My Personal Impasse

David Jiang - Brazil


March 13, 2019

MY PERSONAL IMPASSE

Since coming to Brazil and working at R3 Animal <en.r3animal.org/>,
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 biodiverse 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 the Brazilian 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, the demise of Brazil’s natural
integrity looms close by.

MATA ATLANTICA ON SANTA CATARINA ISLAND

In addition, Brazil is a land of carnivores; the diet and many classic
recipes are dependent on meat. Churrasco, the Brazilian barbeque, 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.

PREPARING THE FAMILY SUNDAY LUNCH

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
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.

David Jiang