Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Eating Animals

This week I read Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. It was a very informative book with painfully honest accounts of where our food comes from, and how the production of our meat affects our world, and our bodies. It doesn't harp or push vegetarianism, it just provides truth and allows the reader to think for themselves. I think that it touches on topics that need to be brought to light, and we can use it as a resource to become educated about the food we eat and the world we live in.

Jonathan Safran Foer spent much of his teenage and college years oscillating between omnivore and vegetarian. But on the brink of fatherhood, facing the prospect of having to make dietary choices on a child's behalf, his casual questioning took on an urgency. His quest for answers ultimately required him to visit factory farms in the middle of the night, dissect the emotional ingredients of meals from his childhood, and probe some of his most primal instincts about right and wrong. Brilliantly synthesizing philosophy, literature, science, memoir, and his own detective work, Eating Animals explores the many fictions we use to justify our eating habits, from folklore to pop culture to family traditions and national myth, and how such tales can lull us into a brutal forgetting.

This book reads like a novel. The storytelling is so compelling that you hardly realize how much information you are receiving. It's is funny, personal, well documented, and lets factory farmers and animal activists speak in their own words. This is a great book that will hopefully open up a door for people to become more aware and educated on the topic of the contemporary food industry.

My favorite part of the book is a moment in which Foer recalls his grandmother, for whom hoarding food was a vestigial effect of the war. "The worst it got was near the end," she recalls, "and I didn't know if I could make it another day. A farmer, a Russian, God bless him, he saw my condition, and he went into his house and came out with a piece of meat for me." "He saved your life." Foer concludes. "I didn't eat it." "You didn't eat it?" "It was pork. I wouldn't eat pork." "Why?" "What do you mean why?" "What, because it wasn't kosher?" "Of course." "But not even to save your life?" "If nothing matters, there's nothing to save." This is the kind of wisdom Foer hopes to pass on. It is the kind of wisdom that, in all its humanity and clarity, deserves a place at the table with our greatest philosophers.

There are so many things genetically wrong with these factory farmed animals, that there is no possible way they can serve our bodies well. Most of the animals have been genetically mutated in order to get the most meat the fastest and cheapest, that they would not be able to survive in a natural environment. Most of the information laid out on the pages is absolutely riveting and appalling. If you take away the animal cruelty part of factory farming, and look the situation from a selfish perspective, "what difference does it make to me and my health?", know that chickens are soaked in a tub of their own fices and bacterial puss, a good percentage of the animals have cancerous cells, and the amount of manure from hog farms is the number one cause of global warming. There is no way to get around the fact that factory farming has no up side, except to those massive corporations that are making the millions of dollars.

Aside from a few very short lived flirtations with vegetarianism, I've eaten meat my entire life, and unfortunately, I never gave much thought to it. I've had moments of turmoil, and uneasiness, as I begin to eat a comically large t-bone steak, or even a whole roasted chicken, but I always seemed to push it to the back of mind and continued eating meat. Reading this book has definitely changed me. For me to eat meat now would require me to forget about the pain and suffering I'm causing. This book has strengthened my resolve not to forget anymore.

Parts of Eating Animals actually reminded me of The Book of Negroes. During the slave trade, people used, mistreated and exploited African Americans, and that is exactly what is happening with factory farmed animals. I am somewhat ashamed and embarrassed to say, that history is sadly repeating itself. I have to be honest, I would hope that if I had been around during the slave trade, I would have been the kind of person to take a stand, and do everything in my power to stop the exploitation of human beings. But I don't know if I have the same response of passion to factory farmed animals. I have decided not to eat meat anymore, that's a step, but I don't foresee myself rioting, signing petitions, sneaking into farms, or making documentaries. I can relate the two situations, see how they are similar, but I find myself questioning, how strongly I should respond. If Factory Farming is indeed the same as slavery, why wouldn't I react the same? Something needs to change, that's for sure, but will it be enough just to stop eating animals?

My tip for this week, and this book, would be to watch the documentary Food Inc. along with reading this book. They both cover the same topic of factory farms, but the film provides the images for the words. The combination of the two will leave you changed in some way, and i doubt you will be able to look at meat the same way.

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