Sunday, 29 December 2013

Maharashtra - Vegetarianation

In recent blog posts, I've been using a technique that I call the 'Google instant' test, to find out which questions are most asked on the Internet, in relation to the place that I'm blogging about.  It's quite good fun and very interesting, if you try it - just type in something like 'Do Indians . . . Is China . . . Are British people . . .' and you might be surprised by some of the questions that are commonly asked by people all around the world.

I've not done the Google Instant test on any Indian state before - so I thought I would broaden the scope a bit beyond my current topic, Maharashtra.  In the interests of easy-reading, I've limited it to one question only, which means, of course, that I've selected the question that I think is most interesting, i.e. 

Do Indians eat meat?

Pork tenderloin
As evidenced by previous blog posts (see Korea - the Google Instant Test) - we are a bit obsessed about what people in other countries eat.  There is a lot of anxiety around 'foreign food' - at least, in the English-speaking world - I haven't yet tried the Google Instant test in another language, so I'm not sure if it's just English-speakers who are obsessed with the things people eat, or if this is a worldwide phenomenon.

It's quite an interesting question, in relation to India, as Indian's do have a different approach to diet, especially when talking about meat consumption, than other parts of the world.  The main religions of India - Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, Jainism and Buddhism - all have restrictions in terms of eating meat.  Pork and beef, in particular, are off the menu for many Indians, because of their religious beliefs.

It's estimated that almost a third of Indians (around 400 million people) are wholly vegetarian.  To be honest, if I lived in India, I think I would be vegetarian too.  The vegetarian food I ate in India was much tastier than any of the meat dishes I tried (especially in South India) - the meat tended to be stringy and full of bones, so I stopped eating meat after the first few days.

Goat meat is popular across Africa
I found an interesting report on The Guardian's website, which compares meat consumption across the globe.  India has one of the lowest levels of meat consumption in the world - an average of 4.4 kilos per person. 'Western' countries tend to be the biggest meat consumers per capita - if you compare India, for example, with the United States (120 kilos per person - almost 30 times the Indian average) or the UK (84 kilos per person - almost 20 times the Indian average).

I was also quite interested in meat consumption in China (58 kilos per person), as China is, potentially, the world's largest market for meat.  India's neighbours also tend to have low consumption, if we compare India with Sri Lanka (6.3 kilos) and Pakistan (14.7 kilos).  Being a Muslim nation (as Pakistan is) doesn't necessarily mean lower meat consumption and I looked at the statistics for Saudi Arabia (54 kilos per person), which is almost as much as China.

Finally, I looked at Liberia (10.4 kilos), as I have recently blogged about this country and I wanted to see what meat consumption is like in Africa.  Meat consumption tends to be low in Africa, not because of religious reasons, but because of the high price of meat compared to local wages. 

Interestingly, the Guardian report compares meat consumption with CO2 emissions and cancer rates, which are correspondingly higher in meat-eating countries and the prevalence of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, which is higher in non-meat-eating countries. Of course, this might not be down to meat consumption, as there is an obvious 'developed/developing' nation divide within these statistics. 

Perhaps the most interesting thing of all is to compare meat consumption today (2013) with the meat consumption rates in the past (1969).  Looked at this way, we can see a marginal increase in countries like the USA and UK, of around 15%.  India and Sri Lanka have seen higher increases in meat consumption than 'Western' countries, about 20% in India and 40% in Sri Lanka, whereas Pakistan has almost doubled its level of meat consumption in that 40 year period.

How sustainable is a world of meat-eaters?
Both China and Saudi Arabia have had massive increases in meat consumption, with a 400% increase in Saudi Arabia and a 500% increase in China!

The rate of meat consumption in Liberia hasn't changed that much in 40 years, although it's actually gone down from a higher level of meat consumption (11.7 kilos) in 1989 which, no doubt, reflects an intervening period of civil war and political instability.

If the rate of meat consumption was to increase massively in India, as it has done in China, I wonder what impact that would have on the world's consumption of meat?  Higher demand would most definitely push up the prices.  I'm not a vegetarian and have no real wish to give up eating meat - however, I do think it would be better if we all cut down on the amount of meat we're eating - particularly in the so-called 'developed' world.  As we're finishing our leftover turkey and ham from our Christmas dinners, it might be worth bearing in mind the sustainability of our livestock/poultry/fish populations in a world full of meat-eaters!

Image credits:

I eat meat regularly, so I thought I would use my own images of meat to illustrate this blog post.  Please feel free to re-use these, under the Creative commons license:

- Attribution (particularly to this blog post)
- Share alike
- Non-commercial

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Maharashtra - Another India

For my next learning journey, I've decided to learn about Maharashtra, India's second most-populated state.  If Maharashtra was an independent country, it would be 12th largest in the world, in terms of population.  With 112 million people, it's just behind Mexico and Japan.  In terms of land area, Maharashtra is a bit smaller than Poland and a bit bigger than Arizona.  Maharashtra came into existence on the 1st of May 1960 and is a successor of the Bombay Presidency (which also included the state of Gujarat).

