LET ME CONFESS something I did a few years back, in the company of an old friend and a complete stranger: I shot and killed a pig in Hawaii. I meant to do it then, but I’d rather not do it again.
I’ve always eaten meat, but I’d only really hunted for restaurants and grocers, so I wanted to know how it felt to take down my own dinner. To say the least, it was strange. Satisfying, yes, but also sad and difficult. From trigger-pull to field dressing, the whole experience was equal parts mind-opening, underwhelming, fascinating and unsettling. Albeit with an unfair advantage, I connected with a survival gauntlet that humans have been unleashing on the animal kingdom for eons. Plus, I caught dinner.
I hadn’t expected to sense so many other forces in the air that morning, prowling past a eucalyptus grove towards the rummaging sow. Astonishingly, that raven-haired beast’s bloodline had crossed the Pacific from ancient Polynesia, and some Hawaiians still revere the Polynesian pig’s godliness. In the millennium since its arrival, and especially in Captain Cook’s wake after 1778, creatures galore have come to this remote paradise – many with hooves, perhaps too many wearing shoes.
On that same trip, I met other Big Islanders whose livelihoods depended on hunting wild boar, an invasive (and often cross-bred) species from Europe that has thrived on the mostly thornless, poisonless plant life. With the import of pigs and cattle alone, the food chain that relies on Hawaii’s low-lying endemic vegetation has been trampled and remade. And two immigrant ungulates are but gestures in a perennial ritual that likely began long before humans knew how to build boats.
Hawaii is one of those places where the clash of cultures (between species and standards of living) and intertwining of lifecycles are in plain sight. From the sprawling ranch lands where I hunted, I could see an azure coastline peppered by palatial resort development, and also the flanks of 4,205-metre Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano with one of the global astronomy community’s most prized observatories on its crown. Atop the Big Island’s other volcano – the active one – hiking trails lead you across a post-apocalyptic expanse of char and sulphur into verdant rainforest, where protections against tough pests (like wild boars) are needed to sustain biodiversity. When you gaze along a gorgeous beach, those shocks of colour in the distance may just be plastic from the ocean’s garbage gyre.
Although we can’t match the drama of an erupting archipelago, this issue of A\J takes aim at crucial lifecycles that often fall below our radar. Author, educator and veterinarian David Waltner-Toews explains how the ecology of our shit (and the unchecked animal populations that contribute to it) is reconstituting the planet. Stu Campana profiles six water management systems that are helping high-density communities adapt to the deluges and quality issues that come with climate change. Andrew Wong examines the turmoil in our melting poles – and continues his research at alternativesjournal.ca by interviewing Katey Walter Anthony about the looming threat of methane release. Leeza Shabekov parses the mystical relationship between salmon and bears into a snapshot of the Pacific Northwest ecosystem’s fragile health. And emissions guru Ralph Torrie captures the essentials of how lifecycle analysis can help us reduce CO2 more effectively.
We also feature a moving photo essay by animal welfare activist Jo-Anne McArthur, who has spent a decade documenting other sentient beings enslaved by human appetites. I hope you’ll find her images of the Toronto Pig Save campaign as eye-opening as tracking that Polynesian sow was for me.
Conserve after reading,
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