Cultural strictures that are of little use to humanity
Posted Saturday, July 21 2012 at 19:50
Kenya’s self-styled “Bold Newspaper” habitually comes up with some “bold” stories.
Take this on June 16: “Residents of Enoosaen ... in Trans Mara West District got the shock of their lives when they found a middle-aged man cooking a snake inside A BUSH ...”
To cook a puff adder INSIDE A BUSH is itself to score quite an environmental feat. The cook apparently dragged his serpentine victim into the bush’s cave and, there, set up a cooking stead. For, yes, a bush is a single plant. But it is not a tree and, therefore, has no cave.
So I will bet my bottom shilling that this “... shock of their lives ...” had no objective focus. Probably, it expressed only the kind of “shock” that sent my mother into prolonged throwing up when I told her that, as a student at Besancon, France, in the early 1960s, I had often enjoyed fried snails and frog legs.
Indeed, life in so many societies has enabled me to doff most tribal, racial, religious and cultural prejudices.
If some Maasai individual was cooking a puff adder, I can report to The Standard that, in Cameroon, braised pythons are what an American advertising copy writer calls “finger-lickin’ good” and a German gourmet a Leckerlecker.
Yet, although humans boast of the largest and most adaptative brain in the ecology, we would rather perish from hunger than partake of so many abundantly food-laden species around us.
Why? Because we all have to grow up in the narrowest straitjackets of culture.
Although the Luo are crazy about fish, practically no Luo will touch a crab, a lobster, an oyster, a prawn, a shrimp or a snail.
Similarly, no dyed-in-the-wool Jew will touch pig meat; no true Hindu will consume cow meat; and a European might sicken when offered some fried Onyoso or Oyala, two flying insects which are Luo delicacies.
Share with vultures
In fact, the dietary bans slapped by the Jewish book of Leviticus are in general conformity with human prejudices. Although we share general omnivory with vultures and other scavengers — which is an excellent strategy for specific evolutionary survival — we also share with most carnivores a dislike for meat-eating animals.
Only recently (in evolutionary time) did a terrible drought force our anthropoid ancestor to descend from the trees and adopt the savannah as its habitat. It was thus that we learned to include meat in our diet. Where, hitherto, we had survived almost exclusively on fruit, now — like the great cats and dogs — we became predators.
Moreover, like them and certain other carnivores, we tended to confine our newly acquired sweet tooth for meat to grass-eating (herbivorous) carriers of it – such as bovines and antelopes.
What is it that culturally disgusts us about meat-eating animals? What can explain our profound cultural aversion to dogs and cats for food?
I say “cultural” because, if it were genetic, cat meat would by now have killed the Chinese by the billion. Indeed, dieticians might affirm that dog and cat meat is very good for human beings.
But what about non-meat-eating animals? When, recently, has pork ever sent a Jew or an Arab to the grave? When has beef ever claimed a Hindu’s life?
Those are rhetorical questions. That is why I always grin like the Cheshire cat whenever I see our newspapers and other media make such a fuss about people “caught” selling or eating meat from camels, donkeys, horses and zebras — grass-eaters all with excellent meat (and milk).