Ethical Eating, Or How I Tried to Continue Eating Everything Without Remorse

When it comes to types of diet, I have always been firmly in the omnivore bracket. I have had plenty of friends that run the spectrum of vegetarianism for a variety of health and ethical reasons, but I haven’t really changed much. Taste-wise, I like meat too much and vegetables too little. Health-wise, I still have a hearty metabolism and I keep semi-fit. Ethics-wise, it gets a little fuzzy. I’ll get to a point soon, I promise, but for years I have been aware of the lack of humane treatment of livestock in the farming industry. Kim and I have had plenty of conversations about how meat is made and what kind of food we should actually eat.

I don’t think I’m very close to becoming a vegetarian, but if I had the option I would definitely become an ethical omnivore. This would mean, of course, that I only supported the ethical treatment and humane slaughter of animals. If you raise your cows living in their own waste and you cram chickens into poorly ventilated barn houses, you wouldn’t be seeing my money. If you let your livestock roam freely and killed them humanely, I’d be a consumer. While some think that this doesn’t mean much because I’m still eating a murdered animal, I’ve been a firm believer of nature’s gracing of humans with the means to be omnivores and I know that plants strive to survive just as much as animals even if they don’t have faces. What I’m not a firm believer in is mistreating animals just because you can or just because you’re going to eat them anyways. And so I look to more ethical eating and I find relatively little satisfaction because free range, come to find, means little.

A rigid search for the standards for free-range is relatively fruitless. The term, historically at least, refers to ranchers who allowed their herds to wander without fences – freely. As far as the food industry is concerned, it used to mean farms that kept livestock outside and able to move and perform natural acts – like perching, dust bathing, the like – until it was time for slaughter. But when it comes to the food I eat, what does free-range mean? According to the USDA, it doesn’t really mean much. Evidence A is a pdf with the specifics of a law pertaining to animal welfare:

§ 205.239 Livestock living conditions.

(a) The producer of an organic livestock operation must establish and maintain livestock living conditions which accommodate the health and natural behavior of animals, including: (1) Access to the outdoors, shade, shelter, exercise areas, fresh air, and direct sunlight suitable to the species, its stage of production, the climate, and the environment;

Concerning the National Organic Standards, the USDA had faced the problem of defining what it meant to have “access to the outdoors,” and in a memo in 2002 [PDF] tried and failed to give it an adequate definition:

Access to the outdoors simply means that a producer must provide livestock with an opportunity to exit any barn or other enclosed structure. Access to the outdoors does not require a producer to comply with a specific space or stocking rate requirement. Neither does the requirement mandate that an entire herd or flock have access to the outdoors at any one time nor does the requirement supercede the producer’s responsibility for providing living conditions that accommodate livestock health, safety or well-being.

In other words, “access to the outdoors” means leaving a door open. For some farms, this means a barn house with poor ventilation and no light and packed with chickens wandering in their own filth might have a minuscule enclosed patio with a little bit of sun. And so I continued my search and finally found the words “free-range.” I was exhilarated! It was exactly what I had been looking for all along: the Meat and Poultry Labeling Terms page. That must have a thorough definition of what it means when I buy something that has a “free-range” sticker on it!

FREE RANGE or FREE ROAMING:
Producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside.

Thanks, Government.

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The Unconventional Lunch

I’m nearing the end of my week of low-cost meals, and it’s been interesting. I’ll list a day-by-day at the end of the post so you can see what I’ve been living on, but this post is more about what I’ve been doing and what I learned. Chief among them, I spent the wee eating $1.50 worth of food each day, which has been interesting. It wasn’t impossible and it wasn’t crippling, but it wasn’t easy.

Posing with my first meal and $1.50

I lost choice. My selection for meals was drastically reduced when considering the budget and the schedule. Planning ahead led to small meals in anticipation that I wouldn’t have enough for later, so I was always looking for the most filling but most inexpensive option, which is scarce. This is especially compared to my normal diet. Even if I avoid fast food and restaurants and make my own food at home it is usually comprised of meat (expensive) and layers of goods (think burgers, nachos, pasta – all with tons of extras). When it came to finding food this time I was restricted to the inexpensive and the simple: rice, noodles, beans and the like.

Food gets boring. The slim pickings also led to boredom with food. The third time I was eating rice I was far less enthused. I’ve eaten the same food a lot before, but I usually have the option to change it – add something here or mix it up a little – and that option goes away. No choice means things get pretty bland, and there are only a few ways around that.

