Why Japan, the country with the world’s third largest economy, wants to persist in killing whales is beyond me. The activity attracts an enormous amount of negative publicity and cannot make much of a contribution to its national economy. Still, other developed countries such as Norway and Iceland, are going down the same route. Do they just not want other countries telling them what to do or are they really that keen to preserve their ancient traditions? If that is the case then I would rather they came right out and said it, instead of continuing under this guise of “scientific whaling”. While not a marine mammal veterinarian I do spend an inordinate amount of time perusing wildlife/veterinary/conservation journal articles and cannot remember ever coming across a single “scientific whaling” article. When I was in Norway I noticed whale on a restaurant menu. Perhaps they were conducting a scientific taste test?
Tradition is often invoked as an inviolable reason for doing something (in a similar way to religion being given to justify reprehensible acts such as female genital mutilation) that common sense, morality or scientific data would prevent. This is blatant hypocrisy as it is only used to justify specific activities rather than an entire lifestyle. I would be much happier about the Japanese invoking their traditional right to kill whales or the Inuit their right to kill polar bears if they also invoked their traditional right to walk rather than use snowmobiles, hunt with bows, arrows and spears rather than rifles, and whale in small boats with harpoons rather than large ships with cannons and exploding harpoons.
Nowadays whale and polar bear products have all been replaced by alternatives and the true significance of tradition falls a little flat when local people in Canada sell their culturally important polar bear quotas to sport hunters.
While much of the hunting debate focuses on potentially dwindling population numbers, which is very important, as a veterinarian I feel that at least some emphasis should be placed on the humaneness of the activity. In this way I have less of an issue with killing polar bears than with killing whales because, ironically, the advent of more advanced weapons makes it more likely to kill a polar bear humanely. However, it remains impossible to kill a whale humanely.
“Tradition” is really just another in a long line of excuses, along with provision of food, challenge, thrill, pride, profit and just plain fun, to justify hunting and killing. It is time to admit that we are evolutionarily hard wired to hunt. As Rick Ridgeway says about hunting in his book, “The Shadow of Kilimanjaro”, “you were doing what you were designed to do, and that is the ineffable attraction.” We have become just like the domestic cat who no longer needs to hunt to eat, but retains an innate need to stalk and chase and kill.
Dr. F. Bunny
I must confess to being disappointed by my latest Qantas adventure. The food on our flight to Tokyo really was barely edible. Even my daughter who, for some odd reason, normally likes airplane food had trouble getting through it. Fortunately the food on the flight back to Sydney was considerably better. Unfortunately pre-dinner drinks seem to have fallen by the wayside.
More concerning, however, was the small plastic bottle of water we were handed after our departure from Narita. It was a bottle of Volvic, imported from France. Considering both Australia and Japan produce perfectly drinkable tap water why Qantas is importing water from France is totally beyond me. My dismay was exacerbated by the fact that we received a bottle of home grown Mt Franklin on our domestic flight back to Melbourne. And for some reason recycling, via a bag for our plastic cups, was encouraged on domestic flights but not international ones.
To cap off a disappointing experience the baggage handlers managed to destroy the waist strap on my new rucksack and the entertainment console failed to do more than deliver a very jerky version of Skyfall. This forced me to actually try and sleep on the flight. If only planes had as much leg room as Japanese bullet trains.
Despite all this my next flying escapade will quite likely be with Qantas because, as Dustin Hoffman said in Rain Man, “Qantas never crashed”, and that has to be worth more than the bad food, large environmental footprint, lack of leg room, no entertainment and destructive baggage handlers, doesn’t it?
Dr. F. Bunny
I am not necessarily a fan of everything Japanese, although I did enjoy their concept of punctuality as a mark of respect. I was told that the Japanese consider the other person’s time as valuable as their own, so it is only natural that they would not want to waste it by turning up late. Considering the dearth of rubbish bins it was also impressive how much cleaner their cities were compared with Melbourne.
In some areas, however, they do tend to lag behind. The concept of eating is one such example. Why persist in using two thin pieces of wood to handle your food when much of the rest of the world has moved on to metal cutlery? Admittedly chopsticks are quite useful for picking up sashimi or sushi but try eating meat or the okonomiyaki omelettes with them. As I have a tendency to inhale my food they did have the beneficial effect of slowing my food consumption down to the speed of the other diners, which probably helped my digestion. Being wood, chopsticks are not reused resulting in 24 billion pairs being discarded by the Japanese each year. A lot of trees could be saved by using washable metal implements. Depending on your source, Japan is either the most heavily forested country in the world or it falls second behind Finland, with over 60% of its land still covered in trees. They are good at preserving these forests too, importing most of their chopsticks from China. I do suspect, however, that chopsticks may cause some Japanese as much frustration as us, as I saw a shop selling magic chopsticks. To my untrained eye these looked amazingly like forks.
