GOOD

Factory Farming Birds' Nests to Make More Soup

Custom built concrete birds' nest factories are taking over entire towns in South-East Asia as demand for edible bird's nest soup booms.


This drab, windowless concrete facade does not conceal an electricity substation, data servers, or a high security detention center. Instead, it is a factory farm for edible swiftlet swallow nests, the eponymous ingredient in traditional Chinese bird's nest soup.

The birds traditionally built their nests in the enormous limestone caves of Borneo, from where they were harvested by "skilled climbers using flimsy bamboo trellises." The nests, which are woven by the male of the species entirely from strands of saliva, dissolve in water to give a gelatinous texture to sweet or savory soups and are prized in Chinese cuisine for their reputed medicinal benefits.


For much of the 20th century, the market for the nests was limited to a wealthy few in Hong Kong, as Mao Zedong had condemned the soup as a "decadent luxury" in mainland China. Now, however, the BBC reports that a surge in demand "has forced prices up from about $400 a kilo (2.2 pounds, or the equivalent of about 120 nests) in the mid-1990s to $3,000 a kilo for the highest quality nests on today's market." The result is that custom built concrete birds' nest factories like the one showed above have spread across Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, and even Cambodia, towering above traditional one-story structures and transforming the urban landscape.

BBC reporter Joe Boyle visits Kumai, a small town at the southern tip of Indonesian Borneo, which he says has been completely taken over by the oversize birdhouses, becoming a "bird's nest soup factory town."

Kumai's human population is about 20,000. Its population of swiftlets—the tiny birds whose nests are so valuable to the Chinese—must be 10 times that number. They cover the sky, thrashing about and letting out screeches that are audible in every part of town.

"The Chinese started building birdhouses here about 10 years ago," says a local park ranger. "At first it was fine, but now it's taking over the whole town. The people don't have much of a say. Local politicians just let it happen."

\n

The internal design of these bird's nest farms—or swiftlet hotels, as they are sometimes called— is fascinating: the buildings are intended to mimic caves, with a carefully spaced matrix of wooden rafters replacing the ledges and crannies of a cave ceiling, and detailed attention paid to internal temperature, humidity, and even sound. According to the BBC:

Bird farmers are still notoriously secretive about how they attract the animals, but part of the method appears to be playing recordings of the swiftlets' song.

\n


Indeed, bird's nest farming seems to have become something of a boom industry across the region, with developers competing to attract investors with Balinese-themed "Swiftlet Paradise Resorts" and experts hawking "5 Star Swiftlet Chirp CDs". According to Wikipedia, Indonesia made $226 million in 2009 from the industry, which accounts for 0.5 percent of the country's GDP—equivalent to about a quarter of its fishing industry. The industrialization of edible bird's nest farming even has environmental benefits, an Oriental Bird Club representative told the BBC, as it reduces human disturbance in the more traditional cave habitats.

Images: (1) A typical swiftlet farm exterior, Thailand, photo by Alexander S. Heitkamp, via Wikipedia; (2) Bird's nests for sale in Chicago's Chinatown, priced at between $800 and $1,500 a box, photo by Maisnam, via Wikipedia (3) Detail of a swiftlet farm roof complete with loudspeaker, via Tirok Swiftlet Farm

Articles

The healthcare systems in the United States and the United Kingdom couldn't be more different.

The UK's National Health Service is the largest government-run healthcare system in the world and the US's is largest private sector system.

Almost all essential health services in the UK are free, whereas in America cost can vary wildly based on insurance, co pays and what the hospitals and physicians choose to charge.

A medical bill in the US

One of the largest differences is cost. The average person in the UK spends £2,989 ($3915) per year on healthcare (most of which is collected through taxes), whereas the average American spends around $10,739 a year.

So Americans should obviously be getting better care, right? Well, the average life expectancy in the UK is higher and infant mortality rate is lower than that in the US.

RELATED: The World Health Organization declares war on the out of control price of insulin

Plus, in the U.S., only 84% of people are covered by private insurance, Medicare or Medicaid. Sixteen percent of the population are forced to pay out of pocket.

In the UK, everyone is covered unless they are visiting the country or an undocumented resident.

