Sunday, November 23, 2014

Could You Ever Eat A Turtle?

Sometimes it's hard to admit the weird shit that goes on in my brain.  But here goes. Stay with me, 'kay?

This morning the kids woke me up at 5am and as I lay there kind of knowing I wasn't going to get back to sleep a song that is on high rotation at our place and a show I saw a bit of on telly the other night kind of merged in a squishy sort of way.

So it is that I ended up mumbling "Could You Ever Eat A Turtle?" to the tune of "Do You Want To Build A Snowman?" while I made the kids their Weet-Bix this morning.

I live in a house with a six year old girl, so quite obviously Frozen and the entire lyrics of the accompanying CD has been seared into my brain is a way that can only be described as cruel and unusual.

Also I saw the last half of First Contact on SBS the other night.  

Did you see it?  I'm not always into these reality shows parading as documentaries.  I think there is a bit of a danger in presenting as fact something that is really pretty contrived.  

But then I guess I'm a sceptic and I take this sceptics view of everything I consume from the media be it news, documentaries or advertising.  

It doesn't mean I can't get something out of programs like this and frequently do.  Go Back To Where You Came From also on SBS was a great example of this and First Contact uses the same template in an indigenous context.

So they take six white Australians and immerse them in various aspects of Aboriginal life and culture, from urban to rural to remote.  Like I said, I only saw that last half of the show the other night, so I'm not here to offer any sort of dissertation on it's merits.  But it did get me thinking, and talking, and as it happens singing.  And here's why.

As part of this episode the six whitefellas were sent to a remote Island where the handful of locals live as traditionally as possible, observing their cultural heritage, living off the land. As such they have received an exemption from the laws that prohibit the hunting of sea turtles in the area.  They are allowed to hunt these amazing creatures, and they do.

So of course, when the group of six arrived the boys were taken out in a boat (the traditional Aboriginal means of transport - the tinny) to hunt a turtle.

They caught one and heaved it into the boat.  Traditional laws deemed that the animal couldn't be killed until the next day so it was kept in the boat overnight until it was slaughtered (decapitated with an axe).  It was then smoked and eaten.

As you can imagine a number of the group of six took issue with all of this.  Had I been there I probably would have taken issue with it too.  I don't want to see any animal killed, don't want to have it suffer.  It's confronting, hard to stomach.  It seems so cruel.

My point though is this.  I am not a vegan.  And I don't believe any of the six people taken to that Island to observe the local way of life were vegans either.  They didn't announce that they were.

So to me, unless we walk the walk we shouldn't talk the talk.  Which is to say let's not question the methods of the host unless we are prepared to question our own methods first.

I eat meat.  But how comfortable would I feel spending the day in an abattoir?

I just found the outrage a little misplaced, you know?  Like, don't feel aggrieved by the indigenous guy who's living a traditional lifestyle when there's long net fishing going on off the same coast killing and maiming the same turtles incidentally and without witness.  

Don't be outraged by this community that is probably killing less turtles in a year than we eat chickens in a month.  

Don't get squeamish about watching the slaughter of a turtle just because it is seen, but all the cruelties that go into making up the usual daily diet are invisible.

Look.  I probably would have cried too.  I like turtles.  What's not to like?

I just think since I eat meat it is a real and blinkered hypocrisy to judge other meat eaters, especially when those meat eaters are almost certainly eating in a more globally sustainable way than I am.

You know?  It's like why be outraged that Bolivians eat Guinea Pig but not that the English eat Rabbit?  That the Swiss eat Dog, but not that Americans eat Deer.  That the Germans traditionally eat Horse but not that the Australians consider eating Lamb a national pastime. 

It's all just perspective, conditioning and context.  So let's open our eyes a little.  Because if we are genuinely disgusted and appalled by indigenous locals hunting, slaughtering and eating a turtle then perhaps we need to direct some of that outrage towards the processes that go into making the food that goes onto our own plates.

As the dude who hunted the turtle said "I have a greater spiritual connection to this turtle than you do."

So what it boils down to is this.  I'm not about to criticise anyone for eating a turtle while I'm planning to have steak for dinner.  And I'm not going to criticise (much) a show that gets me thinking and questioning in such a way, even if it is hosted by Ray Martin.

That was some pretty heavy thinking for 5o'clock in the morning, huh?  No wonder it all came to me in a nice, easily digestible* tune from the Frozen soundtrack**.  Have a listen, below is my version of "Do You Want To Build A Snowman?" inspired by the First Contact turtle eating episode.

"Could You Ever Eat A Turtle?"

To Be Sung To The Tune Of "Do You Want To Build A Snowman?" From Frozen 
(with tongue firmly planted in cheek)

Could you ever eat a turtle?
Ancient creature of the waves!
I know it seems all wrong to you
It’s not what you do
They’re special in some way

I know you think it’s different
To normal food
I just wish you’d consider why!

Could you ever eat a turtle?
You know it’s just a turtle…

(I don’t think I can though.)
(Go on try…)

Could you ever eat a turtle?
Or how about a cat?
I’m sure you’ve had a cow or two
Don’t they have feelings too?
Have you ever thought of that?

(Sorry Daisy.)

It’s just a little silly
Don’t you think
To differentiate this way….
(dog, lamb, cat, mouse, pig, horse, fish, frog)

It’s not that I want to eat them either
But you need see the other side
And just think if you killed all the food you ate
Would you still feel this way
Still think it right?

We’re all so disconnected
From what’s on our plate
Why do you think that is?

Could you ever eat a turtle?

*pun completely unintended and also very regrettable.

**With acknowledgement to the song rewrites Em does at You Learn Something New Every Day. They're ace.
So? Could You Ever Eat A Turtle?