Much has been written about Japanese toilets, and deservedly so. They are true masterpieces of engineering. Beside the actual toilet are a bewildering array of buttons that, when pressed, will deliver a jet or spray of water with uncanny accuracy at your bottom. It took a while to find the off button, as there are also dials to adjust the intensity and temperature of the water as well as one to heat the seat. Even more impressive, however, were some of the urinals, which had video screens above them and contained a small target to aim at. If your aim was successful the video screen came to life and an animated gentleman raced across the screen carrying a can. The more you peed the more the can filled up. I managed to fill two and a half cans. Not bad for a first attempt. While this may sound absurd the floor was not awash with the litres of stale urine I usually stand in at public urinals. Anything that improves men’s aims must be applauded.
The Japanese are, on the whole, extremely well dressed, sporting a wide assortment of new, clean, designer clothes. Unfortunately they don’t appear to get it quite right. Parisians are the other group of people I’ve seen who take great pride in their appearance. However, while the Parisians are also co-ordinated in what they wear, the Japanese appear to have thrown a completely random assortment of clothes together, some of which are downright weird. I saw quite a few girls wearing stockings with some sort of writing on them, either in French or English, running up and down their legs. And those legendary shirts sporting complete nonsense in English are not hard to spot either. It makes me wonder if the people who have Japanese or Chinese characters tattooed on their bodies really know what they mean. In an episode of the Big Bang Theory Sheldon asks Penny why she has the Chinese symbol for soup tattooed on her buttock. Outraged, she tells him it is the symbol for courage. Presumably the shirt people believe they are sporting similarly edgy, insightful or humorous (certainly humorous) messages.
It would also seem prudent to employ a native English speaker to check their sign translations. That way the sign at our sake tasting would not tell us to “Please take grass home.” I did also wonder why a blue platypus was chosen my Japan Rail to tell people not to smoke.
Dr. F. Bunny
I have just returned from two fantastic weeks in the Land of the Rising Sun. This being my first trip I was struck by the country’s unique ability to embrace both the old and the new. The people were all incredibly friendly, polite, law abiding and helpful. Compared with Australia, Japanese society seemed very structured with a long list of social conventions that regulate people’s daily lives. While this may appear restrictive once I had deciphered the system I found knowing what was expected in various situations to be oddly relaxing. It was probably just my German background enjoying the predictability of it all. The old joke about why the German crossed the road (The little man is green now. It’s allowed) is equally applicable to the Japanese. People formed orderly queues on railway platforms to board the trains, the doors of which always lined up with the carriage numbers marked on the ground. The trains were insanely punctual and reliable. People did not eat in public. Shoes were removed before entering temples, restaurants, homes, castles and sumo rings, which is a very common sense way of not tracking dirt everywhere. If you do decide to visit Japan do not, under any circumstances, wear a pair of lace up hiking boots.
Given that the majority of Japanese claim no personal religion they have presumably decided on their social conventions all by themselves, producing a set of guidelines that work for them. Considering their extremely low crime rate, compared with many devoutly religious countries, it certainly seems to be working for them. Japan does, however, have two major religions and, interestingly, most people profess to follow both.
Shintoism is Japan’s own home grown religion. It has no major prophet and no all-consuming deity. In fact there are eight million deities or spirits as all animate and inanimate objects contain a kami or spiritual essence. It is not necessary to swear allegiance and forsake all others to be Shinto. Anyone who practices Shinto rituals is counted as belonging to the religion. The Japanese have also imported Buddhism and see no contradiction in following both this religion and Shintoism, picking the best bits from each. It is refreshing to see religion working for the people instead of the other way round. Most people celebrate birth events according to the Shinto way but use Buddhist rituals for funeral arrangements. According to what one Japanese person told me the Shinto afterlife is not as appealing as the Buddhist nirvana. There are no Shinto cemeteries. Cremation is a Buddhist ritual. I was told that Shintoists believe the spirit returns to the earth and bodies were either thrown in the river or left on a hillside, presumably for scavengers to dispose of. I can feel myself becoming more Shinto all the time.