Prescription drugs can cost Americans an arm and a leg, but in the UK, prescriptions or either free or capped at £8.60 ($11.27).

via Wikimedia Commons

The one drawback to the NHS system is responsiveness. In the UK people tend to wait longer for inessential surgeries, doctor's appointments, and in emergency rooms. Whereas, the US is ranked as the most responsive country in the world.

RELATED: Alarmingly high insulin prices are forcing Americans to flock to Canada to buy the drug

The New York Times printed a fair evaluation of the UK's system:

The service is known for its simplicity: It is free at the point of use to anyone who needs it. Paperwork is minimal, and most patients never see a bill. … No one needs to delay medical treatment until he or she can afford it, and virtually everyone is covered. …

According to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States spent 17.2 percent of its economic output on health care in 2016, compared with 9.7 percent in Britain. Yet Britain has a higher life expectancy at birth and lower infant mortality.

Citizens in each country have an interesting perspective on each other's healthcare systems. UK citizens think it's inhumane for Americans have to pay through the nose when they're sick or injured. While Americans are skeptical of socialist medicine.

A reporter from Politics Joe hit the streets of London and asked everyday people what they think Americans pay for healthcare and they were completely shocked.

Health

Bans on plastic bags and straws can only go so far. Using disposable products, like grabbing a plastic fork when you're on the go, can be incredibly convenient. But these items also contribute to our growing plastic problem.

Fortunately, you can cut down on the amount of waste you produce by cutting down on disposable products. And even more fortunately, there are sustainable (and cute) replacements that won't damage the environment.

Coconut bowls


Cocostation

Who says sustainable can't also be stylish? These cute coconut bowls were handmade using reclaimed coconuts, making each piece one of a kind. Not only are they organic and biodegradable, but they're also durable, in case your dinner parties tend to get out of hand. The matching ebony wood spoons were polished with the same coconut oil as the bowls.

Cocostation Set of 2 Vietnamese Coconut Bowls and Spoons, $14.99; at Amazon

Solar powered phone charger

Dizaul

Why spend time looking around for an outlet when you can just harness the power of the sun? This solar powered phone charger will make sure your phone never dies as long as you can bask in the sun's rays. As an added bonus, this charger was made using eco-friendly silicone rubber. It's win-win all around.

Dizaul Solar Charger, 5000mAh Portable Solar Power Bank, $19.95; at Amazon, $19.95; at Amazon

Herb garden kit

Planter Pro

Put some green in your life with this herb planter. The kit comes with everything you need to get a garden growing, including a moisture meter that helps you determine if your herbs are getting the right amount of food to flourish. All the seeds included are certified to be non-GMO and non-hybrids, meaning you can have fresh, organic herbs right at your fingertips.

Planter Pro's Herb Garden Cedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazonedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazon

Reusable Keurig cups

K & J

Keurig cups are convenient, but they also create a ton of plastic waste. These Keurig-compatible plastic cups are an easy way to cut down on the amount of trash you create without cutting down on your caffeine. Additionally, you won't have to keep on buying K Cups, which means you'll be saving money and the environment.

K&J Reusable Filter Cups, $8.95 for a set of 4,; at Amazon

Low-flow shower head

Speakman

Low-flow water fixtures can cut down your water consumption, which saves you money while also saving one of the Earth's resources. This shower head was designed with a lighter flow in mind, which means you'll be able to cut down on water usage without feeling like you're cutting down on your shower.

Speakman Low Flow Shower Head, $14.58; at Amazon

Bamboo safety razor

Zomchi

Instead of throwing away a disposable razor every time you shave, invest in an eco-friendly, reusable one. This unisex shaver isn't just sustainable, it's also sharp-looking, which means it would make a great gift for the holidays.

Zomchi Safety Razor, $16.99; at Amazon

The Planet
Instagram / Leonardo DiCaprio

This August, the world watched as the Amazon burned. There were 30,901 individual fires that lapped at the largest rainforest in the world. While fires can occur in the dry season due to natural factors, like lightning strikes, it is believed that the widespread fires were started by loggers and farmers to clear land. Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, cites a different cause: the actor Leonardo DiCaprio.

DiCaprio wasn't accused of hanging out in the rainforest with a box of matches, however President Bolsonaro did accuse the actor of funding nonprofit organizations that allegedly set fires to raise donations.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet