As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, I picked up Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals on my last trip to the library (side note: I read WAY too many books to actually spend money on them. The public library is my friend). I’m embarrassed to admit that I had been actively avoiding this book for a while. I’ve known that factory farming isn’t pretty and I knew it was going to be a difficult read, but I feared it would it would change the way I looked at food. I was right.
After reading this book I became a vegetarian. For a whole week. And then I caved and had a pulled pork sandwich topped with beef brisket and hickory smoked bacon.
Now that’s what I call falling off the wagon.
In all seriousness – this book taught me more than a thing or two about the factory farming industry. Maybe I’ve been living under a rock (or maybe I’m just really good at avoiding things I’d rather not think about), but I wasn’t aware that animals were being bred in such a way as to increase their profitability while concerns for their health fell by the wayside – at least not to the full extent that they are. I wasn’t aware of how filthy the food sold in our deli cases was permitted to be by the guidelines set forth by our trusted FDA, nor how these guidelines favor the farmer and his substandard practices rather than the heath of the consumer or the well-being of the animal. I wasn’t aware that the conditions of these farms were promoting antibiotic resistance and creating (and spreading) new viruses. I’d never heard the term bycatch or thought about how animal waste was effecting the environment.
Would I recommend this book? Yes. I was highly impressed by the statistical information that Foer had compiled and they way that he presented it in terms the average Joe could understand. He has a knack for creating metal pictures that pack a punch – great for visual people like myself: “Imagine being served a plate of sushi. But this plate also holds all of the animals that were killed for your serving of sushi. The plate might have to be five feet across” (50).
This first few chapters of this book are written from a very personal standpoint, giving you background on the author and making him that much more relatable which worked well for his argument. He’s a funny guy and I read most of these chapters aloud to my husband – I enjoyed them that much. Foer begins his study of the factory farming process by delving into the poultry business first. Reading those chapters, I felt like I’d been sucker punched. This part of the book was truly eye-opening and I had a difficult time putting it down. I was disappointed when he then pretty much reiterated the same story for the swine and bovine industries. This is where Foer, in my opinion, began to come off as more sanctimonious than informative and I began to get irritated and lose interest in his quest. While he states clearly in the beginning chapters that his intention is to merely start a conversation about the ethical and nutritional ramifications of eating meat – not to preach to his reader right from wrong – it becomes obvious where his allegiances lay, oftentimes in what I felt was a condescending manner. I’m all for uncovering the ugly truths of slaughterhouses, but please don’t imply that I’m a soulless human being for eating meat.
Was it rebellion that made me give up on my veggie diet and order that bbq sandwich? Maybe in part – I think his plan of insulting the meat-eaters may have backfired in my case. Another part of it is this: in the past, when I thought about eliminating meat from my diet, my mind went directly to beef. In actuality, a diet free of fish and poultry saves far, far more animals from violence and abuse and makes a much larger impact. This is a big hurdle for me because while I think that I could give up beef and pork fairly easily, eliminating all meat seems almost insurmountable and that’s a mountain I’m just not ready to climb.
So, how has this book impacted me? Well, while I’m still a soulless meat-eater, I have significantly reduced my overall intake of animal products. I bought tofu for the first time. A lot of it. I actually haven’t cooked a piece of meat in nearly a month (my meat-and-potatoes-loving husband is thanking his lucky stars for the option of dining out!). I’m also thinking seriously about chickens. My mother raises her own chickens and I like the idea of being able to eat eggs without having to think about, and financially support, the places they come from. For now, I’m just stocking up on eggs whenever I visit.
Yesterday I was browsing the Book Warehouse at the Hagerstown Outlets this weekend with my mom and came across Meat: A Love Story.
I opened the inside cover and read this:
“After spending a week working undercover at a slaughterhouse and being tormented by blood, the stink, and the squeals of animals being herded to their death, author Susan Bourette decided to go vegetarian. She lasted five weeks and thirty-seven hours. Dissatisfied with tofu and lentils, Bourette wondered, Isn’t there a way to have my meat and a clear conscience too? It’s a question that will resonate with millions of happily carnivorous Americans—we eat more meat per capita than any other nation—who are unwilling to give up steak for soy but are alarmed about mad cow disease, E.coli poisoning, and the filthy, inhumane conditions on chicken and cattle farms. On a quest for superior meat, Susan Bourette takes readers behind the bucolic setting of the famous Rockefeller farm, north of New York City; on a long, hot cattle drive at a Texas ranch; a whale hunt with the Inupiat in Alaska; a Canadian moose hunt; and behind the counter in a Greenwich Village butcher shop. Humorous yet authoritative, Meat: A Love Story celebrates the deliciousness of meat and the lives of the passionate professionals who hunt, raise, or cook it. With a deft touch, Bourette explores what it means to be a compassionate carnivore.”
This sounds like it might be more up my alley. I’ll be looking for it in my local library on my next visit. (Yes, I passed on the $6 discount price. Go ahead and judge.)
Have you read Eating Animals? Are you a public library junkie??