Saturday, January 17

Upland Holistic Development Project

TBB has spent the past week at a farm in Fang, in northern Thailand.  The farm is part of a program called Upland Holistic Development Project, which essentially experiments with various sustainable agricultural methods and recommends the best techniques to local farmers.  Many of the fourteen communities they work with are ethnic minorities, who migrated from Burma thirty five years ago and lack the benefits that come with official citizenship.  

At the farm we've seen the methods that UHDP is attempting to implement in nearby villages.  We've even been able to try our hand at preparing chemical-free compost catalysts, tree propagating, and organic livestock feeding.  For more on UHDP's goals and methods, to check out their website (listed at the bottom of this posting). 

Mornings are spent taking Thai lessons with two teachers who will travel with us for the rest of the month.  Thai is (another) tonal language, with its own script, but we're working mostly with phonetic phrases that will be useful in our homestays.  After class, we generally have a  TBB seminar that focuses on our topic of the month: sustainable agriculture.  We read The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan, a well-written journalist who explores the state of contemporary food (primarily in the US).  It's a really fascinating and eye-opening book about the industrial process -- the history and the governmental policies that created and reinforced the current system.  We've also watched a film, on a similar note, called The Future of Food.  Both are recommended, particularly if you've enjoyed Supersize Me or Fast Food Nation; these are similar but a little more substantive.  

Yesterday TBB not only observed but indeed participated in a pig slaughter.  The group was fairly apprehensive upon learning what we'd be doing, but in the end it was an important experience.  After all, most of us eat animal products daily and are so far removed from the process that it's hard to conceptualize the system.  I'll describe the process, so if you're weary of animal slaughter, skip the next couple of paragraphs.

The first step was to knock the pig out with a wooden club.  This was the most difficult part of the whole process to watch.  To minimize suffering, this was done not by a TBB student but by one of the four or five local men who led the efforts.  At the first blow, the pig was on the ground, convulsing and writhing, and it took two more whacks to render it unconscious.  This was when the most adrenaline was running in the crowd, but also the moments when we had to keep moving quickly.  Immediately six people grabbed the pig's legs and hoisted it up onto a bamboo structure where the experts pushed forward the executioner: Zach himself wielded the knife and thrust it into the pig's chest.  I caught the spilt blood in a bucket, and within maybe thirty seconds the worst of the drama was over.  

We next had to shave the pig's coarse hair.  We loosened the hair follicles with boiling water and scraped off as much as we could with blunt blades.  What was left had to be singed off with burning palm leaves, and after hosing off the corpse, we sliced open the pig and removed the organs.  The whole butchering process took a couple of hours and nearly all the parts of the body were consumed in some way.  

Amazingly, no one threw up or passed out, and everyone attended.  It was challenging to be so involved in the process of killing of an animal that we had seen walking around, but the process felt more humane than a massive livestock factory slaughterhouse, where most of our meat originates.


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