I’m still bleating on about the naming of things, and I suspect nothing will ever stop me.
There was an unfortunate, but all too predictable outbreak of tabloid jingoism a few years back when a group of “wild” cattle were brought to the UK to assist in efforts to rewild a farm near Broadwoodwidger on the border between Devon and Cornwall. The cattle were Heck cattle, created by the Heck brothers, sons of a famous director of the Berlin Zoo, in an attempt to recreate the extinct wild aurochs that was once quite common across Europe. The Heck’s project was a favourite of the Nazi leadership, and especially Herman Göring, because aurochs feature in Teutonic mythology. Headlines called them Nazi cows and spoke of the Herd Reich, but in the end most of the beasts proved far too aggressive and were sent for slaughter.
All this came up in the context of a recent article in JStor Daily, which links to a detailed 2016 discussion of the Heck cattle and their role in rewilding efforts across Europe. The discussion seems to hinge of the problem being that “Europe doesn’t have any large wild herbivores any more”. Indeed not. But it has plenty of breeds of cattle that are perfectly capable of taking care of themselves and the landscape. Why can’t rewilding make use of those large herbivores? It isn’t as if Europe has that many large wild carnivores that the cattle need to defend themselves against.
Rewilding is a perfect example of land-sharing, where agriculture is part of a natural environment that makes space for other living things too. Too often, though, conservation means excluding people and their crops and animals from nature. If you are looking for a sober assessment of the contradictions between conservation, especially of “nature”, and food security, I suggest you watch Professor Bhaskar Vira, a geographer at the University of Cambridge, give the final Darwin Lecture for 2022. He goes carefully through the various meanings of sustainability and the tussle between land sharing and land sparing, and while I have my own thoughts on the visual presentation, the lecture itself is well worth your time.
Perhaps you heard the recent episode on how unconditional cash might improve nutrition. That was about the work of Give Directly in Africa, and good evidence that poor people know what they need. Now comes a report that cash grants work well in urban America too.
Give Directly does operate in the US, but this project was from an organisation called Thrive East of the River. They gave $5500 to 590 poorer residents of Washington DC, along with other services. Before the handout, 34% of the participants said they “often didn’t have enough to eat”. Afterwards, that figure dropped to 19%.
Another in a seemingly endless series of memoirs triggered by specific foods is How Yams Helped My Family Survive Postwar Vietnam, by Hoang Samuelson. Hoang refers to “tuberous, starchy delights,” but what are they? Yam – the word – covers at least four possibilities that I am aware of, though Wikipedia lists six. The photo on the article shows sweet potatoes, and I know that sweet potatoes are common in Vietnam, so maybe they are what helped Hoang’s family to survive.
Carping aside, it is a very interesting read.
A couple of issues back I marvelled at the number of chicken wings (1.42 billion) that would be eaten in America on Superbowl Sunday, despite the fact that prices were 14–20% higher than in 2021. Now comes a new story from the USDA’s Economic Research Service saying that the actual increase in wholesale prices from January 2021 to January 2022 was less than 10%. Covid disrupted everything, depleting the number of wings in cold storage and almost doubling wholesale prices from April 2020 to April 2021. Stocks then began to rise, so prices came down from their peak, although they were still above those of a year ago.
I still don’t know what happened to the 1.42 billion legs. They used to go to Russia, way back when, but that is probably not going to happen again any time soon. The largest volume of exports, slightly higher at 21.5%, went to Mexico, although the largest increase went to Cuba, which received three times more chicken meat in 2021 than in 2020 and is now the No. 2 export market, easily beating China.
Finally, I made a personal decision to stop eating octopus even before I watched My Octopus Teacher. I’m glad I did, as in future I will not have to determine whether my meal was farmed.