Arts & Life, Travel

Brazil, part one: pork, poultry and Carlos

Carlos was trying to reach me.

On May 30, 2017 Facebook asked me to either accept or reject a message sent by someone who is not a “friend.” I recognized the name. He had looked at my LinkedIn profile a week or two prior.

I accepted Carlos’s communiqué.

Carlos had been trying to reach me at, an email address that has been retired since 2011. He had tried the address more than once, each time met with failure.

Facebook was not his preferred means to carry out a conversation with me, a sentiment he expressed immediately. I gave this stranger a half-credit for demonstrating wisdom.

Carlos wanted an email address that worked. He wanted to invite me to something. His English was good enough for me to pick up on that. I was skeptical. But I often am.

It was just a Tuesday, after all, a day that typically has little significance apart from its kingly status as the best time of the week to send press releases and the day – if we’re all being honest over here – when the mind and body officially reanimate after the weekend.

I bit. Carlos was now in possession of my Gmail address. It’s a good, clean email address created early enough to avoid underscores and numbers. I feel blessed to have it.

I got the email. It was, indeed, an invite. To Brazil. To attend the International Pork and Poultry Show in Sao Paulo.

The explanation was light, in broken English, and bewildering. But there were pieces that fit.

We all get invited to things. If you’ve ever done something on the Internet, published a blog or whatever, you’ve probably received an invite or two to web summits. They happen all over the world and you’ve got to pay your own way, rendering these invitations useless.

The meat industry in Brazil has gone through hell, a trip from which it has yet to return. If you Google “weak meat Brazil,” you’ll start to understand. And you’ll probably puke.

Carlos, on behalf of an association in Brazil, invited me as a “journalist for the National Post” to attend the conference to “clarify any doubts.”

Two things stood out to me, and neither of those things had anything to do with “weak meat” or the fact they wanted me to attend and write about a decimated industry in a country I know little about: they only invited a small cadre of writers from around the world and they are paying my way. He attached a conference agenda to the invite.

My interest was piqued, and every molecule of my being was skeptical.

I took to the internet for verification of all aspects of this. It was still just a Tuesday at this point.

The conference checked out. It is a real thing. Carlos checked out. “Weak meat” checked out. It made sense that significant dollars would be spent trying to win back public trust and international trade partners.

It was suggested that before I say yes to Carlos, I ask him to put me in touch with another writer who is planning to attend.

At this point, I have emailed poor Carlos several times, blasting him with questions. He put me in contact with a woman, who writes for Monocle magazine and The Times of London.

She had attended the conference last year and vouched for the invite’s authenticity.

I was deep into this. It was now Wednesday. I still hadn’t said yes. I had about 12 more questions, all of which I was trying to find answers for on my own. Carlos deserved a break.

It was clear that because the Brazil-based association putting on the event would pay for my trip, I wouldn’t be able attend as a Post writer. It would be seen as a conflict of interest. It’s a respectable position.

So, another question for Carlos: would I be able to attend as a writer without a publication?

“Yes. No problem.”

Cool, cool. Cool, cool, cool.

I work in communications for Manitoba Pulse & Soybean Growers. And, it turns out, Brazil is the second largest producer of soybeans in the world, behind the US of A. They produce about 87 metric tons of soybeans every year. The U.S. produces about 108. And Canada, which takes No. 7 spot in the rankings, produces more than six million metric tons.

There was widespread consensus that I say yes to Carlos, especially if I could tack on extra time to tour some soybean farms in various regions of the country.

I said yes. And the association booked my flights to include a few more days in Brazil following the conference – days that an agri-tourism company is packing with sure-to-be interesting and educational activities.

At this point in the story, it’s into June. Which day of the week, I don’t remember.

My conversation with Carlos continues. He indulges my need for unnecessary details. Some of our threads are close to 50-messages long.

I still have questions and concerns and reservations. What will I write about? And for which publication(s)? How much pressure will there be to shill? And how will I deal with it?

The answers to these questions are in Brazil.

Carlos, here I come.