Hand-crafted from golden straw bound with red thread, a curious little animal will soon be gracing Christmas trees once again. Obscured by their contemporary status as mere ornaments, the pagan roots of these Scandinavian Yule goats seem largely forgotten. But they may harken back as far as the Proto-Norse period and the worship of the god Thor who rode through the sky in a chariot drawn by two goats. What historians do know for sure is that the tradition of the Yule Goat coming in through the front door to deliver presents to children existed prior to the Protestant Reformation and continued on until the 1840s. Santa Claus himself (along with his reindeer) are simply other European manifestations of the gift-bringer archetype brought to life through the cross pollination of cultural symbols over time.
Today it is goats themselves that are frequently gifted in December, purchased through aid and development organizations as so-called ‘ethical alternatives’ to traditional gift-giving. But this particular feel good initiative for the privileged is well worth reconsidering. GiveWell, a charity-evaluating nonprofit dedicated to “helping donors have the greatest impact for every dollar donated” doesn’t recommend it. On their website they list many unanswered questions about the effects this gift might have, claiming to have found that “livestock-gift programs are among the more poorly documented developing-world aid programs out there.”
In response to critics, even the international charity Canadian Feed the Children (which runs livestock programs) reveals on the top of their list of pros and cons that it is true that “buying goats isn’t the most efficient donation option.” But offering animals has proven to be a very effective marketing tool for a wide variety of aid organizations. Canadian Feed the Children thinks it is a “good starting point” for donors “who may not know us well.” When they and similar organizations are overfunded for goats, for example, that money is most often simply redirected elsewhere. Also on their list of pros and cons, Canadian Feed the Children agrees that the high level of lactose intolerance among Africans, for example, makes dairy an inappropriate source of nutrition! They emphasize that, at least in their case, the goats provided are used primarily for meat not milk. In response to concerns about inhumane treatment of the animals they admit, “That’s a tough one.”
It should be noted that other aid agencies are heavily invested in dairy production – Farm Africa, for example, crosses British goats with local ones in order to increase milk yields (and resistance to local diseases.) Hunger relief and animal protection organization, A Well Fed World, has pointed out that animal-gifting programs appear to focus on small-scale farming, but in actuality can have large-scale implications that “pave the way for factory farming and drastically increase consumption of meat, dairy and eggs throughout entire countries and beyond.” Heifer International, for example, “boasted that their projects produced 3.6 million gallons of milk in one year in Uganda” and has established a nation-wide dairy program in Tanzania. A Well Fed World underscores the fact that these massive programs were “developed despite the high prevalence of lactose intolerance” in these regions where “native plant crops are capable of producing equal or greater amounts of protein, calcium and other nutrients.”
In November, on the 25th anniversary of the first ‘World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity’, more than 15,000 scientists from 184 countries co-signed a second notice. “Especially troubling,” it states, “is the current trajectory of potentially catastrophic climate change due to rising GHGs.” Agricultural production – “particularly from farming ruminants” is highlighted alongside the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation as seriously problematic. “Promoting dietary shifts towards mostly plant-based foods” is listed among the 13 steps humanity can take “to transition to sustainability.”
The world’s most disadvantaged peoples are the hardest hit by global warming. According to the World Food Programme “current projections indicate that unless considerable efforts are made to improve vulnerable people’s resilience, 20 percent more people will be at risk of hunger by 2050 due to the changing climate.” Those of us with the privilege of choice have a responsibility to choose wisely. Rather than funding livestock production, which is so much more water and resource dependent, why not direct your ethical gifting this season to an organization sponsoring resilience through forward thinking plant-based food projects? Sadhana Forest works with local people in Haiti, India and Kenya combating water shortages and hunger through the planting of indigenous food forests. A Well Fed World divides all donations to their Plants-4-Hunger project between four exciting programs that feed and empower children and their families in Ethiopia, India, Guatemala and the USA. Check out their websites for the pertinent details: sadhanaforest.com and awfw.org
This month’s recipe is in honour of my dear friend Ruth Masters, who passed away
on my birthday last month at the ripe old age of 97. Visitors were always offered one of Ruth’s famous ‘Gut Grinders’ with their cup of tea! Hundreds more are sure to be consumed at her Celebration of Life on Sun., December 10th between 1:00 and 4:30 pm at the Florence Filberg Centre in Courtenay, BC. Ruth was a long-time animal advocate and dedicated environmentalist loved by many. Here is my vegan-friendly version of her famous cookies – suitable to leave out for Santa (or even an old goat) with a glass of dairy-free milk on Christmas Eve.
Gut Grinders (with thanks to Kathy Jones for her recipe original)
2 cups raisins
2 cups coconut
4 cups rolled oats
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup fair trade organic chocolate chips
1 cup organic sunflower oil
4 flax eggs* (or sub ripe banana)
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. vanilla
Combine 4 T. of ground flax seed with 12 T. of water. Refrigerate for 15 minutes. Mix the dry ingredients together in one bowl. Whisk the wet ingredients together by hand, or use a blender if using a banana as your binder. Fold the wet and dry mixes together and form into balls. Flatten into one inch high cookies on a well-greased sheet and bake for 20 – 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Enjoy!