Friday, 17 August 2012

Elephant No. 320: Toast Imprints

I know it's a bit of a ridiculous activity, but I really felt like trying to make a toast imprint today. It's not as though I make a habit of decorating my food, but imprinted toast is kind of interesting.

It appears as though there are two ways to make toast imprints. The first involves custom plates inside the toaster, which essentially brand a design into the surface of the bread. The other involves pressing a design into the slice of bread, so that the pressed area cooks after the main surface. For those with an interest in decorated toast, there is a wide range of both custom toasters and imprinting tools available, bearing everything from company logos to happy faces and birthday wishes.

Star Wars toaster, featuring Darth Vader.

Since I lack any of the skills that would help me tinker with a toaster, I'm going to try the second method for today's elephant.

Toast stamp to make "French" toast.

I had about half a loaf of multi-grain bread on hand, which I thought might give me enough slices to play with.

For my imprinting implement, I decided to use a bamboo skewer. I chose this because it's not sharp, and seemed like something I could use to gently imprint a design without piercing the bread. I tried a retractable ballpoint pen and a thin metal skewer as well, but the skewer seemed to work best.

I decided to do a freehand design. I wasn't expecting stellar results, so if I got something that looked at least vaguely like an elephant (once it was toasted) I would be happy.

I used a combination of angled-pointy-part of the skewer and pressing down with the dull end.

This is what my first design looked like before toasting.

And this is what it looked like after toasting. I actually toasted it twice, flipping it upside-down halfway through the first cycle and toasting it again. This browned it more evenly and showed the design better.

This was okay, but I thought I might be able to do better, so I tried twice more.

Multi-grain bread is probably a bit lumpy for this activity. A really fresh loaf of fine-crumb white bread would probably allow for more precise and finer lines. The other thing is that a slice of bread is actually a very small surface on which to work. Once you allow for the width of the lines and any detail you might want, there's not much room left to play with.

It took me about five minutes for each slice of bread, plus a few minutes toasting time, so this isn't the kind of thing you'd do if you wanted hot toast to go with your scrambled eggs. On the other hand, it's kind of cute—and certainly not hard—so it's worth a try if you have an invalid to cheer up, or a special occasion to mark.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Although it is illegal for elephants to beg on the streets of Bangkok, it is estimated that there are currently more than 100 elephants used for this purpose. Most of them are babies.

Some sobering information on Thailand's street elephants:

• At least 15 street elephants are injured each month in traffic accidents. More often than not, they are made to work while injured, frequently walking for hours.

• Most street elephants are babies, prematurely separated from their mothers. Because of this, the elephant calves lack the nutrition provided by their mothers' milk, and their growth becomes stunted. The sugarcane and other treats purchased by tourists cannot even begin to provide for their nutritional needs. Most street elephants suffer from malnutrition, dehydration and starvation, and will eat whatever they can find—including, according to one source, plastic bags and cigarette butts.

• Because they are young when they begin working, street elephants often have feet that are too soft for city streets. As a result, they suffer significant pain and deformed feet and may never walk properly.

• Elephant calves have delicate skin, which is why they shelter beneath their mothers' bellies. In the wild, elephants also have access to shade and mud to protect their skin. Street elephants, on the other hand, walk and stand for hours in the sun. As a result, they suffer sunburn, blistered skin and even sunstroke.

• The trunks of street elephants, no matter what their age, are at the same level as engine exhaust. As a result, they inhale fumes for an average twelve hours a day.

• Street elephants tend to suffer deafness from constant city noise. And, because they "hear" through their feet as well, they can become agitated and confused by the unending din of vibration and noise.

• Street elephants often lead isolated lives, and are often mistreated by their keepers. As intelligent creatures, they are subject to fear and stress, and frequently develop a sense of hopelessness. Others become enraged at constant mistreatment and will attack their keepers and members of the public. 

Tourists playing with street elephant in Bangkok.

Thrown out of work by a ban on hardwood logging in Thailand some twenty years ago, elephants in Thailand are now used primarily in the tourist industry. Their training is often painful, and their activities often unnatural. Although there are some very good elephant preserves and charities in Thailand, it remains difficult to convince elephant keepers—as well as the organized crime rings that sometimes "rent" out the elephants—to sell their only means of livelihood. 

In 2010, the Thai government cracked down on the feeding of street elephants, fining those who buy food from keepers to feed the elephants. The fine of 10,000 bahts (about $310 U.S.) is severe enough to prevent some from feeding street elephants. It remains a tough call, however. If the elephants don't bring in enough money for their keepers, they are likely to be beaten or sold into even worse conditions. 

On the other hand, if the trade in "elephant tourism" can be made unprofitable, there is perhaps hope that more elephants will be released to sanctuaries where they can lead better lives.

Tourist feeding street elephant in Bangkok. Although the sugarcane and bananas proffered
by tourists may be the only real food a street elephant gets, feeding them this way also
perpetuates the activity.

To Support Elephant Welfare
Elephant sanctuaries (this Wikipedia list allows you to click through to information
on a number of sanctuaries around the world)

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