It isn't my first time to blog about India.  Back in May-July 2010, I did a series of blog posts on Rajasthan.  Unlike Rajasthan, which I still haven't managed to visit - I have actually been to Maharashtra, having spent Christmas there in 2002.  Spending Christmas in India was quite an experience and I still remember eating cold slices of turkey with cranberry sauce, as I sat sweating in an Irish bar in the Colaba district of Mumbai.

As well as spending a few days in Mumbai, I also visited Pune, as my travelling companion was interested to find out more about the Osho ashram (which turned out to be a great disappointment).  I had the best cup of tea ever in Pune - I can almost still taste it - very milky and full of ginger.

Gateway to India by Swami Stream
After Pune, I travelled alone to Kolhapur, Maharashtra's sixth largest city, as I wanted to experience a slice of everyday Indian life - this time I wasn't disappointed.  I met my first ever Hindu fundamentalist in Kolhapur, who poked me in the chest and asked me what I was doing there (at least I figured that was what he was saying, as I don't speak Marathi!).

I also remember an incredibly attentive waiter in Kolhapur, who insisted on standing beside me through the entire meal, so he could chop up my bits of food.  I was half-expecting him to start feeding me, or eat the meal himself!

As I've started researching and reading about India's history, I can't help thinking about Maharashtra as another India. It's probably the biggest Indian regional culture which is outside the dominant Hindi mainstream.  Mumbai is the largest city in India and held an important role during the time of the British Raj - yet Maharashtra doesn't dominate the history of India.  It would seem that India's history happened in the northern states - Delhi, Punjab and, after the British arrived, Kolkata. 

I find it ironic that, despite the fact that only 12% of the state's population speaks Hindi (69% speak the state language, Marathi) - Maharashtra is the home of Bollywood, the factory for Hindi culture and dreams.  It'll be interesting to get to the heart of this cultural divide and learn about Maharashtra and Marathi people, culture and language.

Shri Ganesha by Swami Stream
I've always been attracted to the Hindu god Ganesha or Ganapati and he's particularly popular in Maharashtra.  As well as being the mid-winter solstice, today is also the beginning of Pancha Ganapati, a five-day festival in honour of Ganesha - surely an auspicious day to start blogging about Maharashtra?

The festival seems to be most popular with people of Indian descent who live in other parts of the world, especially in nominally Christian countries, like the United States, where Christmas is almost universally celebrated.  I guess Pancha Ganapati gives ex-pat Hindus a chance to celebrate family, harmony and devotion at the same time as their Christian neighbours? 

I found the following video on YouTube which explains the tradition of Pancha Ganapati - enjoy! 

Image credits:

The picture of the Gateway to India - one of Mumbai's most iconic buildings - was taken by Flickr member Swami Stream a.k.a. Swaminathan, who is from Pune in Maharashtra, as was the picture of Shri Ganesha.  You can see more of Swaminathan's photos on his photo stream, or on his website

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Liberia - The Final Word

I've been blogging about Liberia for over two months - probably my longest time ever on one place, but I have been incredibly busy with real-life travel during this period.  Having done no less than 12 trips in 7 different countries, it's surprising I found time to do my research and blog at all!

It's been a great learning experience - not only about Liberia, but about West Africa and I've read lots of books and watched several movies set in or somehow connected to Liberia.  I learned about the history of Liberia and explored three of the most popular questions about Liberia on online search engines.  I learned about the importance of masks in West Africa and I read about Graham Greene's walk through Liberia in the 1930's.  I learned about international measuring systems and I learned how to cook palava, a popular West African dish.  I also blogged about ten random facts that I learned about Liberia. 

Kolahun by ChrysteleC
As usual, even with a long period of research, there were topics that I would have liked to explore further, but didn't have enough time.  If you wish to continue researching into Liberia, I would suggest the following topic areas:

- The difference between freedom and liberation
- Mangroves
- African airlines
- Polygamy
- FGM (ie. female genital mutilation)
- the flags of Liberian counties
- the role of the Blacksmith in traditional African ceremonies
- Firestone's presence in Liberia

The Final Word on Press Freedom

Monrovia Market by ChrysteleC
Blogging about Liberia, which was symbolically named after the concept of liberation, has made me think about the question - How do we measure how free/liberated a country is?

There are several (predominantly Western) indices which attempt to define how 'free' a country is.  One of the most well-known indices is The Press Freedom Index - which is compiled by the French-based Reporters without borders (Reporters Sans Frontières). 

Reporters without borders is a non-profit organisation which monitors attacks on press freedom worldwide.  Each year they publish the Press Freedom Index, which tries to measure press freedom of speech around the world.  70 journalists were killed in 2013, the highest number being 10 in Syria, followed by 8 each in India and the Philippines. 

Lofa by ChrysteleC
In 2013, Eritrea came bottom of the list of countries ranked by the Press Freedom Index, as they had done in 2012, when I was blogging about this country.  North Korea frequently takes second-last place, when it comes to press freedom.  Liberia came 97th on the list of 173 countries and is considered to be in a 'satisfactory' situation. 

