The Omnivore’s Dilemma

When we first arrived at the biological station two weeks ago, I was shocked. Everyone was shocked. If you’ve ever seen the Real World and the excitement that the people have to move into the new house, we shared that experience. Situated at the top of a mountain trail at 1500m, a giant wooden house awaited us.

Instead of a skyline of buildings, we had trees, and lots of them. Numerous trails surrounded the station, just waiting for us to observe and unveil the secrets of the rainforest. Inside the station was a large dining table where we’d have our meals. We were all surprised to find out that not only does the cooking staff make our meals, but they also make our beds every few days with new sheets, AND they do our laundry (for free of course). No complaints there. Is this real life?? Venturing on into our new home, every floor was hardwood. So pretty, yet at the same time, dangerous, when walking around in socks. I’ve slipped numerous times. The station also has a classroom, library, 2 chemistry labs, and an office. There’s a nice view of the rainforest no matter what part of the station you’re in. When we arrived, we also took an orientation hike, from 1500m to 1800m, a three hour venture all uphill.

And then, our “vacation” promptly ended with the start of class. For now, we have four classes, soon to be 5 when we start our independent research projects at the beginning of April. Class is from 8am- 6pm, everyday. It was tough these past few weeks in terms of homework, since everything was assigned all at once and due at the same time. Typically we have two lectures in the morning, and one in the afternoon before Spanish at 3. Our Spanish Immersion School is a lovely little place at the base of the trail to the bio station. It’s about a 15 minute walk downhill. Besides being a Spanish school, it has a bunch of amenities for us to use, namely a gym, and JACUZZI! Who woulda thought?

For one of our classes, Humans in the Tropics, we spend every Wednesday with a lecture on an overarching theme of human-related activity in the Tropics, and supplement that with visits to different places around Monteverde. An essay and quiz are due a few days after. The first topic we talked about was livestock use. We talked about beef, pork, and chicken production and how they catalyze environmental degradation with the production of greenhouse gases and animal waste. We supplemented our knowledge with visits to various farms. One of the farms we stopped at was…overwhelming. It was also a bit controversial. On our tour of the farm, we first took a look at the pigs. They were many of them, grunting and snorting loudly in cages with little space for movement.

 Their reality: being fattened up before slaughter. This sparked tears in my group. A separate facility had the sows, which were suckling their piglets. If only they knew their fate…

Makin’ bacon

Now, being the carnivore that I am, I’ve always known where meat comes from, but never before have I seen where it comes from, with my own eyes. Everything I saw seemed to validate everything I’ve either read or learned about the meat industry, from Upton Sinclair’s book, The Jungle, to Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. It’s eye-opening to read about something based on the author’s own observations and then experience the same thing for yourself. To quote Pollan, “To visit a modern Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) is to enter a world that for all its technological sophistication is still designed on seventeenth-century Cartesian principles: Animals are treated as machines– “production units”– incapable of feeling pain.” Many people view this treatment of animals in the meat industry as morally wrong and thus advocate vegetarianism. Our essay was to defend why we eat meat or why we don’t. While my main goal in writing this isn’t to fuel the never-ending debate on if it’s ok to eat meat, it is to be a little bit more insightful into the matter, coming from a relatable person as a college student. Even after visiting the farm, I will continue to eat meat and not feel guilty about my choice of food.

This Wednesday, the theme was crops, mainly coffee. In lecture, we learned what fair trade was, its setbacks, and supplemented this with visits to different coffee farms. The first farm we visited was a 4 Ha family farm of over 50 years, owned by a man named Eugenio. A non-fair trade farmer (in Costa Rica, many people are anti-fair trade, saying that it doesn’t impact small farmers enough, and that it’s an unproductive business model), Eugenio showed us around his farm. He grows bananas, coffee, and corn, among other crops.

Different flavors of coffee.

What is more, he also grows sugarcane, from which he makes a molasses-like sugar! The contraption used has a grinder on a wooden post with a revolving beam on top (as best seen in the video). Usually, oxen revolve the beam, but this time, we were the guinea pigs.

Click below to see video:

Thursday, as part of Insect Diversity Day, we went to another butterfly garden! This garden was a lot bigger than the first, with four exhibits. At the beginning of the tour, we were introduced to a variety of different insects. Walking sticks, gold scarab beetles, cockroaches, and scorpions that glowed under blacklight. And there were spiders. BIG tarantulas. I’m normally not a huge fan of insects in general, but tarantulas are (were) a definite no-go for me. I bit my tongue and held a tarantula.


It wasn’t that bad– they just have a bad rap. Coming from a pretty fearless person, I guess there’s something about going abroad that makes you leave all your “fears” back home and try something new. But hey, everyone has their own vice. Right?


1 thought on “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”

  1. I really enjoy reading about your time abroad. You’re making me think more about how the animals I eat are treated before they are food. As for the tarantula–no thanks! I look forward to reading more, Alex!

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