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pick your poison

5 August 2012

our current region in southeast asia is experiencing a gold rush.

there has been an american-owned gold mine in this area for over two decades, but small-scale gold-mining has become very popular in recent years. the large foreign-owned mine has very strict safety guidelines, policies, and checks, especially related to the disposal of heavy metals used in processing ore. this large mine provides many people in this area (including several of our good friends and neighbors) with stable jobs. according to their website:  “we also have spent nearly a decade improving infrastructure, health care and education for nearby villagers.” this is true – even our garbage pick-up service is sponsored by the mine. all this to say, aside from some negative cultural implications, i really have very little against this large, foreign-owned mine.

i do, however, have a big problem with the small groups of gold-seekers who are pitching their tents on every hillside. remember our fun day at the farm? just next door was a group of people working diligently processing ore. we decided to ask some questions and look around. here’s what we found out (it’s not at all technical, given my lack of knowledge, the language barrier, and an inferior memory).

this machine processes ore using centrifugal force

the dirt, rocks, etc are put into these rented “gelondong”s – machines which spin and separate the gold from the other substances. and what do they use to make it happen? mercury.

this mercury, stored in a re-used plastic water bottle, is available to the public for about $200.

once the ore has been processed & the gold extracted, the water is dumped into pits, usually lined with sand, tarps, etc. the mud from these pits is usually taken to be processed again to get more gold out.

not a pretty sight.

mercury is known for causing serious damage to the human body. the famous example is mercury fillings, but there are also plenty of horror stories from gold-mining gone bad, where victims suffer from brain damage and birth defects. so, if you’re anything like me, you are horrified at this point. remember: we were at a picnic 100 feet away! but this wasn’t what horrified me the most (i’ve been living here for six months, so i’ve gotten used to this sight).

what made me cringe was our conversation with the man showing us around. when he showed us the bottle of mercury, we asked, “you do know this is really dangerous, right?” his response: “oh yeah, it’s true. it can have really dangerous long-term effects. but that won’t happen for another 20 years or so.”

he was serious. i was seriously upset.

we have since had a good conversation with our wise neighbor, who works at the large foreign-owned mine, about such practices. it is widely known and accepted that there are many problems with this gold rush. but there are also issues of infrastructure and corruption that stretch even further beyond careless mining. i was atleast encouraged to know that the governor is working very hard to solve these problems. no one wants brain damaged children, but we also don’t want violent riots either.

as i said, though, i was upset. i felt shocked at the carelessness of it all. it seems selfish, foolish, and cruel to pay such a high price in the long-run for something so shallow as profit, especially when you know better!

but here’s the thing i’m realizing as i continue on my real food journeyi do this all the time to myself! i knowingly put “poison” into my body. coca-cola, girl scout cookies (i enjoyed every bite, mom!), ritz crackers, oreos, mcdonalds, and starbucks. i enjoy the experience of consuming them. i know that in the long run the toxic substances in these products will harm my body. in fact, i am no doubt currently experiencing the negative effects of years of these toxins in my system. and yet, i keep on buying them and putting them in my mouth. why? because i’m still somehow convinced that the short-term pleasure justifies the long-term damage. but does it really? 

what “poison” do you pick, even though you know better? are you working to solve the problem? 


One Comment leave one →
  1. 6 August 2012 03:15

    How true, Rachel! I find this to be especially true with my parents, who are super interested in learning about the way I feed my family, but are reticent to change their ways. They *know* that the soda they are drinking is terrible for them, but they continue to drink it anyways. My weak spot is frozen yogurt. I can pass almost anything else up, but offer me a trip to the local froyo shop and I am done for!

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