Bondowoso / Culture / Daily Life / Food / Indonesia / Peace Corps / People / Photography / Religion

Idul Adha and Other Thoughts on Eating Animals

Warning: This post contains graphic images of a cow being slaughtered.

After reading Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer and nearly becoming vegan in the process, it was quite ironic that I found myself in the middle of an animal sacrifice ritual. Let me clarify: Idul Adha is an important Muslim holiday that highlights the importance of sacrifice to God by commemorating the biblical story of Ibrahim (Abraham) and Ismael (Isaac). As the tale goes, God asks Ibrahim to prove his love/fear by sacrificing his beloved son Ismael. Ibrahim is devastated by this request, but proves that God comes before anything and everything as he prepares to sacrifice his only—and unaware—son. In the end, God stops Ibrahim at the last minute and sends him a goat to sacrifice in Ismael’s place. Today, Muslims in Indonesia celebrate this event by sacrificing goats, sheep and cows, with their family, neighbors and friends, eating together and taking a whole lot of meat home.

This year, I joined one of my school’s vice principals, his family and neighbors as they sacrificed 9 goats and one cow. Because I’m a firm believer in jam karet (or rubber time), I rolled in late and only made it to the sacrifice of one cow, which was more than enough animal slaughter, but a very interesting experience.

The scene I rolled into: all the neighborhood men butchering and dividing up 9 goats and one cow.

The scene I rolled into: all the neighborhood men butchering and dividing up 9 goats.

Bu Endah (far right), is my vice principal’s wife and chemistry teacher at my school. She helps her neighbors prepare goat meat to make sate.

Independently from Idul Adha, and primarily due to Eating Animals, I’ve been thinking a lot about Indonesia’s outlook on the consumption of meat and other animal products. Unlike people in the United States, who consume meat, dairy and eggs in large quantities, for the average Indonesian, meat and all those other products are expensive. Milk is seldom drunk here, and when it is, it’s usually soymilk or powdered milk. There’s no yogurt. None of the cuisine uses cheese, other than for rarely eaten, special sweets. Eggs are the only staple in my household, which come from a local neighbor’s chickens. Rice, tahu, or tofu, and tempe are the main food sources for most Indonesian people, with the occasional sayur, or vegetable.

This creates a very different market than the one in the United States, which depends on awful animal factory farming to provide all of the meat and animal products that stock every supermarket, every fast food chain, every restaurant and household at extraordinarily cheap prices. How do they do it? By using animal science and husbandry that alters animal genetics so that they produce more eggs or more milk, and so that they may grow faster than a normal animal. That means they can be slaughtered faster, too.  All this genetic tampering creates unhealthy animals, some that can barely move, reproduce, or survive for long without the aid of hormones and medications. This is what Americans eat: hormones and antibiotic medications. A lot of which are used to keep the animals alive under cruel conditions, in tight cages and spaces, where disease runs rampant and animals constantly hurt themselves, or others near them.

This man whispered a prayer and covered the bull with a leaf as he swiftly slit it's throat.

This man whispered a prayer and covered the bull with a leaf as he swiftly slit it’s throat.

This man waits patiently beside the cow as it dies.

This man waits patiently beside the bull as it dies.

Idul Adha Sacrifice

Several men help skin and butcher the large bull.

Several men help skin and butcher the large bull.

It may seem cruel to see a picture of a cow being slaughtered, but there’s so much more cruelty behind what most Americans buy every day. The animals in Idul Adha are slaughtered humanely. They live a normal animal life, grazing in a field somewhere and then, they are bought at a very high price for this very important holiday. Think of it as the Thanksgiving of Islam. Every family in my vice principal’s neighborhood pitched in 1,500,000Rp ($150) to purchase these animals at a rate of 1,500,000Rp per goat/sheep and $10,000,000Rp ($1,000) per cow. (If you read my last post on Agricultural Economics, you can see that this isn’t exactly affordable for each family.) Then, a specialized man, trained to butcher these animals, says a prayer before he slits the cow’s throat and waits for the animal to die. It takes longer than I expected. The animal bleeds out quickly, but continues to move around for about 5 to 10 minutes before it is truly dead. Even later—when it’s been dead for a while—it’s skinned and butchered. If that was hard to read, I couldn’t even begin detailing the horrific treatment of factory-farmed animals by people who must rush through the slaughter of hundreds of animals at a time. The conditions are so inhumane that it drives workers to beat animals, and boil them and cut them to pieces while they’re still alive.

All of these thoughts circulate through my Idul Adha experience. I wonder: will Indonesia ever develop in the footsteps of the United States –as China is currently doing—and begin consuming animals at the same rate? Muslims don’t consume pork, so there’s hardly a market for that here, and currently, most beef, chicken, eggs and dairy come from local farmers who keep a moderate amount of animals, as opposed to the millions kept in animal factory farms. A few stands in the local market sell a limited amount of meat, or sometimes, a man on his motorcycle makes rounds around my neighborhood selling the few whole chickens or fish that he has at his disposal. Indonesian villagers don’t have the same expectations of the average American. If there is no meat, milk or eggs available, then they do without. I hate to assume, but I believe most Americans would be outraged if their eggs, milk, cheese, or meat weren’t available on a regular basis.

