Wednesday, 22 April 2009
Yesterday it was orthodox Easter. Everywhere you went in Greece you saw lambs turning on a spit, one of the Greek traditional Easter dishes (souvla). Another Greek traditional dish is stuffed lamb from the oven and even though you could not see them cooking, the smell of sweet baked lamb was everywhere in the air.
I love lamb meat so I always look forward to eating Easter dishes. This year however, I was less enthusiastic about eating sheep meat.
I do not know why, maybe the farmers got an additional subsidy or thanks to the crisis, less sheep are being eaten in general, but the fact is for months now we have been terrorized by sheep. Everywhere around the house they appear. Even in my dreams I keep on hearing their bleating and the tinkling of their bells.
You probably ask yourself how it is possible that you can be “terrorized” by sheep? They are quiet animals that hurt nobody! But they are also stupid animals that are very easily frightened. Maybe you remember that last year I took in two stray dogs: the big black Labrador Black Jack and the nearly starved hunting dog Bambi. I tried to find homes for them but without success. Black Jack is a dream of a good dog, but however much I tried, I could not get Bambi to take any notice of me. The only time she listened to what I said was when I told her ‘Dinner is ready’. Food, it seems, being her only daily concern.
Trouble started when the sheep appeared out of nowhere. Black Jack used to visit a girlfriend a little further along the boulevard and like when the sheep were around he liked to “play” with them too. As I said, sheep are easily scared, even if a dog doesn’t attack them. So, the farmer got Black Jack banned from the area and now he has to be chained, otherwise he will keep going out to see his girlfriend and “play” with the sheep.
As Bambi got stronger and healthier, her hunting instincts came back. She raced through the local landscape — like a hurricane chasing the sheep, leaving a lethal path of destruction behind her. She kept getting away from the chain and after a few more dead sheep we had no choice but to send her to the hunting fields in heaven.
But when the farmers started to accuse our winter dog Albino of chasing sheep, I got angry. First of all Albino cannot be chained up because he gets hysterical and I think he just runs after sheep when he just happens to come across them, by accident. He’s not out there looking for them and I’m sure he would never hurt one on purpose. So we had to come to a deal: when Albino gets caught terrorizing the sheep, there will be a price on his head, but for the moment he still is a free dog.
However, as a result of this is that we cannot take walks close to our home any more because there are sheep everywhere and we are really afraid of when Albino runs into one ...
In other parts of Molyvos there are other dog owners whose trusty hounds are accused by farmers of killing their sheep and it is plain that there is a sharp clash of cultures between dog owners who allow their dogs to run free and farmers who are not always around to watch over their sheep. So now I think I understand why there are so many dogs on chains here on the island...
I find it hard to say who is right. On one side some sheep farmers do not protect their sheep enough (especially from the numerous foxes here, who can’t be chained). On the other side dog owners should bear the responsibility for their dog’s behaviour. So I’ve learned something: I’ll never take in another stray dog! The truth is I am not used to them and don’t really know how to train them. So it’s been a very hard lesson.
But I have a solution, although I’m afraid that the Greeks may not accept it too quickly, because as long as there have been Greeks, sheep and goats have been part of their landscape. However, sheep are not only no good when it comes to getting along with dogs, they are also one of the world’s worst agents of environmental pollution.
Australian scientists say that their burps and farts contain methane gas and so they are responsible for a fair part of the accumulation of greenhouse gas in our atmosphere. There are 88 million sheep in Australia and they produce about 11% of the total emissions of methane gas there. Not to mention the 28 million cows. If you want to check it out have a look at this link: climate change methane gas cows & sheep
Just like the Greeks, Australians eat huge amounts of beef and sheep — which they always call lamb — but scientists are now suggesting they should eat kangaroo meat instead, because it will be better for the environment. This seems to me to be a perfect solution for Greece too. Because kangaroos don’t produce methane, and they eat and drink much less than sheep and cattle, they have much less impact on the environment.
Here in Greece sheep (and goats) have, over the centuries eaten and destroyed huge swathes of the landscape and since Greece (like Australia) has regular severe droughts, and as a result of intensive agriculture the ground water level is getting lower and lower and sheep are only making things worse. What’s more, it seems to me that kangaroos are not afraid of dogs — they can certainly use their prowess in leaping to escape any dog that dares chase them. So to me changing sheep for kangaroo seems to be an ideal plan that could suit everybody.
The question is how could kangaroo meat replace the traditional lamb souvla? In Australia consumers are now being advised to switch to kangaroo because it has less dangerous fat content but here in Greece it probably won’t catch on. Greeks love their traditional lamb dishes too much to change. But if every farmer got a special subsidy for every kangaroo that replaced a sheep I am sure that in a few years we would see and smell the delicious scent of baking kangaroo emerging from the ovens here at Easter time.
(with thanks to Tony Barrell)