Thursday, June 16, 2011

Book of the Month: June

As a book of the month goes this one is the hardest I've had to read.  Dave bought this one day and as a vegetarian turned meat eater it seemed to make sense as a choice for him.  I heard Foer on Sierra Club Radio and I thought his perspective as a Jewish vegetarian father on a journey through the factory farm industry sounded very compelling.  Compelling is the least of it.  Eating Animals is a book that takes you there...that place that is uncomfortable, sadistic and scary.  Do you know what the animals you eat have gone through?  Do you eat them and want to avoid thinking about it?  I will admit that I often do.  At home we eat organic meats, Foer explains that organic has little to do with how the animals are ultimately treated.  The farmers that Foer interviews are doing their best to live up to different standards though none of them could convince the author to become an omnivore.  There were moments I had to put this book down.  I've seen some anti-meat industry videos of downed cows and animals in tiny cages just waiting to be killed for human dinner tables.  The realities are unbelievable.  How could humans treat any living creature this way? 
There is a current of bias on Foer's part that he bases on the three years of research he did while writing the book.  While he visited many farms and slaughterhouses and was given tours he also went to factory farms with activists in secret.  But there is a difference if you grow up on a farm.  By that I mean you are closer to the life and death cycle and you live with the animals every day.  The author made his choice of what to eat based on his values and his judgments regarding the degree of pain animals are subjected to.  As middle to upper class North Americans we have the privilege to choose not to eat animals.  He briefly brings up worldwide diets but more in relation to sustaining meat consumption on the scale Americans are at today.  He also doesn't touch on the health factors raised in Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats.
This book is worth reading if you care about what you eat.  Factory farming is horrendous and needs to be abolished.  How omnivores reconcile their choices effects the existence of these "farms".  This book will help you if you want to be a responsible consumer and a responsible diner.      


Meganne said...

I'm going to have to read this. I'm glad you brought up the bias in the book, because that was the first thing to come to mind. Having been all shades of vegetarian and in the past being involved with animal activist groups, I understand how things can become quickly biased. Currently my household is vegetarian, though I'm an omnivore who makes what I feel are the best decisions from the options available (local, grass-fed, pastured, organic, etc). I eat meat maybe once or twice a week at most.

Being involved with the movement to restore agriculture to small and family-run farms (and going into non-meat livestock and farming), I also understand that our current system of regulation in the meat industry works against those who want to treat animals as humanely as possible. Specifically most states require you to send your livestock to certified slaughterhouses for slaughter. There are some places that are starting to accept things such as mobile slaughterhouses, which deal with fewer animals at a time and therefore are able to lessen the suffering involve due to cutting down on transportation stress and more humane (killing is never 100% humane) ways of ending the animal's life. I get nervous about books like this, because obviously someone who already has their mind made up due to moral reasons isn't going to have their mind changed, and it's going to color the way they report what they've learned (and in many cases send them towards groups that are perhaps a little too extremely biased). But it's not enough for people to make the moral decision and think everyone should do things one way or another. People are going to eat meat; there's a point you have to get to in order to accept that. After that, I think it's everyone's responsibility to work to change the system for the better by harassing their elected officials via letters and supporting their beliefs through how they spend their money.

Jen said...

Thanks for your comment Meganne. This is a very tough issue and the more dialogue we have about it the better.