I drink too much soda. That is not news. Like, not at all. I routinely drink three to four sodas a day, and I knew that would be my biggest hurdle of this challenge. On Monday I had a headache by 5 o’clock, and I sacrificed some budget for a soda. I decided that, in an effort to stymie the headaches, I would set aside 37 cents for a soda each day. This kept pains away, but also cut down on my budget even more.

I’m faking it. I’m clearly not living the same life as someone under the poverty line. There were several occasions in which I fell back on society’s cheap, overly preserved foods. Nearly every meal was made with a luxury appliance: stove, rice cooker, microwave, something. Most people living below the poverty threshold do not have these opportunities. They can’t toss a potato in the microwave or grab 16 cent Ramen noodles. They also don’t have a VIP card at the local Fry’s to grab all the ingredients they could ever need. A meal requires the time, in addition to the money, to get the necessary ingredients before you spend even more time cooking. It reminds me of the Black is for Sunday video (Invisible Children, in case you hadn’t guessed) when Katie tries to make dinner and explains that the second you finish one meal you have to start making the next one. I did not run into that problem. I was able to do my own thing and then make food in a few minutes before carrying on with my own thing – a luxury few of the world’s poor have.

This was just food. I lived off of $1.50 a day – for food. I used utensils and cookware that were already paid for, and I utilized electricity and technology not always available to the less fortunate. And that’s not talking about my fuel expenses, electricity for non-food use, entertainment (cable, internet, what have you) and other expensive items. The poverty line is how much you make, it’s how much you have to spend on everything.

26 cents of the smallest pasta ever

In summary, I’m just about done. In yesterday’s 2nd hour and this morning I talked with some students about all sorts of food, which made me crazy-hungry all day. BUT! I haven’t felt full since Sunday, and it’s been a very interesting challenge. I’m going to say that it was informative or empowering or whatever – but it was something worth doing. I learned a thing or two about food and I was able to bring up the issue of poverty with several dozen teenagers. All in all, I’m glad I did it and I’d gladly do it again. For more information on the campaign, go to LiveBelowtheLine.com, or you can look at the Global Poverty Project. Also, my friend Erik used to work for ACF International, which runs food security programs all over the world – kind of like an anti-hunger welfare system. While I am not familiar enough with any of these groups enough to endorse them, I think they are all worth a look.

Meals I Ate This Week

Monday: Steamed rice (45 cents), a soda (37 cents), and two packets of Ramen (28 cents)

Tuesday: Two eggs (24 cents), a soda (37 cents), and two more eggs (24 cents)

Wednesday: Two Pop Tarts (68 cents), a soda (37 cents), and one half of a Kraft Mac’n’Cheese (45 cents)

Thursday: Seven ounces of rice (49 cents), two eggs (24 cents), potato (40 cents), and a soda (37 cents)

Friday: One Pop Tart (34 cents), approximately 15 ounces of pink lemonade from a student (18 cents), pasta made up of two ounces of spaghetti noodles (10 cents) and four ounces of Ragu pasta sauce (16 cents).

Living Below the Line

Today is the first of five days during which I will be living off of $1.50 of food per day. It’s a part of , Live Below the Line, a campaign led by the Global Poverty Project. World Bank marked the international poverty threshold at $1.25/day in 2005, and since then inflation has bumped it to around $1.50. That’s for everything – housing, fuel, education, transportation, food, all of it. And over a billion people live below that line, struggling to afford to live.

So I’m going to try to feed myself with $1.50 a day. It’s not the same as living off of that, and I’m not alleviating poverty directly. I know that. But, it has led me to make this blog post, and I hope it’s informed you a little bit about poverty. It’s a huge problem that a diverse number of groups are trying to bring to an end. This week, I’m taking part in a campaign to raise awareness about it.

This afternoon I broke my fast with 45 cents worth of steamed rice. I’m having 37 cents worth of soda right now (I was going to go soda-free for the week, but caffeine deficiency got the better of me). I’m debating dinner right now but it will probably be some sort of noodle. It has been an interesting day so far, and the week promises to be a challenge as I go forwards. I’ll try to post again about it before the week is out.

The City

I spent three great nights back in Kampala and I’ve got to say, there are many sides to this city.  My first week here I didn’t know what to do or where to go and ended up relegating myself to the NACWOLA office and Wandegeya before going to Naguru to rest and repeat.  These passed few days in the city have been a world apart and have been really busy.  Kampala with expats looking for fun has taken me to a number of really nice restaurants and even a fancy pool.  Plus it was nice to have company in the form of so many people, even if each one had its own goodbye.

