Barbecue, World Records, Beauty, and Brazil

Barbecue, World Records, Beauty, and Brazil

Spot the soybean?

What is it about the persistent desire to be the biggest or the most (it not the best)? The still holds a huge allure it seems. I recently read about a woman who’s already in the Guinness Book of World Records as the heaviest woman ever to give birth. Now she’s working toward her goal of weighing 1,000 pounds so she can become the fattest woman in the world. (She earns a living from people paying to watch her eat, via the Web no less. It almost goes without saying: she lives in the United States.)

From Brazil, Associate Simone de Lima sends news that the world’s largest barbecue was to be held in the capital, Brasilia, with Guinness Book of World Records judges in attendance. But it ended up being called off, the organizers said, due to an “international crisis in world meat prices” that would have made JBS, the world’s largest meat-packing corporation and one of the mega barbecue’s sponsors, look “wasteful.” Indeed. Something that wasn’t wasteful, or competing for a Guinness record, was the Brazil pavilion at the Cancun climate summit. One of a series of (generally large or wealthy) country exhibits at the Cancunmesse, Brazil’s was, in a word, gorgeous.

It featured a recreation of a mangrove ecosystem and large video installations of arresting images of Amazon wildlife — mammals, birds, and aquatic animals. Informative wall panels acknowledged forest destruction, urged forest protection, and highlighted Brazil’s efforts to stop illegal logging and sustainably harvest rainforest products. Others provided details about Brazil’s many indigenous communities that live within the Amazon. (The U.S. pavilion, even in the age of Obama was, true to past conference form, blandly bureaucratic: beige walls, some wan video monitors, and a stack of booklets. Nothing very inspiring, alas.) But what I didn’t see were any images, or even a mention, of cows even though Brazil’s a Guinness-qualifier: the largest beef exporter in the world or soybeans, despite a large, quite lovely display of cultivated seeds, including acai, red and yellow tento, and sapa caina. Brazil just harvested a record tonnage of soy and is the world’s second-largest supplier — possibly aiming to be the first.

Cattle and soy have taken a huge toll on the Amazon and Brazil’s Cerrado, both realities that Brighter Green’s recently-released policy paper, Cattle, Soyanization, and Climate Change: Brazil’s Agricultural Revolution, and accompanying video, document. Why the exclusion of cattle and soy in the pavilion? Perhaps they didn’t fit the aesthetic. Or perhaps some of the pavilion’s sponsors, among them the Confederation of Livestock and Agriculture of Brazil (CNA), Vale, a huge mining corporation that just bought Bunge’s Brazilian fertilizer business for more than $3 billion (fertilizer is a hot commodity globally due in no small measure to the demand for “feed” crops for farmed animals), not want a climate spotlight to shine on either cattle or soybeans? Or, to attract the attention of the Guinness judges? On design grounds, the Brazil pavilion earned high marks. But for delving deep into climate change realities, I’d have to deduct points. At least there wasn’t any barbecue.