Hyundais and Hamburgers - to São Paulo We Go!

Day 9: Tuesday, January 14th

Since our free time is so precious here, Erin, Sejal and I decided to pack our own lunches from the breakfast buffet. “Next time, be a little less conspicuous!” Dr. Pfister advised us. I guess packing three sandwiches in a plastic bag and putting them in your backpack isn’t very subtle.

The lunches didn’t turn out that great. I chose a sweet, crumbly bread and greasy, sliced sausages with caramelized onions. It was a soggy mess by lunchtime! We were eating on the benches out front when Logan and I noticed an industrious trail of ants carrying away dropped chunks of bread. We spent a long time observing those little insects – the tiny workers and larger soldiers, and the way several ants cooperated on slightly larger pieces of food. We experimented by placing a piece of bread outside of the ants’ line to see how long it would take them to find it, but we didn’t hang around long enough to find out.

This evening we had our last Portuguese class. I was sad about that, but most people were celebrating. We learned the words to a popular Brazilian song called Águas de Março. I’ve heard this song a couple times now and I really like it! By the end of the class, we were singing along with the song’s catchy YouTube video.

I’m sure everyone’s journal will contain a detailed description of Enrique’s barbecue! The night began as a friendly get-together between the Ohio State and Mizzou students, but it quickly escalated into a drunken shit show, pardon my French. The house was just like fraternity house, complete with panties strung above the doorway and a naked female mannequin who had been remodeled to include to baby-bottle nipples over her breasts for guys to drink beers through. Not my style.

I tried to make conversation with the Mizzou kids I had spent the day with a week earlier, but people were either disinterested or too drunk. I abandoned the effort and had fun dancing to pop and country on the sticky, beer-coated floor.

Mizzou guys started breaking glasses, bleeding all over the kitchen, and passing out in the living room. Shirota decided we had drunk enough and proclaimed, “The bar is closed!” A huge tropical storm hit and began dumping down rain. We were kicked out of the party before midnight!

The march through the downpour was epic. The sober people joined together to get the inebriated folks home. When we finally arrived at the hotel, we counted off to see if we all made it home, and someone was missing. “I lost John!” shouted Gabby, running into the hotel lobby in her flip flops. Apparently, John had run off in the rainy night.

My first priority was getting my own roommates safely in bed, but once that was over I headed back to the lobby to see if I could help. I was sent out in a search party, and within minutes John was discovered down the street, passed out and soaked. Finally, I changed out of my wet dress and hit the sack!

Day 10: Wednesday, January 15th

Tour day! I wasn’t particularly interested in the Hyundai Factory, but it was better than another eight hours in class.

The giant complex of buildings was surrounded by parking lots full of Hyundai cars.

We were forbidden to take photos. Before the tour, a Hyundai woman came onto the bus and stuck little red stickers over all our cellphone cameras.

Hand over your phones!

Custom Hyundai "anti-click" stickers for both front and back iPhone cameras.

The coolest part of the tour was seeing the twelve-armed, high-speed, totally automated welding robots. As I watched the metal arms whir around the bodies of half-formed cars, it was clear this system was superior to human workers who would need to be trained and could be injured in the process of welding.

I’m not sure why we toured the Hyundai factory. It didn’t have anything to do with agriculture, and I think the day could have been better spent at a grain or beef farm, or perhaps an orange or sugarcane plantation. My friends and I were very tired, so we played mind games to keep ourselves awake during the tour. We tried to count the number of times the word “Hyundai” was said, but we lost count.

After the Hyundai tour, we went back to Coplacana, the coop I had visited with the Missouri group. I thought my second time at the coop might get boring, but my experience was completely different with Ohio State students. After the short video, we spent an hour asking questions in the auditorium. People wanted to know everything from the history of sugarcane growing to the specific packaging requirements of organic soybeans to the controversies surrounding genetically modified organisms in Brazil.

I asked the questions that had nagged me earlier and I learned lots. For example, Brazil has a progressive new law which requires farmers to wash out their pesticide containers three times and return them for recycling at an official facility. The goal is to avoid chemical runoff into streams and soils, but I didn’t understand why a farmer washing the container would help. I pictured a farmer holding a garden hose, cleaning out the pesticide jug three times in his front yard. Shirota politely explained that the washing takes place when the pesticide is used: when the farmer dilutes the chemical with the appropriate amount of water into the bulk tank, he simply swirls water in the jug at least three times. Ohhhhhhhh.

