Shine on you crazy diamond

Dear Uma: So Andrew is to be a diamond; only in So Cal would this be presented as a logical and lovely thing to do with a loved one's ashes.

Dear Uma:

So Andrew is to be a diamond; only in So Cal would this be presented as a logical and lovely thing to do with a loved one’s ashes. There is something fitting about Andrew as a diamond, and who better to wear him than you? Will you have him on your finger or around your neck? Maybe in your ears? Knowing this was his wish, to be so transformed, gives rise to all sorts of wonderings that someday we must talk about.

I can understand what you mean when you say his peaceful death is a kind of relief; it was tough on everyone when he began to quickly fade and shrink, and was clearly on his way out. How very like Andrew not to make a big fuss, or linger; he was always good at the timely exit.

There is no escaping the subject of death and dying these days. I go online in search of some charismatic microfauna, anticipating being cheered by looking at photos of my favourite, the water bear. Along the way I am unable to resist a caption which claims Girl Scout cookies are killing orangutans. Despite my vow to Pete to stay away from grim subjects for awhile, I was hooked.

An organization whose stated mission is to “build girls of courage, confidence and character who make the world a better place” is facing some serious credibility issues. The whistleblowers are two of their own: Rhiannon Tomtishen and Madison Vorva, members in good standing, discovered one of the ingredients in some of the varieties of the cookies was palm oil, a substance that is not only unhealthily high in saturated fats, but the growing of palm plants for the production of the oil is a cruel and bloody business.

Relegated to ever smaller fragments of forest and the depletion of their food sources, starving wild orangutans are being driven to newly established oil palm plantations to feed on the young shoots of palms. The animals may get a good feed but the plants die, and in the world of commerce those plants are far more valuable than our prehensile-heeled relatives.

Plantation managers put a bounty on the hungry critters, and in a place of hungry humans whose place in the human food chain equals that of the orangutans, this economic opportunity was seized upon with alacrity. Michelle Desilets, executive director of the Orangutan Land Trust reports orangutans are being beaten to death with wooden planks and iron bars, butchered by machetes, beaten unconscious and buried alive, doused with petrol and set alight. Since 2004, more and more of the animals in the rescue centres have been found in places within or near oil palm plantations, with more than 90 per cent of the infants up to three years of age coming from these areas.

I don’t know of a young woman who would not be horrified by this information, and our two heroes were no exception. They stopped selling the cookies, of course, but they went further by launching an effort to encourage the Girl Scouts to switch to more environmentally friendly and healthier alternative, like canola oil.

Unbelievably, the organization’s CEO refused to act despite the support of Girl Scout troops across the country, the encouragement of the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Centre for Biological Diversity, and the signature of Jane Goodall on the girls’ petition.

The knowledge that an organization like Girl Scouts has a CEO tells me they are not just about providing girls with opportunities to develop courage and confidence and an affinity for nature; it is about money. It must have been a shock to discover that Rhiannon and Madison had taken their stated mandate to heart, and that so many of the other members supported this revolution of the troops.

The British sister organization, the Girl Guides, has eliminated palm oil and replaced it with olive oil and/or canola, finding not only does it help save forests, but it resulted in a 60 to 70 per cent reduction of saturated fat.

What a tangle we find ourselves in when we start to attempt eating, not only, healthier food but also more environmentally and politically correct foods. In truth, I’ve never been a fan of store-bought cookies, and the Girl Guide cookies were no exception; I read the list of ingredients and it was ‘hello polysyllabics’ and back to baking.

Now with this news of the orangutans I feel this sacrifice has made my karmic burden grow infinitesimally lighter, although there’s still all those hamburgers I ate before finding out about the pink slime, and the probably hundreds of cans of tuna I’ve eaten before learning about dolphin deaths.

I’ve lost count of how many foods I have quit buying as I learn more about where they come from and how they are made. I see myself soon being reduced to eating nothing but porridge and moose meat, washed down with sustainably produced tequila or organic wine. If I should ever find out that something conscious or cute is dying in the production of booze, I will be ready to shuffle off this mortal coil.

Living in Watson Lake means that on those rare occasions when my interest in this issue of food politics overcomes my good sense and I initiate discussion about it, I am most often looked at like a cat bringing up a hairball. A cruise down the aisles of our grocery store is testament to the lack of care in what is consumed by its customers; it is difficult to find real food among the hundreds of TV ads come to life.

It is not as though the information is not around; it’s hard to avoid. Even the Canadian government has twigged to the unsuitability of pop and processed fruit juices as good nutrition and runs messages to that effect where they cannot be missed – on television. The messages, however, are not eye-catching; there are no dancing ducks, half-naked young women, or Justin Bieber tossing his newly cropped hair. There is nothing to encourage the jaded viewer to stop, look and listen.

I’m thinking ads designed specifically for a region would be more successful. How about a team of fat boys playing hockey? There they’d be in their XXXL jerseys, sweating their way through a game that would of necessity consist of just one period. The winner would be the team with one member still standing, the rest having fallen on the ice and unable to get up without assistance. That would get attention; all those hockey dads and moms spending their hard earned cash of junior’s chance at the NHL would soon put a stop to the sugary drinks.

Maybe this seeming indifference is a kind of despair. Maybe it is too overwhelming to even consider trying to make some sort of small difference in a small life. The news is so appallingly harsh when it comes to the state of the whole planet that the notion of being healthy and living longer is probably not all that appealing. Better to enjoy whatever pleasures one can before it all falls apart and the global elite leave for those newly discovered 12 planets that look as though they may sustain human life.

As for me, I will continue to make my efforts for universal good simply because it makes me feel better. I can’t knit scarves for the troops in Afghanistan, or adopt more African children by mail, or grow my own grains, but I can contribute to the efforts to stop the slaughter of our hairy cousins by not eating cookies that I don’t like anyway. It’s a win-win situation.

I approached Pete with the notion of becoming a diamond; I’m growing fond of the idea, and confess I have already found a locket design that I fancy. Pete did not warm the vision of himself as jewellery, even when I told him it would mean he would never be forgotten, or far from my mourning self. He countered my plan with the unlikely scenario of me going ahead of him to paradise, and how would I like my ashes being made into a glittering fish hook, with a hank of my hair for an added attraction?

I was willing to be fashioned into a diamond, but I did not want all my good work for the earth and its creatures to end up with me as a lure for innocent fish who are already struggling for survival in a poisoned environment. The discussion may have ended with no resolution, but it is not over.

Take care of you, my friend, in these coming months. I am looking forward to our get together in Vancouver. Will you be wearing Andrew?



Heather Bennett is a writer who lives in Watson Lake.