As a member of one of the world’s fattest countries it struck me how few overweight Japanese there are. This should come as no surprise as the Japanese consume virtually no bread products and no chocolate. In fact almost none of the places we ate at featured a dessert menu. Dairy products were also all but absent from the diet, which is probably sensible too as we appear to be the only species that drinks the milk of another well into adulthood (apart from my wife’s border collie who used to zip into the milking shed of any farm she visited, in order to clean up the spilled milk). Foods are minimally processed with a strong emphasis on raw foods including fish. I did enjoy my sashimi but I will be worming myself as soon as I get the chance. We cooked many of our restaurant meals ourselves much to my son’s indignation who felt that, as we were having a night out, the least the restaurant staff could do was to cook it for us. We made our own sukiyaki, which featured melt in the mouth Hida beef, that I’m sure was not particularly healthy given the reason for the meat’s flavour and tenderness was its intense marbling. We also concocted our own chankonabe, a stew containing seafood, chicken, vegetables, rice and egg designed to bulk up the sumos, and our own okonomiyaki, a type of savoury pancake filled with whatever takes your fancy. It was also good to see the Japanese making the most of local produce consuming a wide variety of unrecognisable mountain vegetables, as they called them. I found the fern to be quite tasty but I don’t think I will miss the lotus root. Our diet does not seem to be nearly as varied as theirs. All of this no doubt contributes to the fact that the Japanese now have the highest life expectancy in the world.
And the best part? Tips are neither given nor expected. Politeness and good service are an expected part of the culture.
Dr. F. Bunny
Australia, Buddhism, Chankonabe, Chocolate, Dairy, Diet, German, Hida Beef, Japan, Japanese, Land of the Rising Sun, Nutrition, Obesity, Okonomiyaki, Politeness, Religion, Sashimi, Shinto, Shoes, Sukiyaki, Tipping
Each day your average well-nourished adult human being consumes approximately 70 grams of protein. For a large part of the world’s population obtaining this much protein can be quite problematic with protein deficiency or kwashiorkor affecting significant parts of the developing world. Perhaps microlivestock are the answer?
Invertebrates are already consumed by large numbers of people. Interestingly we are quite happy to eat aquatic invertebrates such as crabs, octopuses, squid, lobsters, mussels and oysters but recoil in horror (unless we are Bear Grylls) at the prospect of consuming terrestrial invertebrates. Some people don’t have this luxury.
More than 2000 species of invertebrates are used as food by humans worldwide. Their consumption can provide significant amounts of animal protein, especially during difficult periods of the year when fish and game are scarce. Invertebrates provide 60% of the animal protein consumed during the rainy season by the Guajivos Amerindians of Venezuela. Among the Tukanoan Indians of Colombia, insects and other small invertebrates provide up to 12% of the animal protein in men’s diets and 26% in women’s diets during the early months of the rainy season.
Over 50 different species of caterpillars are known to be eaten in Africa. The caterpillars are highly sought after to supplement the traditional cereal-based diet. Nutrient analysis of caterpillars in Zambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) revealed 63–65 g protein, and 457 kilocalories per 100 g of dried caterpillars. Most species are an excellent source of iron, with 100 g providing on average 335% of the recommended daily requirement.
Harvesting and marketing of caterpillars is a viable enterprise for rural communities. A study in Malawi showed that caterpillar collection generated a higher income than maize, bean and groundnut production, and did not directly compete for labour with these existing agricultural enterprises. Similarly, in northern Zambia incomes from caterpillar harvesting are higher than incomes from the sale of agricultural crops.
At present, invertebrates are mostly gathered from the wild, rather than farmed. This strategy takes advantage of a highly abundant and renewable resource. Wild invertebrates are available to all sections of the population, particularly the rural poor, and collecting them for consumption or sale in local markets involves minimal inputs.
Insects are generally more efficient than vertebrates at converting food to body mass. They do not need to use food to keep warm (being poikilothermic, or cold blooded), reproduce much more rapidly, occupy less space, use less water and produce less greenhouse gas. As an example, mealworms produce between ten and a hundred times less greenhouse gas per kilogram than pigs. Furthermore, compared to cattle or pigs, insects produce significantly less ammonia, which can cause acidification and eutrophication of water.
See: http://www.fao.org/docrep/meeting/022/mb390e.pdf, which contained much of the information used in this post.
For those who want to take this further check out the recipes at http://edibug.wordpress.com/. You will find oatmealworm cookies, cabbage, peas ‘n’ crickets, bee-lt sandwich, waxworm tacos, deep fried scorpion, and caterpillars with groundnut sauce. Personally, I have always been partial to the odd wichity grub. And before you ask, “No, they don’t taste like chicken. More like boiled egg really”.
