A Norwegian Dog And Fox Help Redefine Animal Friendship

There is growing evidence that different species of animals can actually become what we humans think of as 'friends.' This is science, not Walt Disney...

A Norwegian Dog And Fox Help Redefine Animal Friendship
Elke Bodderas

Last fall, Norwegian photographer Torgeir Berge packed up his camera equipment, put a leash on his German Shepherd Tinni, and headed for the woods nearby for a walk. Little did he know that he was about to have a photo opportunity that would go viral worldwide.

The first series of pictures he took that day in the woods turned out to be the beginning of a story — the story of an "unnatural" friendship between natural enemies: a dog and a young fox. The fox appeared out of the brush, made a beeline for the dog and stopped in front of it, lifting its face and sniffing Tinni’s muzzle. The dog didn’t move. There they were, dog and fox, nose-to-nose.

Berge says that since he knew foxes were shy animals, his first thought was that the animal had rabies. But the fox didn’t bite Tinni, in fact, he made it quite clear he wanted to play. The two animals ran around together, romped, wrestled, and ran some more. After that day every time Berge went to the woods with his photo equipment and his dog, Sniffer the fox was there to greet them.

One day Sniffer left the forest and made his way to Berge’s house to visit Tinni. Soon after that, Sniffer set up his den near the photographer’s shed.

Although Sniffer has since moved back to the woods, he still drops by regularly. And when he does, he always wants to play. He doesn't come the bowl of food Berge puts out for him: He comes for Tinni. It’s an animal friendship that goes against what biology textbooks teach us — a friendship that, according to the laws of nature, should not exist.

Human nature vs. animal instinct

We are all familiar with the term "animal instinct." But could it be that some animals are capable of the same spontaneous feelings that human have? The matter would have long since been researched if the subject were not almost taboo in the scientific community.

In the 1960s when British researcher Jane Goodall began her work on the behavior of chimpanzees, she was criticized by colleagues because she gave her subjects names instead of numbers. Goodall gave in and made some concessions. In her publications she no longer wrote that Wounda, an ape, was "happy."

Instead she used a round-about sentence that conformed to scientific convention — "Animals don’t have feelings" — of which she later said that it sounded silly: "Wounda behaved in such a manner that had she been human would have been described as happy."

Meanwhile, more and more scientists are coming round to admitting that yes, animals do have feelings. Not all of them are as direct as Dutch primate researcher Frans de Waal, who states that "of course all mammals have feelings of connection, affection, and friendship."

Even sober-minded and unsentimental conservative researchers like New York neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux have pointed to the similarities between human and rat brainstems. He concludes that rats too must be capable of feelings such as joy, love, hate, and sadness.

Tinni and Sniffer even have a song written about them! For the English expand=1] version, click here.

So, what about friendship?

Marburg-based biologist Anja Wasilewski has come up with a scientific definition of friendship among animals. A few years ago she published one of the first works on this sensitive subject. For Wasilewski, friendship is a "voluntary and reciprocal non-sexually motivated socio-positive bond between two unrelated individuals that has subjective value for both and is characterized by positive affect (that could, for example, be described as sympathy)."

In other words: an affinity between two beings who are not related and for whom sexual motives are not the issue. Wasilewski conducted her research in the UK, studying herds of horses, cows and donkeys. She noted that donkeys and cows particularly were capable of establishing relationships.

Animal friends (always the same sex) seek proximity to their buddies. Elephants, dolphins and apes are also capable of friendship, as are female bats. Gerald Kerth of the University of Greifswald in Germany describes in a recently published work how animal "girlfriends" enjoy "hanging out" together — and even give each other support during childbirth.

What does all this mean for Tinni and Sniffer? Scientific research is at a loss when it comes to giving a clear-cut explanation. "Animals are capable of friendship across the boundaries of species," says anthropologist Barbara J. King of the University of Oklahoma. But friendships between domestic and wild animals are so rare that it is impossible to make a scientific statement about them.

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The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation


Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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