Southward

We drove to the south of Lake Wakatipu and then continued on via Kingston and Mossburn to Te Anau, where we had a break before continuing back North up to Knobs Flat.

Most of the countryside consisted of open valleys of farmland surrounded by steep hills, some rugged, some gently green and brown, the odd tree, lots of sheep, a few highland cows and “humbug cows” as I call them and the odd field of more normal dairy herds.

An ethical interlude…

There was a noticeable increase in the number of deer farms in this region too. It was very weird seeing these normally shy and hidden animals in a herd in a field surrounded by a fence. Deer farming has taken off here in the last few years as a way of dealing with the over population of deer, caused by the fact that they are not native to New Zealand, but were introduced by colonisers from the British empire, so they could enjoy shooting them for sport. Because deer aren’t native, they have no natural predators, so the deer population has exploded in size and has been decimating lots of native plants and animals. Great Britain is really not so great. The more I learn on my travels about our dealings with the world, the more appalled I am, frankly.

In response to this problem with the deer, some bright spark developed a method of capturing them by shooting nets from helicopters (they had to use helicopters because the terrain is so mountainous there would be no other way of catching them), and then putting the deer into paddocks surrounded by deer proof fences.

A fashion for venison meat has also taken off in New Zealand, perhaps fuelled partly by the thought that this is one way of getting rid of a pest.

I have so many ethical problems with all of this, and as always with ethical issues, any response or action ends up being a trade off.

Ever since we adopted a rescue cat about a year ago, I’ve found myself becoming much more sensitised towards the experiences of animals. Our cat, Xena (Warrior Princess) (who’s scared of the cat flap), has such a particular personality, particular likes and dislikes, and she’s so responsive to affection and kindness (when she wants to be, obviously – she is a cat after all!). I find that now I can’t look at animals and not consider how they might be experiencing life.

From that standpoint the deer hunting is awful. But of course from the other standpoint, the deer’s decimation of native habitats and creatures is also awful. So I find myself wondering why those colonisers were so thoughtless as to introduce non native species in the first place. And, as is often the case in these sorts of circumstances, I find myself thinking that in order to get to where I think we should be going in terms of looking after our planet, I really wouldn’t start from here. But we have to start from where we are of course. Humph.

Generally speaking I have been trying to eat less meat and consume less animal products, in a bid to do my bit to discourage the over production of it all, which is decimating whole swathes of countryside all over the world and also causing very poor distribution of food among human populations as so much of it goes to feed the animals we insist on proliferating to feed our insatiable appetites. But I must confess I did have a venison burger in Dunedin. And I have eaten more meat on my journey so far than I ever would have done at home. It is quite tricky to avoid in a country whose main industries include meat and dairy farming.

I’m no expert in these things, and I’m aware there are massive economic issues for farmers, too. But is forceably separating mother cows from their baby calves in order to keep being able to syphon off their milk really an acceptable practice? My uncle says the cows make an agonising noise when this happens. I’m not surprised! Then there are these “Peach teats; calves love em” here which are like enormous false udders where a whole herd of calves feed, tails wagging 19 to the dozen. It’s very cute to watch, but what are they drinking? I don’t actually know. If they were drinking natural cows’ milk then why is it more economic for them to drink it in this unnatural way than to get it from their mothers? I have no idea.

Professor David Clough (Professor of Theological Ethics at the University of Chester), whose work on theology and animals is second to none, has worked with others to create this website, seeking to at least challenge churches to take these ethical issues seriously and begin to change their behaviour accordingly: https://www.becreaturekind.org/.

One of his very practical suggestions is that instead of having the default food options set up to favour meat eating, that we #defaultveg. In other words, that the default norm is to offer food that is veggie, and if people want to eat meat they have to explicitly opt for that. Because everyone can eat veggie food. I love this idea for its simplicity and practicality as well as for its potential to facilitate huge cultural change. We do a lot of cooking for others back at home, and we tend to #defaultveg, partly because it’s our preference anyway ethically and in terms of health and it’s cheaper and we love veggie food, but it’s also because it’s simpler because if it’s gluten free and veggie (vegan if possible) then pretty much everyone can eat it so you only have to make one big pot of something to share.

Here are the Prof’s general top tips for dealing with this issue, summarised wholly inadequately and overly simplistically by me (for more detail visit the website or contact him):

We have a choice about what we eat. Other animals don’t. So it’s for us to take responsibility for our choices. To vastly improve the situation we could:

A) eat less meat (consider reducing the number of days/week or meals/day we eat meat or if we don’t eat it often, consider becoming vegetarian or vegan) and consume less dairy products

B) consume fewer animal products (in cosmetics, leather goods etc)

C) when we do eat meat, dairy or buy other animal products or things with other animal products in them, try to find a source for those things that is concerned for the welfare of the animals

Here endeth the ethical interlude…for now, at least.

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