Before the 1920s, this was the reality. Eggs and dairy were purchased when available and if affordable. People had to go early to butcher shops and make long lines to get a decent cut of beef for a special occasion, or a shot at buying a chicken. Back then, it was impossible to have fast food restaurants offering extremely cheap, low-quality animal products, or millions of processed food products that rely on eggs, milk and cheese as part of their ingredients. Now, thanks to industrial animal factory farming, it is. What may have begun as an effort to feed people, has developed into highly profitable, but unsustainable, wasteful and unhealthy business. It’s also manipulative. The food industry spends millions of dollars per year advertising products with happy, healthy people on colorful, green-washed packaging, with words like “free-range,” “organic,” “cage-free” and many other terms that put our minds at ease, while hiding the reality.

What are the consequences of this? Aside from the obvious animal cruelty and abuse, Foer argues: “Animal agriculture makes a 40% greater contribution to global warming than all transportation in the world combined; it is the number one cause of global warming.” These animals also consume large quantities of water and grains, which strain the global supply at a time when people are still dying of starvation in certain parts of the world, or lack access to potable water. Then, there’s the public health risk, which include the unknown long-term effects of consuming large quantities of hormones and medications inside sickly animal corpses, the obesity and other diseases partially caused by too much animal product and processed food consumption, and the outbreak of antibiotic resistant illnesses, such as the bird or swine flu.

Today, animal products still account for only 16 percent of the Chinese diet, but farmed animals account for more than 50 percent of China’s water consumption – and a time when Chinese water shortages are already cause for global concern…More meat means more demand for grains and more hands fighting over them. By 2050, the world’s livestock will consume as much food as four billion people. – Jonathan Safran Foer in Eating Animals

Indonesia is the fourth largest country in the world behind China at number one, India and then, the United States. In the eyes of corporations, as these developing countries get wealthier and their people gain purchasing power, they are markets waiting to be cracked into; what will the world look like if these three countries adopted the same American food consumption patterns? Global collapse may not be an overstatement—and it all depends on marketing shifting consumer trends and cultural values.

As stated, Indonesians do not consume pork and Indians do not consume beef. McDonald’s—one of the biggest animal products provider in the world—has adapted their menus to fit these restrictions in the big cities within these countries. On one hand, it’s good business practice to tailor to your customers. On the other, it recruits more consumers for an already unsustainable industry. What would the planet look like if it mirrored the United States, and there was a McDonald’s in every corner of China, India and Indonesia? How many animal factory farms would have to exist to sustain this supply?

(Side Note: I’m not going into much detail on the fishing industry, but its destruction of marine biodiversity is staggering. Just think about all tuna harvested using high-tech methods that fill the billions of cans all over the world. And check out this infographic.)

Perhaps, I’m letting my imagination run into fatalist grounds. According to my ibu—with whom I discussed my imminent vegetarianism–at this moment there isn’t much animal factory farming in Indonesia. She encouraged me to eat meat in Bondowoso, because she says: It’s from the local farmer. I make sure to buy ayam kampung (village chicken), not the ayam potong (cut chicken), because I don’t like the medications in it. It’s not healthy! I’m proud of my ibu’s attitude, but clearly animal factory farming is already snaking into the lives of Indonesian villagers. At 32,000Rp ($3.20) per kilo, ayam potong is already way cheaper than ayam kampung, which sells for 60,000Rp ($6.00) per kilo. Organic eggs cost 2,000Rp ($0.20) per unit, while eggs from factory farms cost 15,000Rp ($1.50) per kilo. Additionally, eggs from factory farms are much bigger, and the chicken is meatier and juicier. With this in mind, I can only hope that most Indonesians consumers have my ibu’s attitude and her willingness to pay more for an organic, locally grown, and sustainable product — but economics are against that. Better yet—for the sake of environmental sustainability, public health and ethical animal treatment—I hope most Indonesians (and other developing countries and people all over the world) contain the large quantities of meat consumption to the one day of Idul Adha (or any special occasion of your choosing).

Sate kambing, or the skewered goat I helped prepared for the neighborhood meal for Idul Adha.

Sate kambing, or the skewered goat I helped prepared for the neighborhood meal for Idul Adha.

An elderly neighborhood woman cooking up sate for about 100 adults and children.

An elderly neighborhood woman cooking up sate for about 100 adults and children.

Neighborhood kids enjoying a special treat of sate kambing.

Neighborhood kids enjoying a special treat of sate kambing.

Some of many bags of portioned meat for the neighborhood families.

Some of many bags of portioned meat for the neighborhood families.

Some kids taking their share of goat and beef home.

Some kids taking their share of goat and beef home.

After reading this book, I avoid eating meat or too many animal products, and when I go back to the west I will definitely be vegetarian. I refuse to give money to an industry that is cruel to animals, devastating to the environment, completely unsustainable and hazardous to your health. Still, I don’t think eating animals is inherently wrong. It’s nature. But there’s a wrong way to go about it, and there’s a right way. This meat from Idul Adha was completely organic, locally-grown and sustainable. The animal lived a good life and died humanely, thus, I think it’s ok that I ate this small bit of sate.

Interesting and Related Articles:

Consumers have a lot of power. Think before you eat or buy.

4 thoughts on “Idul Adha and Other Thoughts on Eating Animals

  1. Crusader,

    Interesting. I’ve thought about taking this route a number of times, but always backed out because poor meal planning. I’ll have to read this book you mentioned. There are a number of books in the same vein. One of them I enjoyed was “Mad Cowboy.” Nice(???) photos too!


    p.s. Pass by a meat factory somewhere outside of Sacramento that smelled so bad I almost swerved off the road!

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