Dr. F. Bunny
If sport isn’t your thing (See “Be A Sport”) there is no shortage of alternative ways to discharge your inner caveman and release some of that pent up aggression.
Recently I saw the Offspring in concert. Being a seasoned headbanger, with the arthritic neck to prove it, I expected this would be no different: a bunch of longhairs sporting assorted metal oriented T-shirts bouncing up and down on the spot driving themselves into a whiplash inducing frenzy while their ears bled. Punk, it seems, is different, although the Offspring brand of punk bears little resemblance to what the Sex Pistols spewed out in the seventies. I was introduced to the circle pit, a spot on the floor that magically appears once the band takes the stage. People take it in turns to throw themselves into this space, aiming to collide with other people who are simultaneously hurling themselves into the space from the opposite side of the circle. They then rebound off each other back into the crowd, catch their breath and do it all again. The number and frenzy of the collisions accelerates dramatically whenever a song chorus is played. At the end of the night everyone is dripping with sweat, and sporting assorted bruises and massive smiles.
While, on this occasion, I decided to remain a circle pit observer I am certainly no stranger to extreme exertion for its own sake. As Metallica said, “It don’t feel good until it hurts”. I have embarked on “fun” runs, completed a Tough Mudder and currently beat myself senseless a couple of times a week at Krav Maga (a form of street fighting developed by the Israeli military, so you know it’s going to be crazy). The bizarre thing is that after having crawled in the mud under barbed wire, hauled myself over a range of unnecessary obstacles, faced fears that don’t exist in normal life (like jumping off a 15 foot platform into a bottomless lake) and punched and kicked my way through an hour of Israeli insanity I feel incredibly happy, satisfied and more than ready to do it again. Why?
I suppose there is a certain satisfaction in emerging from my comfort zone, knowing I can overcome whatever obstacles and challenges are placed in front of me. But it is more than that. Exercise releases endorphins which act like morphine to decrease pain perception and induce a state of euphoria. However, unlike morphine, endorphins do not lead to addiction, unless you count the need to do it all again. Exercise, presumably through the release of endorphins, reduces stress, boosts self-esteem, improves sleep, decreases feelings of depression and bolsters the cardiovascular system. This system is another one that is evolutionarily hard wired into us. Because endorphins reduce pain and the release of inflammatory chemicals we are able to work out harder and longer, thereby improving our chances of escaping that charging mammoth.
In fact I can see one coming now.
Dr. F. Bunny
I pity us poor veterinarians. It seems every other profession has managed to come up with some sort of scam designed solely to increase business and profits. The accountants invented GST and quarterly BAS statements to keep themselves busy four times a year, instead of just at tax time. Electricians came up with test and tag. What a waste of time and money that is! I had one test and tag my desk lamp at work. It passed his inspection and was awarded its little tag, even though the lamp was completely non-functional! Veterinarians, on the other hand, invent ways to put themselves out of business. After recommending for years that dogs and cats be vaccinated annually researchers have now discovered that the vaccines are so effective that they only need to be given once every three years.
You won’t find the medicos making that sort of mistake. They obviously subscribe to the “no man gets left behind” philosophy because, no matter what the problem is, the GP must be involved. My daughter fell off her horse and injured her wrist. Instead of seeing the appropriate specialist we had to attend the GP, who gave us a “note” which allowed us to then see the specialist. When I broke my nose I also wasn’t allowed to see the ear, nose and throat (ENT) guy without first getting my “note”. Interestingly the “note” was only valid for 12 months. So, after a year I had to get another referral from the GP, even though I was an ongoing ENT patient. The GP, who is actually a marvellous fellow, was concerned about my cholesterol, so I had it checked. It came back a touch high and he suggested a repeat in four months. Four months later I tried to book it in, but still had to get my “note” from the GP first, before they would consent to take my blood.
It seems to me that GPs spend more time these days writing referrals than they do actual medical work, and they are virtually impossible to contact. When was the last time you rang up the doctor’s surgery and actually spoke to the doctor? Not so the veterinary clinic where you will always be able to speak to the veterinarian, unless he has his arm up a cow somewhere. And I can take my little Fluffy-wuffykins straight to the veterinary ophthalmologist to get the grass seed taken out of his eye, without first getting my “note” from the regular veterinarian.
Dr. F. Bunny