After saying a lot of goodbyes on Sunday, on Monday I finally made it to 1000 Cups with Alison and had a breakfast of brownies (that’s okay, right?) before going to meet up with Tony to big him farewell.  I ended up moving with Tony to his music class and then eating a small meal at People’s Choice for the last time before saying hi to some of the people at NACWOLA and visiting the Nsambya Craft Market – this was the Kampala I knew.  At the craft market I spent a lot of time bargaining with this one guy for the only likimbe I could find. Satisfied with my new haggling prowess, I joined up with Alison at Quality Hill for what I’ll call new Kampala – the best steak I have had in ages! Seriously, if Le Petit Bistro existed at home I would still be a very happy carnivore.  From dinner Alison and I debated what to do before calling it a night and opted for a really nice night on the balcony with wine, soda, and music.

Hanging out with Morris and George on Sunday

Hanging out on the balcony

Balcony night!

Tuesday was a busy last day in Kampala.  I had some nice pastries at Quality Hill with Alison before I visited NACWOLA again and got to see almost everyone.  When I first arrived I just said hi and then Ismail took me on a long and winding trip to his old primary school.  I knew he had gone to school in an orphanage and expected to see a lot of excited faces (because most kids are excited little humans, lets be honest).  I did not expect A. a short song about HIV/AIDS prevention, 2. a massive rendition of a rite-of-passage dance from the East, or III. to have whole grade levels greet me in unison.  But! It was really cool to see.  From there I went back to the NACWOLA office just to say goodbye, but instead found that while I was gone they had organized an impromptu farewell: sodas, spice cake, photos, speeches and all.  They also helped arrange transport from Kampala to Entebbe for me which was an unexpected awesome!

Alison and me, with Williams Street behind

Ismael and co. at NACWOLA

From NACWOLA I went to the pool at Muyenga to meet up with Alison.  Another two-Kampala moment – this place had a nice pool, a nice view, a nice sitting area, and even some nice music (Destiny’s Child ftw).  I got to do some poolside reading while we hashed out a plan for the night.  Alison did some computer errands while I scrambled to pick up a drum for Kenny and dropped it off back at the room before we reconvened at the National Theater market. From there we made our way to Fuego, a nice Eritrean restaurant, to have a drink with Ilaria.  Hanging out with Ilaria was really nice, and it was nice to relax outside on a couch under giant trees for my last night in Kampala.  After Ilaria left, Alison and I shared a pizza and some kitfo and talked for a while before going back to the hotel to deal with the daunting task of packing.

After lots of crunching, folding, and squeezing we managed to pack and call it a night.  I got online for a bit before retiring for four hours before we got up to get ready and roll out.  We got picked around 6 and gave Alison a push to the airport at 7 and said goodbye.  From there I made my way to Entebbe Backpacker, my hostel for the night and home base for the 2 days I’ll be here.

North to South

So, the passed day or so since my last post has gone more or less as planned, though with some delay.  Last night, almost immediately after I updated this blog, I met JACOB.  That’s right, I met Jacob.  For those of you not as intrinsically hopped up on Invisible Children, Jacob was one of the four boys that the IC crew met on their very first trip.  He had escaped Kony’s ranks and was in hiding in Gulu with his brother.  His story and his resilience are a huge inspiration, and meeting him was really exciting.  I didn’t want to be one of those starstruck types (like I was in San Diego in 2007) so I quickly went back to my own thing at the cafe.  But when I got ready to leave, Jacob offered to walk with me to the office the next morning!

Spent the night in a small but decent room.  Woke up really early to get things ready and headed out to Kope Cafe to meet up with Jacob.  We walked for a while before Richard rode by us on a bike!  Richard is an IC mentor and, specifically, Tony’s mentor.  Tony (another boy from the first film) and Richard came to Arizona this passed spring as a part of the Legacy Tour.  After we made it to the office, I met up with Jessica, my contact, and we had a long sit-down talking about the different programs and going into some of the specifics about the way they work.  After talking for a while, I had a look at the local IC store and nabbed myself a messenger bag! Totally awesome. I also got one of the famed yellow bracelets which you can only get at the office here.  Awesome.