I also learned more about sugarcane processing. Until this year, sugarcane was burned in the field before harvest to reduce the work for harvesters. As of 2014, burning is banned by law, so most farmers are switching to mechanical harvest. Interestingly, sugar mills have capitalized on the new law by accepting all parts of the plant – the papery green leaves in addition to the sugary cane. The cane is squeezed for sugar; the leftover mash is used to produce ethanol; and the green leaves are burned to produce electricity. Sugar mills have always burned leftover plant material to fill their own electricity needs, but now – with the extra green matter and improved efficiency – mills are producing surplus energy which they sell back to the utility companies. There are always tradeoffs to new techniques, but it seems like an environmentally positive adjustment to harness the energy from burning sugarcane leaves rather than setting fire to them in the field.

We toured the facilities and ate lunch at Coplacana. We were then scheduled for a tour of a biodiesel factory and a dairy processing plant, but some accident meant those tours were cancelled. We got back to the hotel at 2pm for an entire afternoon of free time! We were elated.

We played intense games of frisbee and Marco Polo in the suspiciously unchlorinated swimming pool. I split a filet mignon with Erin at a new restaurant, which we call The Suckling Monkey, and retired to my room for homework. As usual, I was in bed by 10pm but asleep closer to 1am. It’s hopeless.

Day 11: Thursday, January 16th

Today was our last day of class before our trip to the city of São Paulo. Erin, Sejal, AJ, and I decided to save time by grabbing lunch at the ESALQ cafeteria. We ordered a variety of fried foods from the display case – little tear-drop shaped chicken dumplings called coxinha (pronounced co-sheen-ya) and round balls labeled “hamburger.” Unfortunately, all the foods contained a thick layer of this smooth, liquidy, white cream-cheese called catupiry. We felt more than a little queasy after that meal.

Tonight my first objective was packing for the São Paulo trip and taking my extra bag down to Dr. Pfister’s room for safe-keeping. Everyone headed down to the lobby to play cards, which sounded like a ton of fun, but I decided to stay in my room to work on my Hollings Scholarship application. This is one of those applications that I’ve been putting off for months (it’s due on January 31), and now that I’m here in Brazil with next to no free time, it’s really starting to stress me out.

Of course, once I was in my room, I found more important things to do than start my essay: skyping with my mom. It was great to hear updates from home, and in the end my mom gave me the encouragement I needed to sit down and start outlining my essay. I had hoped to get to bed earlier than the card-players, but Erin and Sejal made it back to the room while I was still on Skype and we all got to bed late, as usual – but at least I was feeling inspired rather than hopeless about my application.

Tonight was the first time I missed a social event to work. I felt bad about skipping out, since you’re only in Brazil once and you gotta experience everything you can! Hopefully, I’ll become more efficient with my time in the future so I won’t have to skip anything else. No more Facebook breaks! (Yeah right.)

Day 12: Friday, January 17th

Up and out early, headed for São Paulo! I slept well on the bus, but I was still severely sleepy when we pulled up at Food Town. Have you heard of Food Town? It’s an enormous meat processing complex which produces foods for many companies, the most notable being McDonald’s. This particular Food Town supplies the hamburgers, buns, and breaded chicken for Brazilian and Middle Eastern McDonald’s restaurants.

This tour was the most interesting one so far. I loved getting a peek into the reality of factory farming and industrial food production. The organic movement is vocally opposed to this system of food production, yet this system feeds the vast majority of people in America and much of the world.

Before we entered the factory, we were told to remove all makeup and nail polish. We were given white full-body suits, moon boots, gloves, and hair nets (and beard nets, if applicable). We disinfected our boots in a high-tech sudsing device, and finally were permitted to enter.

We shivered through freezer and refrigerator rooms, learning about the ratio of fresh-to-frozen meat which is used to perfect the consistency of the hamburger patties. We peered into vats of beef and watched shiny metal machines pop out five perfect patties every second. I had one of those epiphany moments when I watched one little patty travel all the way down the line into a sealed box, and realized that one day soon, that patty will be served on a bun and eaten somewhere in Brazil or the Middle East. Weird.

