By David Jiang
Since coming to Brazil and working at R3 Animal , I am constantly confronted with the challenging irony that is my relationship to animals and the environment. As much as I am fascinated by wildlife (it was the first “encyclopedic passion” that I had) and fostered a great love for nature and environmental protection, the very method that I live my life states otherwise. Back in my life in the United States, I live in a house that is much larger than my family of three need (high water and electricity usage), utilize an enormous amount of single-use plastics (which take centuries to at least partially degrade), and want to engage in worldwide travel (contributing to the already large quantity of greenhouse gas emissions
attributed to air-travel). It only adds another layer of complexity to add the fact I consume meat, including a good amount of red meat, one of the biggest contributors to global warming and land development. I chose Florianopolis Brazil in part to work with this remarkable organization that is deeply committed in the conservation of native wildlife, yet the way of life I have brought with me, especially what I eat, contributes to the contrary.
The very Brazilian society that I have become immersed in sends mixed messages. Even though the biodiversity and beauty of the land is a source of national pride, there lacks a consciousness and motivation to protect it. Brazil is the land of the Amazon (the world’s lungs, producing 20% of its oxygen), the Pantanal (the largest wetlands in the world), and the Mata Atlantica/Atlantic Forest ecosystem (the most bio-diverse ecosystem in the world), to name a few. Yet it is the land where it is most dangerous to be an environmentalist, especially in the frontier regions to the west, where logger barons, agricultural developers, and rogue mining companies take advantage of weak law enforcement and currently, a government that is friendly to construction rather than conservation. I have conversed with many Brazilians (not only those in Florianopolis and the South where I live, but also in the Southeast and Northeast regions from my travels) and a good many of them mentioned that Brazil should exploit more natural resources to increase national wealth. In times of economic strife and financial ruin, the environment and its protections are often the first to go. Factor in limited government spending on environmental initiatives/projects, a dysfunctional national parks system, and lack of education and awareness among the populace, and the demise of Brazil’s natural integrity looms close by.
In addition, Brazil is a land of carnivores; the diet and many classic recipes are dependent on meat. Churrasco, the Brazilian barbecue, is fundamental to social gatherings, where cutting boards of picanha (grilled sirloin cap) and linguiça (Portuguese-style pork sausage) are passed around. There are even churrasco flavored chips sold in supermarkets, which are very popular. Beef is the preferred meat of choice (in addition to being the most environmentally taxing), going to/in everything from steak, burgers (which have taken their own radical spin in Brazil), to being ground in pastel (the Brazilian-version of empanadas). Even many snacks, salgadinhos, contain meat, with among the most popular being mini-pastel (containing ground beef), coxinha (a fritter filled with shredded chicken), and misto-quente (literally a pressed ham and cheese sandwich). Although the vegetarian and
vegan movements have been gaining traction in the country, for many Brazilians, a meal is not a meal without meat.
I have grown up eating meat and I love its flavor; it is something personal that is hard to give up. As I travel and learn about cultures around the world, food plays an integral role in what connects us together, crossing borders and generations. Specially here in Brazil, meat plays a crucial role in not only diet but also in social bonding. Yet, given the unique apprenticeship that I have, as well as my personal desire to be a aware and sustainable traveler, I am constantly confronted by one central question: where is the line between engaging with a nation’s culture and refusing to engage in it on the basis of moral grounds and the welfare of our planet? Culture is supposed to be perpetuated and esteemed through generations, yet what happens if the culture is literally too environmentally unsustainable to continue at our current trajectory? I am a lover of humanity and its culture, yet I am passionate about doing my part in protecting this one planet we have. For me, it is only when I came to Brazil that these two sides have been at odds, the lines clearly blurred. The personal debate is ongoing, one I’ll take back to the United States and my
continued journey. I write this to hold myself accountable to whatever roads I choose to take and the lifestyle choices I will make in this personal and complicated impasse.