From there, I went and checked out of JoJo’s before heading back to Kope Cafe for a bit.  I made a little bit of progress uploading pictures, but was ultimately foiled in updating anything.  But!  As I was getting ready to pack up and thinking about finding the bus park, Alison texted me that she’d be in Gulu.  Happy to join a friend, I agreed to head to her favorite Ethiopian restaurant in the country.  Said goodbye to Jacob and walked with Alison to Abyssinia and had Ethiopian food for the first time (that I can remember).  It was actually pretty good!  The injera takes some getting used to, but all in all it was pretty good and I’ll have to make it a point to visit the one by ASU when I get home.

From there, Alison and I walked to the bus park where she met up with her ILF crew and I found a bus to Kampala.  A very empty bus.  Buses usually don’t leave until they’re full, and I ended up waiting for almost two hours for the bus to get moving.  Part of this time I passed reading, and part of this time I spent outside (I saw the ILF truck pull over nearby so I went to chat with Alison and her co-workers [both of whom had tried teaching me to dance at the ILF party] after getting some biscuits).  Then!  We moved!  And five hours later we arrived in Kampala and I had no idea where I was.  I made it to the Jaguar bus station and now I’m waiting for the 1:00am bus to Kigali.  I should make it to Rwanda around 6 or 7 I think, and arrive in Kigali at 9.  But that’s if I believe them.  I’ve heard it usually takes at least a couple of hours longer than that, so we’ll see.

Owner of a Lonely House

So, I’ve been hanging tight in this house alone for about six days.  Monica and Nadja left on Friday morning to Kigali and Kampala, respectively.  That evening I met up with Alison at Sankofa for some yummy pizza and a good amount of chatting.  All in all a good night.  That night, as you know, I had my big white ant encounter, which was a heck of a lot of fun.

On Saturday I shaved for the first time in about four weeks, so I’m looking a little cleaner but a little less-traveled. We’ll see whether I decide to keep clean.  Then I headed over to the ILF House and hung out with Alison all day.  She let me take a bunch of movies and we watched Definitely, Maybe and Hotel Rwanda between lunch.  That night I reheated a bunch of leftovers on the stove for a decent dinner.  It rained on me pretty bad on my way home, which made me wonder if white ants would return – they did (but in lesser numbers).  Sunday I got to talk to people on the internet a lot in the morning while making scrambled eggs.  Headed to Sankofa for a bit and hung out with Alison/watched TV before going to dinner at Aanya.

Monday was a pretty slow day at work.  Had a lot of “fun” trying to find maize seeds for the chickens – got the wrong bag and didn’t know it until I had hauled it all the way home! But the crisis was averted eventually.  Tried hopelessly to make Alpen macaroni (Nadja made it on Sound of Music night and it was delicious!) but it came up lacking.  Yesterday Lucas came by and spent the night in town, so we teamed up on a pasta with onions, garlic, and tomatoes and all in all I think it came out pretty well!  And as I type, Nadja and Erik are on their way back from Kampala.

All in all, I spent a hefty sum of my week passing time with Alison, which was really nice.  Plus I was able to use the internet and talk to more people back home.  I ate in town quite a few times, but also tried – with moderate success – to make food at home.  Today after work I’m going to finish preparing some dumplings, but I’m not sure when they’ll be cooked.  Now that people are on their way back to Lira town, I’ll find some much-needed partners in cooking.

Along with the Rain

So, as I type, I can hear a particular noise. I’ve heard this noise before, but never so loud as 4 o’clock this morning. It’s a buzzing, flapping sound, and when I woke up at 4 and turned on the light, I found out that it’s also the sound of white ants.

White ants are these little black bugs with long white wings. They tend to crawl around, but in the light they sometimes fly and sometimes lose their wings.  They’re a delicacy in Uganda, and after a big rain people tend to round them up for snacks.

In my drowsy, half-awake state last night, I didn’t notice them at first. And when I did I was bewildered. There were dozens of white ants in my room, crawling all over the floor and zig-zagging the air. The first thing I did was walk the house to assess the situation: all over the hallway outside my room, a couple dozen in the living room.  I went outside and called Fred, our night guard. He explained that they were white ants (all I knew at this point was that they were big bugs) and we spent the next hour or so sweeping hundreds of ants and collecting them in a bucket.

After everything was said and done I went back to sleep, but when I got up there were tons of wings on the patio outside, so I spent the morning sweeping them. This afternoon I went to the ILF House and hung out with Alison for a bit, and they had quite a few wings scattered outside too. It was a busy night for white ants! And right now, as I’m typing, there are about a dozen in my room and another dozen in the hallway. I should go gather them up, wings and all.

Three Weeks Down

Typed on the 16th of June in the afternoon.

