Respect Your Chicken

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If your style is to have at least one meat source of protein a day, you would find yourself eating chicken more frequently than the other common edible meats. That’s because there are so many different ways to prepare chicken. One could marinate and bake it in a zillion different sauces, and come up with a zillion different names for it. It can also be seasoned and baked, seasoned and grilled, barbecued, fried, and even “french-fried” up. The various ways in which it can be dressed up, cut, or presented seem almost limitless. It’s no wonder that when Bourdain is planning for dinner ahead of his crew’s boat ride down the Congo river in the Congo Parts Unknown episode, he lets a handful of live chickens on board. “Finding food along the way, it is anticipated will be a challenge. Refrigeration of any kind is impossible,” so goes Bourdain’s narration. To guarantee fresh meat on board, they have to have it breathing and walking around in tough, lean-bodied, scrappy chickens. Things get more interesting when it’s time to prepare the dinner. Bourdain’s liaison unleashes a funnel-like bag with a big hole on one end and a much smaller one on another. He then grabs the first feisty chicken and stuffs it headlong into the bag. The chicken fights it’s way to the bottom, squeezes its head into the smaller hole where Bourdain’s hand meets it. Bourdain barrels a blunt knife through the neck, and painstakingly pulls the head off. The body flutters in the bag as it bleeds out. “You wanna eat? You gotta kill your own chicken and pluck it too,” the narration continues as an exasperated crew looks searchingly at the job at hand. Next up camera man 1, camera man 2, the producer, and so on and so forth. They have at least 5 birds. They proceed to pluck and wash them in the river. Cutting up the meat is yet another challenge. Bourdain pounds the knife on the leg joints without much success. He jostles and snaps the feet off with his own hands. They don’t really show it, but I’m almost certain that he proceeds to tear up the body cavity with his hands as well. It’s night time now, and at times it gets pitch black because the light overhead is flickering on and off. ‘Generator issues,” he says. They have to dock. One of the Congolese liaisons dives into the water and swims ashore in the dark where he ties up the boat on a large tree. The lights are back on, no more generator issues, but now they have to stave off the moths that are swarming them. Nevertheless they throw the meat in a large pot, add wine and potatoes, and boil away. Three hours later, they sit down to a nice hot chicken stew, a meal I’m sure none of them will ever forget. That’s the basic way you get a chicken onto the dinner table in the Congo, and anywhere else in the world really. Most of the preparation process might be automated and behind the curtain in the Western world, but the chicken still gets slaughtered. If you and I just stopped and imagined ourselves killing a chicken every time we had a chicken meal, I’m pretty sure we would have a greater appreciation for this ubiquitous bird. We would have it on a special menu, retrain and convince our taste buds to enjoy it more, and probably pay more for it. Come to think of it, we probably love lobster because we often have to kill it ourselves, and cracking the shell is yet another process which may well be symbolic of the fisherman’s hardships – maybe. I really don’t know. Frankly sometimes I wonder what all the fuss is about. It takes like chicken, right? – just kidding people, just kidding.

Back in the Congo, there is struggle everywhere, documented on Bourdain’s show and a bunch of other documentaries, including Vice’s special on conflict minerals. Minerals are the one source of wealth that all the connoisseurs associate with Congo. Many of the electronic gadgets that are ubiquitous in our day-to-day lives can’t function without these minerals which in a number of cases have been identified as conflict minerals. Conflict minerals, otherwise known as 3TG are sourced from exploitative, oppressive, inhumane mining conditions overseen by various rivaling rebel groups in the Congo. Culprit companies include but are not limited to Apple, Google, hp, Microsoft, Signet, Samsung, Toshiba, Intel, IBM, Panasonic, and Sony. It should be noted however that since the US Congress passed the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Act requiring all companies to track and report all the conflict minerals used in their products, some companies have made an effort to do the due diligence required in proper sourcing. In light of knowing how the chicken is slaughtered in the Congo, I googled up some of the common consumer products that are made using minerals from the Congo, including the oh so obvious jewelry. Conflict or no conflict, I think we as consumers deserve to know how we have inadvertently contributed to Congo’s demise. In other words we deserve to know how the chicken is slaughtered and respect the process, not to mention the activism required on our part to push for responsible sourcing.

Here’s what we ought to know. The 3TG minerals are Tantalum, Tungsten, Tin and Gold, all of which are key components in electronic devices, including smartphones, laptops and video games. The following visuals might help us remember how our consumerism might be putting us in a position of killing our own chicken, so to speak.

1. Tantalum – stores electrical charge which is interpreted as data and information

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2. Tungsten – allows phones to vibrate

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3. Tin – is used to solder connections

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4. Gold – is found on printed circuit boards

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