncing a program that (at least sometimes) allows animals unlikely to be adopted in one area to be shipped to another for faster adoption, is not good for the one thing we all love best here: the animals.

Cheerios is 99.99% Vegan; So Am I

I made one of my usual tactical errors the other day, and decided to check whether Cheerios, my breakfast cereal of choice, is, in fact, vegan.  I’d just managed to wean myself off of traditional dairy based milk onto soy milk (and boy, did that suck — sorry, cows); I was feeling proud of myself and wanted to verify that I’d finally gotten breakfast fully vegan.

The answer is interesting: no, Cheerios is not vegan, because the vitamin D3 which is added to the cereal is made from lanolin, which of course comes from sheep.  Technically, this may make the cereal just vegetarian rather than vegan, but since there’s no way to tell if the wool was sheared off living sheep or skinned off dead sheep, it may also technically be “animal based”.  This means that any “fortified” cereal (or any “fortified” food, such as orange juice!) may contain vitamin D3 or other “slaughterhouse by-products”.  Also, if the “sugar” in the Cheerios is white cane sugar, it was likely whitened using the calcium carbonate from animal bones.  So my “vegan” breakfast, well, isn’t.  Arrgh!

My experience wasn’t special.  Non-vegan products are hiding inside apparently vegan food all the time.  What is really interesting about this is that one of the first links I found when starting my search for nutritional information on Cheerios was PETA’s “Accidentally Vegan” web site, which — sometime in the past — listed Cheerios, saying it was vegan and making no mention of the treacherous lanolin-based vitamin D3.  When people complained about this (and other foods on the list which were not actually vegan), PETA responded thusly:

While PETA supports a strict adherence to veganism, we put the task of vigorously reducing animal suffering ahead of personal purity. Boycotting products that are 99.9 percent vegan sends the message to manufacturers that there is no market for this food, which ends up hurting more animals.

So where should I draw the line?  Do I spend four times as much on a “vegan” version of Cheerios, or is 99.9% vegan “close enough”?  (Maybe, maybe not — PETA did eventually take Cheerios, and some other non-vegan foods, off the “accidentally vegan” list.)  But what about animal products hidden in other places (like car tires and plastic bags) that are often impossible to spot?  How far do I go to ensure that I never eat another animal?  How far should I go to never indirectly harm another animal?  How crazy should I get, avoiding having any kind of impact on any other living being, anywhere?

Bloom County, by Berkeley Breathed.

Comic from Bloom County, by Berkeley Breathed.

I finally found the “Bloom County” cartoon I’ve been looking for, which shows veganism taken to its logical extreme.  Because we’re on this planet, we’re using resources, and that’s necessarily going to impact other living things, sometimes negatively.  That’s okay.  That’s something we can’t help.  However, that’s no reason to ignore the issue.  Even if I can’t completely remove my impact on the planet, my choosing to not eat animal products in as much as I possibly can is still reducing my impact by a measurable percentage.  Isn’t that better than nothing?  At least I’m trying, and I can only get better at it.  (Next project: switch breakfast to fruit-without-animal-based-wax-coatings and vegan-bread toast….)

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.)

Roadside Distraction

Every year for the last ten-ish years, I have driven through Florida on vacation, and have noted garish billboards for a chain of gas station/tourist traps, which promise such inviting sights as jams, shell sculptures, and “gator heads”.  Previously I’ve successfully avoided stopping at one, but this year the car got thirsty and I ended up gazing at…probably not the most garish collection of tourist tchotchkes I’ve ever witnessed, but definitely one of the top five.

Amongst a mind-boggling array of products based on the loosely local products of rum, sea shells, and oranges, I found these sad little creatures.

dog sharks in jars

They appear to be juvenile dogfish sharks (a formerly reasonably common species which is becoming, for some reason, a tad overfished) and the word “SHARK” under them is the extent of their labeling, except for the price ($19.95) on a sticker underneath.  The jars are just jammed into those circles of styrofoam.  Educational?  Decorative?  Surely they are not meant to be gifts?