So, it’s been a while. And not much has been happening, therefore this post will be a jack of all trades. In the days since the last post I’ve been busy and not busy at all.

Work has been a complete bore. While I’m at work I feel like I might as well be at home because I’m not doing anything worthwhile, it’s been very frustrating. Just today the director returned and I talked with her for a while. Apparently I’ll be very busy once there are more funds for the child rights project. In July. So I’m trying to figure out my plan of action for the next two weeks. She said that next Monday one of the sub-counties has something going on and maybe I’ll go check it out. And next Wednesday ActionAid, the partner for the women’s empowerment project, is coming in to do training so I might sit in on that as well. Two days in one week!! And there’s a workshop tomorrow put on by two Brits so I may try to get into that as well.

I talked to Nadja a bit and I might fill out the week by visiting the orphanage she works at. That or I’ll try to meet with Monica’s friend who works with former LRA abductees. Either one would be a nice change of pace and get me a little more involved in the community, which is good. The other thing I was thinking was to use the downtime to plan some travel and figure out what to do.

In the meantime, I’ve now gone to four of the five restaurants in town. The passed three nights have seen me dine with a number of guests in different restaurants, so it’s nice. The first one, the night I got here and another time since then, was Hotel Aanya, an Indian restaurant that has a decent Chinese menu. Monday was Carwash, which is an Indian restaurant and its namesake. Last night was PanAfric, a more traditional spot. And I just got back from Lillian Towers, which is the fancy hotel/restaurant in town. I now have however many weeks to go to Whiskers, the last one standing.

Last week Erik left for a week’s leave to Kisoro (and Lake Bunyonyi, swoooon). Tomorrow Annett and Martin leave for a month on their honeymoon to Madagascar and the Comoros. The next day Monica heads to Kigali for a ded meeting, and she’ll be dropping Nadja in Kampala on the way. So all this disperal has reinvigerated my search for local travel, and I was thinking of maybe going to Gulu during the week next week since I have free days, but apparently Alison was thinking about heading over there this weekend and I might just follow for some company. I’d love to see Gulu sooner rather than later, but the IC office will be closed, so I’ll have to make a return. However! I could easily make this return on my way to or from the northeast, and I’m hoping to see Arua or one of the other towns in that corner of the country.

I went to the town market for the first time on Sunday! That was quite interesting. Lira isn’t big enough to say it was bustling, but it’s very much how I imagined it: tiny booths of all sorts of produce with a patchwork of cloth for a roof over an open-air market. I’m also learning Luo! Months ago Heather gave me a Luo-English dictionary and a pdf of Luo essentials, so I’ve been digesting it for a few days and bouncing words off of my colleagues at work. It’s actually a really, really simple language but I need to concentrate to remember all of the vocabulary. Other than that, just holding down the fort around these parts. Hopefully the next update will be more interesting, we’ll see.

Cuisine

So, I thought it was about time to write about the food here in Uganda.  I knew a little bit about the local food here, but it was interesting to experience it first-hand.  Fresh off the plane on my first night in Uganda, Morris and George took me to their favorite hangout (and a place I frequented while in Kampala for its proportions and prices): People’s Choice.  My first meal was beef stew, but what was exciting were the sides.  The stew came with all sorts of staple Ugandan foods on the side: things you know like rice and beans, along with local versions of yams. But also: matoke (you take not-quite-bananas and steam them before mashing them up), posho (a type of cornflour blob), and cassava (a tuber [i think] that can be cooked a variety of ways).  Here’s a dimly lit picture of my first meal:

from the bottom, counter-clockwise: matoke, rice, cassava, yams, beans with posho in the middle.

In the days before I left Kampala, I seized the opportunity to go to a burger place in Wandegeya. I figured that I should try to get a taste of what Ugandans thought was American food before I left for a smaller town where I may not have the option.

The burger seemed oddly lonely on the plate. Next time I got it I ordered chips (fries) to go with it!

Oddly enough, I haven’t had traditional food since I’ve arrived in Lira. Sankofa, the internet cafe here, has delicious samosas among other things (I just tried their pizza today and it was not too shabby albeit not Pizza Hut). Twice I’ve been to an Indian restaurant called the Hotel Aanya where I’ve made the unique (to my party) decision to have Chinese food. At home we’ve had Mexican food, potatoes, macaroni, and soup. And every morning before he left I teamed up with Erik to make fruit salads for breakfast with mango, papaya, passion fruit, watermelon, and pineapple.  I’m hoping to check out some other places in town for regional foods and local stuff.