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Sunday, November 6, 2016

Animal Husbandry versus Liberty

Bow enjoying oatmeal made with fresh whole milk

Bow is fit and trim, even though he eats a wide variety of foods. He has plenty of access to fruit, including apples, bananas, strawberries and grapes regularly, and occasionally pears, persimmons, pomegranates, avocado, kiwi, guava, locquat and any other exotic fruit we can get our hands on. But he is not exclusively a frugivore. He eats salad with ranch dressing, eggplant fried in oil or bacon fat, raw tomatoes, fried onions, boiled cauliflower and boiled brussels sprouts, and asparagus, baked potatoes and yams, plus other vegetables that occasionally appear on the menu. But Bow is not a vegetarian. He also likes baked chicken, roast beef, pork chops, Big Macs, chicken nuggets and any other meat dish that he can get his hands on. And Bow has milk with his cereal and in his oatmeal and black sesame porridge, as well as whipped cream with his strawberries and sour cream with his baked potatoes. No, he's not lactose intolerant, and he is not a vegan, and he is not kosher; he has a nice appreciation for many different kinds of food, including oriental dishes like hummus and tahini and Chinese pot stickers and rice. Like me, Bow is an omnivore. He enjoys food, and he has routines and rituals, but he is not stuck in a gastronomic rut. He feels free to explore new foods.

And like me and my daughter, Bow is not overweight. He has a well-defined waistline and is built like the cartoon character, Li'l Abner.

Notice Bow's well-defined waistline
What I have noticed is that when they cross-foster, most people end up with great apes whose weight issues are a little like their own. It is usually because we tend to feed our nonhuman apes the same sorts of things that we eat, and also our attitude toward food is similar. It's a cultural issue.

When Sword Met Bow

Cross-fostered chimpanzees get a lot of their attitude and approach to life from the family they grow up  in or the persons who raise them. For instance, a chimpanzee raised Catholic will take on Catholic ritual, crossing himself and praying before meals. A chimpanzee raised by a Buddhist will often display Buddhist attitudes and behaviors, even to the the point of  looking like the Buddha.

This Statue of the Buddha is an Image of Happiness and Contentment
Is it bad to look so happy and content that you no longer have a visible waistline? It depends very much on the culture you come from, how this is regarded. People are too quick to judge.

What if I told you that a certain great ape, deprived of the company of the humans that he loved, has lost a prodigious amount of weight and is now looking healthy and fit? Let's say he had before been so round about the middle that he was beginning to resemble a statue of the Buddha, but now he is fit and trim and his coat is glossy, and he runs around with his fellow apes outdoors, a perfect specimen of natural health and fitness. Is this good or bad? An improvement or an infringement?

It really depends entirely on your point of view.  But to put this in perspective, let me tell you a part of the story of my latest novel, Our Lady of Kaifeng: Courtyard of the Happy Way.

When the Red Cross sent the Swiss Consul to visit the internees at the Weihsien Internment Camp for Enemy Aliens run by the Japanese in Shandong Province, China, he had similar improvements in the health of the inmates to report.

Excerpt from Our Lady of Kaifeng: Courtyard of the Happy Way

When people are placed in an internment camp or a sanctuary, good animal husbandry demands that they be given at least the minimal number of calories per day to live on, but not much more. If these people, when they were free, were accustomed to eating a great deal more than was good for them, then the resultant weight loss can lead to improvement in their overall health. In the same way, lack of access to alcohol and drugs can cause an improvement in the health of those of the internees who were addicts before they entered the camp. The camp has the same effect on the overall health of the inmates that a drug rehab center or a spa can have. But that does not mean that the lack of choice imposed on the inmates is brought about by humanitarian means or that it is in any way humane.


  1. It sounds like Bow has quite an incredible array of choices when it comes to his diet! Do you think it's 'portion control', exercise, both, other? that helps him stay in shape? I know you and Sword are also so trim and healthy-looking!
    I have seen other pet-owners who let their pets get incredibly obese and I sometimes think it is so unfair and inhumane to the animal - most of them don't know when they should stop eating. But it's not my business, so I leave it alone.
    It's ironic and sad that the prisoners can be in *better* health through imprisonment than they would be on their own. The government here has enslaved us through 'Obamacare' and their 'food guidelines' - which ironically, are causing MORE harm than good. The new dietary requirements imposed on the schools are actually causing a more severe impact - children aren't eating the "healthy" foods and are tossing them out. Talk about 'unintended' consequences!

    1. Hi, Kathy, I don't think it's portion control exactly, because if I make the mistake of offering too much at a given meal, Bow will refuse his least favorite dishes as soon as he is full. (He gets to choose one dish at a time, and he usually chooses the favorites first.) And when he was younger, I knew the meal was over when he began to play with the food, rather than eat it.

      I think we all come with a built-in "enough" sensor, but it sometimes breaks down with bad habits.

      We do have regular meal times, though, three meals and one snack per day, and that may be a part of it.

      I also don't force Bow to exercise. Whatever exercise he engages in is entirely of his own choosing. Some of his displays do burn a lot of calories, I imagine! But it's his own choice to move or not to.

      My daughter and I are not super-active' either -- neither of us is an athlete, so it's not exercise and not portion control, but more of sense that enough is enough.

      I understand how you feel when you see an obese animal, but I try not to pass judgment on the owner, especially if they are struggling with the same issues as their non-human family member. Sometimes it is because they are trying to lose weight by cutting out fat in their diet, which only makes them gain more.

      Yes, the govt. food guidelines are toxic for those who actually try to follow them.

      But when I hear that an inmate separated from family -- human or nonhuman -- has lost a lot of weight and is in peak condition, I tend to be skeptical, especially when their loved ones are not allowed to communicate with them directly to ask how they feel.

      Let's remember that a little extra weight can mean the difference between death from starvation and survival in the event of a sudden disaster. That's why people who entered the camp at Weihsien obese were much better off at the end of the war than those who had had a healthy weight all along -- because the rations kept getting cut as the war continued.

  2. I agree with a 'little extra weight'. I carry it around myself. ha! But it has also prevented me from developing the same problems with osteoporosis that my Mother is currently dealing with. She developed it when she dropped her weight down to around 110 for about 10-12 years and was way too thin for her body type. Her condition actually improved when she let her weight come back up to what it had been before, ironically, the exact same weight I am today. Her and I are exactly the same height & weight. So, I'll just hang around this weight now. Avoiding osteoporosis... that's my story and I'm sticking to it! :-)

    1. I haven't noticed any extra weight on you, Kathy, though I have seen it on myself. I think as long as we are at a reasonable weight that our body tends to maintain naturally without any special supervision, that is probably the weight that is optimal for our health.

  3. The British national food survey from after World War II until about the year 2000 traced how during post war Britain when rationing was still in effect, people were a healthier weight. It was around the 70s when more pre-packaged foods and excess calories that people started to experience obesity. It is kind of ironic that the weight loss industry was invented due to food abundance.

    1. Well, it's not just abundance that causes obesity. It's more complicated than that. Some people are thrifty with their metabolism and others have spendthrift metabolisms, and this depends on generations of natural selection. And then it also matters very much what kind of food you eat. Fat was vilified unjustly as the kind of food not to consume after WWII. It was an outright conspiracy of dieticians and government and food producers.

    2. Most prepackaged good has a lot of sugar.