The West African country with the best record is, perhaps not surprisingly, Cape Verde - which came 25th on the list, ahead of both the UK and the US.  Gambia has the lowest ranking of all West African countries, coming 152nd and is considered to be in a 'difficult situation'.  Although it's only one way of measuring 'freedom', I think the importance of independent reporting is a good indicator of how comfortable a government feels with internal criticism. 

There are other indices, which attempt to measure freedom and I had a lot of fun playing around with Freedom Meta-Index - this allows you to define your own criteria, eg. 'freedom of expression' and 'drugs rights', to see how free different countries are. 

The Music

I must admit, I didn't spend a lot of time listening to Liberian music - Liberia doesn't seem to have the 'big stars' that exist elsewhere in West Africa, although I could sense that music is as important to Liberia, as to any other nation in the region. 

I did quite like a musician called Shadow and he seems to be very popular with Liberians, so I'm going to leave you with one of his latest videos, from YouTube.

Image credits:

There are a limited number of photographers who have shared images on Flickr which were taken in Liberia but, nevertheless, I've managed to find some really beautiful images to illustrate my blog posts. 

For this final blog post I wanted to highlight the work of a relatively new member of the Flickr community, ChrysteleC - who joined Flickr in 2013, although I think the photos were taken in 2006.  You can see more of ChrysteleC's work on her photo stream.  Thanks ChrysteleC for sharing these images with us, using the Creative Commons License. 

Friday, 6 December 2013

Liberia - Ten random facts

As usual, I learned more interesting things about Liberia than I have had time to blog about – so I’m going to leave you with some interesting facts about this small West African country, to give you a taste of my wider learning experience.

1. In 1968, Liberia overtook the UK as the country with the highest number of registered ships in the world. This might seem a little bit strange until you find out more about the murky business of ‘flags of convenience’. First used by US companies, who starting registering their ships in Panama in the 1920’s, in an effort to keep costs down, there are now quite a few countries around the world that allow foreign companies to register ships in their country and fly their national flag. Liberia, Panama and the Marshall Islands are the top three countries of this type – other countries that are seen to operate ‘flags of convenience’ are the Bahamas, Barbados, Cyprus, Honduras, Mongolia (despite the fact that it’s a landlocked country), North Korea and Sri Lanka

Downtown Monrovia by David Sasaki
2. Liberia is sub-divided into fifteen counties and each county has its own flag. The newest county is Gbarpolu, created in 2001, it has a diamond on its flag, no doubt due to Gbarpolu’s proximity to Sierra Leone

3. Before its foundation in the early 19th century, the area which is now Liberia was known as the ‘Pepper coast’ and also as the ‘Grain coast’, in reference to the melegueta pepper which grows there. As a spice, melegueta pepper was also known as ‘grains of paradise’

4. Liberia adopted the British West African pound as its national currency, in 1907. The British West African pound was originally used by Liberia’s English-speaking neighbours in Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Gambia and Ghana. Liberia switched to the US dollar in 1943 and this was the country’s main currency until 1982. Liberians now use their own currency and one US dollar currently buys around 80 Liberian dollars

The Mamba Point motorcycle shot by David Sasaki
5. The US company, Firestone, crops up again and again in Liberia’s history. A source of employment for local people, Firestone could also potentially be seen as a source of exploitation of local resources and labour and may have been somehow involved in the Liberian slavery/forced labour scandal, investigated by the League of Nations in the 1930’s. At one point, Firestone owned 4,000 km2 of Liberia, which they had hoped to turn into the world’s largest rubber plantation.

6. Although I read a lot about the Liberian ex-pat community in Staten Island, I learned that there are also substantial Liberian diasporas in Minneapolis and Providence, Rhode Island.

7. Charles Taylor’s son was nicknamed ‘Chuckie’ Taylor and lived in Florida until he was seventeen. He developed a fearsome reputation as a commander in his father’s 'anti-terrorist unit' and is currently serving a jail sentence in the US, for his role in human rights violations

Liberian fisherman by David Sasaki
8. The border area between Liberia and Sierra Leone is a notorious ‘hotspot’ for Lassa fever. One of the world’s deadliest diseases, it kills around 5,000 people every year and, like Ebola, it’s a haemorrhagic fever, which basically means that victims bleed to death

9. The Liberian constitution still discriminates on the basis of race, in that, only ‘black’ African inhabitants can claim Liberian citizenship – people from other races, including the 4,000 or so people of Lebanese descent, cannot claim Liberian citizenship or exercise the right to vote, even if they were born in Liberia or come from generations of Liberian-born immigrants 

10. Sanniquellie, in Nimba county, is often referred to as ‘the birthplace of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU)’. In 1959, the political leaders of Liberia, Guinea and Ghana met to discuss the different paths to African unity. The talks later moved to Addis Ababa, where the organisation was officially founded in 1963

Image credits:

For this blog post, I wanted to highlight the photography of Flickr member oso, a.k.a. David Sasaki.  Originally from Seattle, David is now based in San Diego.  You can see more of his work on his photo stream.  Thanks David for sharing these images with us using the Creative Commons license.