In trying to find the origin of the “shark in a jar” concept (what motivates this kind of behavior?), I note that this has been going on for a while, and is not an isolated phenomenon (although I am glad to note it seems confined to “tropical” locales).  In fact, if you for some reason need a jarred shark, you can get one online right now, in large quantities if need be.

Where are all these baby sharks coming from?  They are almost certainly a byproduct of another business, probably fishing the adult sharks for meat or research.  Should we be happy that we’re at least using all the parts of the sharks, even for a purpose this frivolous?  Or should we be terrified that we are processing so many of these sharks that we have this many — specifically juvenile, specifically this size — left over?  What is happening to the other non-meat bits of the sharks?  To the babies which happen to be smaller or larger than these jars?

Either way, I won’t be buying one for my friends back home.  If these are meant to be decorative, surely there is something else which can replace them on a shelf; if they are supposed to be educational, surely there is something more detailed and useful which can be used for reference; and, if they are meant as gifts, surely there is some other way to show affection.

Cruising With Ethics

From msmediadesign at morguefile.com.

From msmediadesign at morguefile.com.

I refuse to complain about going on a Caribbean cruise.  This is going to be the most wonderful thing ever and I am terribly excited.  However, this is the first time I’ve looked at planning a long, involved vacation with the eyes I have now.  It’s a very new experience.

The cruise literature is full of glossy photographs of equally glossy food, promising how I’m going to have a wonderful time gaining 20 pounds.  Of course, the centerpiece of every photo is a gleaming piece of meat.  Okay, well, I’m used to that by now — there’s hardly a restaurant anywhere that doesn’t have the equivalent of a whole glazed pig splashed in pornographic, hickory-smoked ecstasy across the front page of its menu while the vegetarian “options” — oh, look, pasta again — languish in the back.

I thought I’d be fine when I read there are vegetarian options at dinner.  However, the questions just seem to be piling up:  Can I use the shampoo and lotion provided in the rooms?  Can I even get dressed up for dinner, given that I own no animal-friendly cosmetics?  Does the spa use cruelty-free products?  Are the french fries in the buffet vegetarian?  What do I do when some crazed shipboard photographer hands me an iguana, then demands I buy a photo taken with it?  (This happened on my last cruise.)

I am also having to pick my shore excursions quite carefully.  I’d love to swim with a dolphin, even at a hundred and twenty bucks an hour.  However, there is pretty much no humane way to arrange this.  Captive dolphins are rarely cared for properly, especially not at tourist traps in the Caribbean, and wild dolphins can be harassed to create these photo shoots or can be habituated by them into hanging around in human areas, which can be dangerous for both dolphins and humans.  No dolphins for me.

Does my submarine or glass-bottomed boat expedition benignly view wildlife from a distance, or does it habituate wild fish to humans and/or disrupt their behavior patterns by having someone feed them in front of the viewers?  Does the stable where I want to go horseback riding treat their horses — as well as the land through which they ride — appropriately?  (Is horseback riding even a reasonable recreational activity for an animal lover?)

Will I be shopping for mementos of my trip?  Well, maybe, but not black coral or conch shells, and apparently there’s a whole market of random animal parts (seahorses, starfish) I’ll be avoiding.  And it’s not just animals I’ll be wondering about.  Are we treating the inhabitants of the islands like animals?  Should I really be “touring” these people’s homes?  Sure, I’m putting money into their economy — but I could also just be donating that money.  And is the cruise line I’m on behaving responsibly concerning the environment as well as its own employees?

Don’t get me wrong.  I have almost 100 gigs of memory cards for my camera and I plan to bring back the best souvenirs — photographs.  I am going to have a great time!  I just find myself really interested by how much of this I did not see when I went on my first cruise *ahem* years ago.  (It’s also somewhat disappointing that I’m embarrassed to even care about this.  “It’s just a vacation — enjoy it!  Live a little!”)  What an interesting society we have.  More food for thought….