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Chicken Feet & Guinea Pigs

Chicken Feet & Guinea Pigs

Hello and good day!

Just a little food for thought, pun intended.

It is very unlikely that you'll ever come across a vegan cacao farmer in northern Peru. It isn't part of the culture, and those folks are looking for calorie rich food because their work is so physically taxing.

Calorie rich, vegan options are abundant here in the United States. But in a remote place like the district of Huarango, where we buy cacao, there aren't big grocery stores with a lot of variety. Most people eat the same kind of diet, and it is determined by custom and practicality.

For my part, I've gone long stretches in my life as a vegan. I did it for both health reasons and ethical reasons. On the health front, I came across some books that made the case for giving up animal products and I decided to give it a shot.

There is a lot of information arguing both sides of this issue and it is hard to know who is right. I can say from personal experience that I never felt lighter, healthier, or more energetic than when I practiced vegetable heavy veganism.However, I was younger at that time and didn't have kids yet, so those are obviously influencing factors.

Ethically, I've had the opportunity to see several baby calves born and it always seems to me that the mother cow is pleased with the birth of her new child.

I'd go so far as to say it seems the mother loves the calf. That may be anthropomorphizing, in fact I'm sure it is, but still. That is how it seemed to me, and it always gives me a pang of guilt to think that we industrially grow and kill these living creatures without giving it very much thought.

So here you have a very difficult ethical conundrum. I can't escape concluding that we have a case of moral relativism here. Maybe an act is ethical in one place and time and unethical in another.

On my very first trip to Peru, during my first ever Peruvian lunch, I was served soup with a chicken's foot floating in it. Like any self-respecting American, I said, "eeewwww" to myself in my mind and took the foot out and laid it on a plate next to the bowl.

When the waiter in the restaurant came over to bus the table, he saw that I had left the foot uneaten, and he rolled his eyes at me. He didn't even try to hide it.

At that time in Peru, it wasn't the custom to leave tips for waiters, so he had no motivation to hide his disdain for my action. It was simply poor manners to leave food uneaten. You eat what you are served, or you run the risk of offending somebody.

On my last trip to Peru, somebody generously offered me a wooden skewer with a barbequed chicken's foot on it. The young lady offered it to me out of the goodness of her heart. She was sitting on the street with a small grill in front of her. She had two little boys running around behind her. It was nighttime, and her job is selling chicken feet skewers to passersby.

When she saw me coming, she smiled and asked if I wanted to have one. She offered to gift it to me, but I insisted on paying. The price was 40 cents.

20 years after my first experience being served a chicken's foot, I now have no problem scraping the skin off the bones with my teeth, and biting into the cartilage between the toes.

I was walking along with a large group of Peruvian family members, my wife's innumerable cousins, aunts, and uncles, and they all seemed very satisfied to see me eating something so typical.

"You are becoming a real Peruvian," they said. Many mentioned that the cartilage in particular is very healthy because it has a lot of collagen.

It would be hard sledding to convince any of the folks in that group that one should be vegan on ethical grounds. You might make the case for healing certain ailments, but the ethical argument simply wouldn't work.

One of the very popular dishes out on cacao farms, and really throughout all of Peru, is roasted guinea pig. Every farm has wooden crates in their kitchen or in their living rooms, filled with guinea pigs. Guinea pigs reproduce rapidly and are cheap to feed. They mostly eat alfalfa.

The meat is considered to be healthy. For a solid 5 years, I could not bring myself to eat guinea pig. The traditional serving style is to flay the guinea pig open down the belly. It comes on a plate with the claws spread out to either side and the head still on. t kind of looks up at you while you are cutting into it.

Every time I turned that dish down, the people who cooked it were very disappointed. Finally, one day, I relented, and I don't regret the decision.

It isn't that guinea pig is the world's most delicious dish. It is good, but not my favorite. The real payoff was that it made the host happy, and that really warmed my heart.

I've learned a few things over the years from these culinary experiences.

First, I eat everything. Nothing scares me anymore, and I am glad of that. It is good to be adventurous. I'm not in love with everything. I could do without grilled chicken's feet for sure. But sometimes you get lucky and discover something awesome.

Second, there are moral grey areas, and it is good to recognize that. It isn't good to hold a hard line and impose your beliefs on other people unless it is absolutely necessary. There are certain rules that cut across almost all cultures.

You shouldn't kill.

You shouldn't steal.

You shouldn't lie or cheat.

You don't get to destroy other people's property.

Pretty much everybody agrees on these things, and they should not be tolerated. However, certain actions must be considered based on situational ethics.

Trying to convince a cacao farmer not to raise and eat guinea pigs won't produce a good result. It will only lead to tension, confusion, and resentment. Softening up your ethics where possible generates a lot more harmony, peace, understanding, and positive feelings.

It is good to be adaptable when possible. If you ever go to Peru, accept a chicken's foot. People will love you for it!

Thank you so much for your time today.

I hope that you have a truly blessed day!