The Zoo? No, the morning market.

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The night market in Luang Prabang is well traveled by every foreigner. Each night the main street closes to traffic and stalls fill the the space with handicrafts. Tiny alleyways fill with food vendors and a substantial meal can be had for pennies.

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But a lesser known market exists along these alleyways in the morning. Before many are awake, spreads of produce, meat, and seafood of varieties we’ve never seen color the streets, with locals crowding the vendors for first pick of the day’s catch. For a westerner, the displays of animals in particular can be hard.

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This is real life here, and there isn’t a big box grocery store selling meat in pre-packaged styrofoam plates. There are also no factory farms or corporate fisheries. What exists are families with gardens and small farms. Young men with small fishing boats, or sometimes just a strong stick and some fishing line.

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Walking through the market, it begins to make sense. A lot of sense. There is something to be said for knowing who is gathering, growing, raising or catching the food you eat. We should know where our food comes from and should never be sheltered from the reality of what is served to us.

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This concept has been discussed at length in the US, but a market this real does not exist. Try as we might to practice concepts of local food, and support of family farms, westerners remain tender at the idea of placing a live animal in the same category as the protein that ends up on our dinner plate.

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We take a comfort in conveniences as westerners- some conveniences which would seem entirely foreign to the locals here. Purchasing pre-packaged meat might be one of those things. Here, live animals perch atop wicker baskets, catfish crawl over tarps, frogs are tied to straw sticks to prevent them from jumping away, fish flop around in over populated containers of water, and river eels swim in makeshift tanks.

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It is a shock to the senses, and at times hard to watch. I forced myself to look at the things that bothered me- knowing there was a responsibility in understanding the choices I make as a carnivore and seafood lover. All the time the theme that overrides everything else in this experience was just how real it all was, how sheltered I am, and how much we westerners can learn from the other side of the world.

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