Here are my observations about the pros and cons of Food Town.

Cons: The food production was incredibly impersonal and the scale was massive. The workers in the factory acted like machines, spending all day on one repetitive task, and that cannot be fun.

Pros: Extraordinary attention was paid to food safety, probably more than would be paid in a smaller, independent operation. The system was extremely efficient, and produced an immense amount of food cheaply and quickly.

At the outlet of the patty-making machine, every now and then a malformed or double patty would pop out. These patties were automatically dumped into a cardboard box. “What happens to those patties?” I asked.

“Those go into pet food,” replied our tour guide. Nothing goes to waste!

I thought it was funny how McDonald’s and Burger King, along with twenty or so competing restaurants, use the exact same machines to make their burgers. According to our tour guide, the restaurants have completely different (and secret) recipes for their products, but how different can they really be? No wonder I can’t tell the difference between fast food chains.

After the tour, we spent almost an hour asking questions about everything from the fast food industry in Brazil to the feedlot versus grass-fed systems of raising cattle. I loved seeing how the tour sparked each person’s curiosity in a different way. It showed how every field of agriculture culminates in food production.

After the tour, we headed into the real city.

Our first glimpse of São Paulo.

An impressive spiderweb suspension bridge.

We ate lunch at a fancy downtown mall, and then spent the afternoon at Rabobank. I was not looking forward to the bank, but it defied my expectations and I found the presentations quite interesting – if a bit too long.

We entertained ourselves with fruit juice, hot pão de queijo (cheese bread balls), and...

making origami Harry Potter and friend!

Rabobank is a multinational bank, based in Holland and with branches in the US and Brazil, which focuses entirely on agriculture. Because it specializes, Rabobank attracts the very best farming customers. They have strict criteria to make sure their clients are successful, full-time, large-scale farmers. We learned that Rabobank’s richest customer is one of Brazil’s giant soybean barons. He farms a million acres and is worth three billion dollars!

The bank's meeting room was lined with fancy trophies and awards.

I loved how the trophies were all agriculture themed.

Here's a glass chicken!

This award was neat because it shows both the US and Brazil.

There's a capsule of seeds included in this award. I wonder what will happen if they sprout?

After a quick break at the hotel to unpack, we were back on the road headed to a bakery for dinner. I fell asleep, per usual, and when I woke up I felt as though I had been asleep for an hour. One of those weird things were time is warped while you sleep, I thought. It took me a while to realize that I actually had slept for an hour – we had gotten stuck in the atrocious São Paulo traffic!

For dinner I ordered picanha, a popular Brazilian cut of beef which would be called “rump cap” in the United States. We hurried through our meal so we could make it to Samba School.

It had been a whirlwind day, and none of us knew what was going on by now. We followed Juliana onto the bus, off the bus, and through the pitch-dark streets of Brazil. We passed slums and high-rises, wondering: Is this safe? Where are we? What are we doing?

Suddenly we heard pounding drums and the rise and fall of human voices. We rounded a corner and came upon a massive parade of costumed, singing, dancing Brazilians in the street! We clapped in time and watched as women spun around in pepperoni-pizza hoop skirts. Near the end of the parade, we were absorbed into the parade and suddenly we were jumping around in time with the music. All the Brazilians were singing a song on repeat, but we just attempted to mimic the frantic steps of samba.

I don’t know how long we sambaed down the streets. We were sweaty, exhausted, and extremely happy by the time we reached the warehouse at the end of the route. One of the samba instructors who had been helping us had enjoyed my energetic samba so much he bought me a beer, which I passed on to my happy friends. In the warehouse, we took photos wearing extravagant Carnival costumes and got some impromptu samba lessons from the locals. The instructor pulled Collin into the center of the circle and taught him some fancy moves, then pulled me in to be Collin’s partner. Pretty soon, we were all partnered up and twirling around in a sweaty mob.

The parade reminded me of my hometown’s crazy, colorful Solstice Parade, but the big difference was that this samba parade was just practice. I’m sad we’ll be missing the real deal, Carnival, in March!