Thursday 13 November 2008

The Royal Winter Fair: not for Eco-conscious City Dwellers

Emeth coralled in the "Ag-tivity Centre"
Due to the mixed blessing of Istra's sprained ankle, I was able to take both kids to the Royal Winter Fair on Wednesday. Since Istra would not get out of the stroller to walk (or run) around, I was able to keep both kids under control in a large building teeming with people. Istra's flying leap off the couch enabled us to visit with all kinds of dairy cows, goats, sheep, llamas, ducks, chickens, geese and pigeons.

The kids had a lovely time. We spent some time just wandering around, taking in the rows and rows of picture-perfect cows. I have never seen cows so clean and shiney. Their coats were groomed and glossy and even their little tail-tufts were teased and curled to perfection. There was not one speck of a cow patty to be seen. Istra told me that she saw a cow make a pee-pee, but honestly I did not see it. I cannot vouch that any of those cows made a pee-pee, ever.

painting pretty ponies
Then after a visit to the fascinating poultry section, we made our way to the petting zoo and the "Ag-tivity Centre", where Istra and Emeth fed some animals, coloured some pictures of farm animals, painted model horses and played with some farm animal figurines in a toy barn.

Like I said, the kids had fun; me, though--not so much. I was expecting a fair showcasing the practices of small, family-run farms. I do not know why I thought this; perhaps I have been spending too much time at the farmer's market. Instead, what I encountered at the Royal Winter Fair was display after display touting the benefits of industrial agriculture. There was the giant Semex display: a 20-foot long poster of yet another perfect cow with udder near-bursting and text happily informing farmers that, with their genetic-manipulation services, you too can have 500,000 cows that only just barely show the disease-inducing stresses of a life in close proximity to half a million other perfect cows.

As if that was not disturbing enough, I had my illusions properly shattered about dairy goat farming and grocery store eggs. For some reason I'd always been under the impression that since goat milk and cheese is not as popular as cow's the operation to harvest such milk must not be as industrialized. I was wrong. I also had the impression that Canadian egg producers were slightly more responsible than their American counterparts. Again, I was wrong.

raising egg-istential questions
I nearly walked past it, but I wheeled the stroller around to take pictures of the display at the Burnbrae Farms booth. I could hardly believe it. The Burnbrae Farms people had set up a display of battery-hen cages. As you can see, these are the cages with wire, sloped floors so that the four-or-so hens per cage get to spend their lives never setting foot on solid, level ground. There is not enough room for them to spread their wings and nothing for them to do but peck their insipid feed and pop out eggs which roll away from them the moment they hit the cage floor. These are the practices that bring these eggs to your grocery stores.

Ok, so what if you don't care if your egg-laying chickens never feel grass or dirt beneath their feet or if your dairy-producing cows are transported to their slaughter without food, water or rest? You may care about the effect that industrial farming has on the environment. This was the main incongruity with the Royal Winter Fair: there were ample booths there with "eco-themes"; Toyota even had a display of all their hybrid cars for a reason I could not discern. Yet amid the "all-natural" this and "eco" that, nothing was said about the environmentally devastating effects of certain kinds of farming. In fact, this kind of farming was lauded at the Royal Winter Fair, mainly for it's ease and profitability. It was as if the Fair was trying to cater to two distinctly different types of people: the rural famer looking to keep abreast of the latest in industrial farming technology, and the city slicker, who perhaps wanted a fun outing to "the country" and while there conveniently had environmental guilt assuaged by the sight of a Prius.

How long can inconsistencies like this exist side by side before people clue in? Perhaps this revolutionary idea is the precise thing needed to bring the two sides together and hopefully save our melting ice-caps."

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