In one country, elephant sashimi is all the rage




By ANDREW LAM, New America Media


SAN FRANCISCO ― In Asia, there’s an ongoing irony that deepens as the natural world dwindles to the size of a parking lot. Wild animals, once revered and assigned all kinds of spiritual meaning, are increasingly ending up as the main entree.


The tiger, for instance, that fierce and terror-inducing king of the jungle, is no longer feared so much as coveted: as a rug, as jewelry made of fangs, as a quixotic dish, or as medicinal products made from its various parts thought to improve man’s sexual prowess.


But nowhere is the irony as deep as it is in Thailand, where the regal elephant is now being served up alongside the tiger: on a fanciful diner’s plate.


According to a recent Associated Press article, a new taste for elephant meat has sprung up in mega-modern Thailand.


Traditional poaching for male elephant tusks has evolved, with a growing taste for their meat driving hunters to begin targeting female and baby elephants as well. Not exactly a traditional Thai delicacy, the emergence of an army of nouveaux riches across East Asia has fueled ever-more garish culinary trends.


Elephant sashimi, now apparently all the rage, is part of a mindset at once boastful and shallow: if it’s the last elephant, then I will show my friends that I can afford it.


So here’s the irony: The Asian elephant is still a revered cultural icon in Thailand, gracing bas-reliefs of temples and ancient paintings of battle scenes, but it is fast disappearing. The country whose civilization was more or less built on the elephant’s back is now turning its back on the animal.


Indeed, the elephant once served as both builder and war machine: carrying logs and rocks and uprooting trees to build palaces and temples, while fighting countless wars bedecked in the armor of a warrior.


Within Buddhism, Thailand’s state religion and a binding force across much of the region, the elephant remains sacred. According to legend, a white elephant appeared in the dream of Queen Maya, holding a white lotus flower in its trunk. She later gave birth to the historical Gautama Buddha, Siddhartha.


Alas, sacred is quickly cast off for cold hard cash. A pair of tusks can fetch as high as $63,000. Though illegal, poaching has now reached what environmentalists are calling a “crisis point.”


At the beginning of last century there were more than 100,000 wild elephants in existence. One hundred years later the population has plummeted to less than 3,000.


Classified as an endangered species, the Asian elephant is expected to disappear from the wild altogether around 2050, if not sooner.


But while poaching is particularly abhorrent, there are other reasons behind the elephant’s disappearance, including deforestation.


For domesticated elephants in Thailand, deforestation means no more jobs. Logging in Thailand‘s forests has long relied on the strength of the powerful pachyderms. An elephant can pull half its weight and carry 600 kilos ― more than 1,300 pounds ― on its back. In hilly countryside where roads are small and inaccessible to trucks, an elephant is indispensable for the timber business. But logging is all but illegal now in Thailand, and the domesticated elephant, it seems, is out of luck.


An average elephant weighs 11,000 pounds, and consumes more than 26 gallons of water and 440 pounds of food a day. That’s why their owners consciously curb breeding among the captive beasts, bringing down their number even farther.


Many owners, left with no other choice, have now turned their elephants into urban beggars. For the wild elephant conditions are even worse.


Only about 15 percent of the country is still forestland, and those patches are widely scattered. Many wild elephants resort to raiding farms for crops, where they are often shot or poisoned by subsistence farmers. In the story of miserable beast pitted against impoverished human it’s a no brainer who comes out on top … with fork in hand.


Man has conquered everything but himself. The wild is now what we call a reserve, the wilderness nowhere but within. In a world where even the sacred is devoured, one can’t help but wonder what are the chances for other species on the endangered list.


NAM editor Andrew Lam is author of “East Eats West: Writing in Two Hemispheres,” and “Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora.” His next book, “Birds of Paradise,” is due out in 2013.


Báo Người Việt hoan nghênh quý vị độc giả đóng góp và trao đổi ý kiến. Chúng tôi xin quý vị theo một số quy tắc sau đây:

Tôn trọng sự thật.
Tôn trọng các quan điểm bất đồng.
Dùng ngôn ngữ lễ độ, tương kính.
Không cổ võ độc tài phản dân chủ.
Không cổ động bạo lực và óc kỳ thị.
Không vi phạm đời tư, không mạ lỵ cá nhân cũng như tập thể.

Tòa soạn sẽ từ chối đăng tải các ý kiến không theo những quy tắc trên.

Xin quý vị dùng chữ Việt có đánh dấu đầy đủ. Những thư viết không dấu có thể bị từ chối vì dễ gây hiểu lầm cho người đọc. Tòa soạn có thể hiệu đính lời văn nhưng không thay đổi ý kiến của độc giả, và sẽ không đăng các bức thư chỉ lập lại ý kiến đã nhiều người viết. Việc đăng tải các bức thư không có nghĩa báo Người Việt đồng ý với tác giả.

Southern California meadows welcome spring with fields of golden poppies

Titi Mary Tran/Nguoi-Viet English LAKE ELSINORE, Calif. (NV) – Everyone’s mood was elevated, as if they had just taken some golden medicine for their souls. Countless visitors flocked to Walker Canyon near Lake Elsinore in Southern California one March weekend...

Lessons from Vietnam make culture come alive for Vietnamese American student at Cornelia Connelly high

Students at Cornelia Connelly School, a Catholic college-preparatory high school for girls in Anaheim, are encouraged to do community service as part of their graduation requirements and it sparks a lifelong passion for serving.

It looks like beef and tastes like beef, but it isn’t beef

Impossible Foods, a company that uses plant-based ingredients to make food that looks and tastes like meat, debuted its “Impossible Burger” during the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show here last month.

American vs. Vietnamese pho differs in more than just ingredients

The comforting Vietnamese beef noodle soup that I look for when I'm sick.

Welcome, Year of the Pig!

30 Tet 2019

Tet 2019 in Little Saigon, Year of the Pig

It's that time of year when the Lunar calendar pushes aside the Gregorian calendar and brings about a celebration of fresh flowers, tropical fruits, colorful trinkets, lion dances, and a plethora of food and fortune greetings to mark the occasion.

CES 2019 highlights: Flying car, Wall TV, roll-up TV screens, 5G, blockchain technology and AI

If Disneyland is the place where dreams come true for children, the Consumer Electronics Show is the space where adults make their dreams a reality.

Little Saigon: Asian-Americans protest Trump administration’s push to deport Vietnamese war refugees

Nearly 200 Asian-Americans gathered in Little Saigon on Saturday to protest the Trump administration’s efforts to deport protected Vietnamese immigrants, many of whom have lived in the United States since fleeing their home country during the Vietnam War.

One night in the ‘haunted house,’ the Buddha statue and the ‘hidden treasure

Ngọc Lan & Ðằng-Giao/Người Việt Translation: Titi Mary Tran Editor’s note: Nguoi Viet News reporters Ngoc Lan and Đằng Giao set out to answer the questions regarding the property, and the house, at the corner of Euclid Street and Hazard Avenue...

To tell the truth: Đằng was scared

Ngọc Lan & Ðằng-Giao/Người Việt Translation: Titi Mary Tran Editor’s note: Nguoi Viet News reporters Ngoc Lan and Đằng Giao set out to answer the questions regarding the property, and the house, at the corner of Euclid Street and Hazard Avenue...