(with apologies in advance for the brainwork)

Image Licensed Under Creative Commons


  1. You have a brilliant and wonderful mind turning somersaults like that at five in the morning! Most of my interior dialogue is sung to the tune of whatever I listened to last (I wish I could turn this interior function off!) so I completely understand how this impassioned and well considered argument came out to the tune from Frozen. I say well played, brain! Far more than mine could do at same hour! Love this post Kate. I think we could all eat all sorts of things if it came down to it. And not having seen the programme (just reading your post) I would say it sounds exceedingly hypocritical... I just wonder why the discussion and the questions didn't arise... didn't Ray Martin employ his journalistic skills to the situation? Didn't he raise the points you so validly do? Move over Ray Martin... go an build a snowman. ;-)

    1. hahaha. You do make me laugh Rachel. Ray Martin, really is more of a voice over. He does seem to turn up in his chinos at various stages, but I don't think he was actually on the Island. He certainly wasn't present for turtle-gate. Therefore there were many questions left unanswered, and points of argument left unchallenged, on both sides. Very frustrating as a viewer and one of the reasons I really don't like these types of shows that much. The producers know very well what they are doing by casting certain people and putting them in various situations. Their objective is really to create drama and 'good' viewing rather than to educate. Shame, because it was certainly an interesting issue that really got me thinking and they certainly could have fleshed out (god, so hard to avoid the puns on this one!) the argument with some more facts. Instead they went for the emotional reactions.

  2. Love your work Kate ! In a nutshell, no, I could never eat a turtle BUT, as your post has so brilliantly eluded to....the hypocrisy and contradictions in the complex world of should we be eating any animals - and, if so, which ones (?) are never ending ! I have heard that the way that the turtles (and dugongs) are killed by indigenous hunters is cruel and veering far off from what could be considered "traditional" (eg with speedboats these days) but is it "more cruel" than factory farmed meat which the majority of Australians eat without a second thought ? Probably not ! Love these thought provoking posts of yours (and, yes, am impressed by that 5am whirling mind of yours too !!) x

    1. Thanks Ing, I was actually thinking of you a lot as I wrote this post! Wondering what you would think! I knew you'r be firmly in the NO camp with regards to turtle eating! But I'm pleased you got where I'm coming from in the sense that I think it's a tenuous position to judge this sort of hunting as a consumer and eater of meat. I just think it's so short sighted to be outraged only by what you are confronted with. I can't help but wonder how those same people would feel if they were forced to watch a cow be slaughtered for their dinner. It just makes very little sense to me. Thank for commenting! x

  3. Hi Kate! Believe it or not - I have eaten turtle before in an indirect kinda way :-/ When I was little, I grew up in Hong Kong....and I often got given something called Guilingao - which is kind of a herbal jelly. The wikipedia entry is here: Supposedly it's made out of some powder which comes from the shell of a turtle. I actually doubt that there's much of the turtle in there (given how expensive it would be), but yes, if there was turtle shell in there, I would've eaten some part of a turtle. yuck.

    1. Thanks for your comment Viv, that is so interesting. But I think the most interesting thing is the "yuck" at the end. Because really is it anymore "yuck" than eating any other animal by-product. I'm a meat-eater, so I don't mean this in a judgey way at all. But when I think about my own meat consumption and challenge my given perspective on things, why is turtle-shell jelly any more "yuck" than eating the gelatine jelly lollies that has pork hides and cattle bones in it? x

  4. Great post Kate and dang, you're brain works beautifully at 5am - mine is total sludge! No, I couldn't eat a turtle and would probably have cried too, but you so eloquently point out the hypocrisy of factory farming that lots of Australian's eat without a second thought. Great point that most of us couldn't hack a day in an abattoir too. Thanks for the great post x

    1. Let's be clear lovely Pia, my brain would much prefer to be sludge at that hour of the day! But since it is forced into consciousness by my kidlets I may as well make the most of it's wild ramblings and tangent taking. Thanks so much for your comment. x

  5. I wish my mind was as creative as yours at 5am. I'm up at that time most mornings but it's a blurry haze! I have mixed feelings about First Contact. Firstly I hated the horrible lead ins at the ad breaks - you know that "keep watching, you won't believe what happens next" kind of thing. It was almost enough to make me tune out. It was a great concept for a social experiment TV show but didn't quite measure up to Go Back to Where You Came From. And that awful woman (the one who left). I found it really hard watching her without wanting to jump through the TV and punch her in the face. And finally I couldn't eat turtle but I do find people very hypocritical. Great post as always Kate.

    1. Oh god Deb, I hate that reality tv formula too! It's so infuriating how it has permeated all types of programming and is now virtually inescapable - remember the days of tv when you didn't have to watch 85% of the show three times (once when they tell you it's coming up, once when it actually happens and then again when they show you what happened before the break)? It's mind numbing. Oooh. Who left - I didn't see that bit. I wonder if it was the one who kept freaking out about everything (including the turtle). Flipping out was definitely her default setting! Thanks for the comment. x

  6. I think it's a very interesting thing how squeamish meat eaters can be about eating meat. I no longer eat meat but am pretty firm on my stance that if you're going to you should be able to catch and kill your meat once to fully understand what your eating meat means. It's not a popular position but feeds in to what you have said about culture and conditioning.
    When I did eat meat I did learn how to kill and prepare both pigs and chickens, it's not pleasant at all but I think we need to understand where our food comes from.

    1. I completely agree Lila. I am a meat eater, and I (as yet) have no experience in killing my own meat. But I do think that if we meat consumers forced ourselves to be more accountable for our diets it would have amazing trickle down effects in many aspects of society from environmentalism to animal rights to general compassion and respect for those around us. I'm actually not opposed to meat eating in principal, but I do think the lack of connection we have to what we eat is a huge problem. Thanks so much for the comment. x