Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Eating Animals, a book review
I was lucky to reserve a copy of the newest eater's manifesto, Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer at my local library. Two weeks ago the lovely spring green hardbound book arrived in my hands and I dove into it looking for what the book could expose to galvanize people and give credence to this burgeoning call for change in the food system.
Needless to say, the book fell short of my lofty expectations.
What was described as being the modern day answer to The Jungle and an honest narrative about the grappling that people of our time must do to answer the question, 'what should I eat,' to me was too caught within the author's box. From the get-go it's framed as a yo-yo vegetarian debating feeding his child meat. It goes through a uncomprehendingly unorganized and rambling investigation into factory farming and some family farming, and ends up with the same argument he started with; with meat comes pain. The research is good, the style is enough to make even the choir struggle through drifting between boredom and annoyance.
While making the argument for conscious eating he downplays the ability of consumers to buy only meat from farms that operate in a humane fashion by stating that even purchasing this kind of meat supports the factory farming industry by bolstering the overall demand for meat products. However, he completely avoids talking about the inhumane treatment of dairy cows and egg-layers. I do not think that it is fair to poo-poo the idea that people can make the conscious decision to never, and I mean never, purchase factory farmed meat. I have lived that way for almost 13 years. He focuses on the pain that even humanely treated animals endure in slaughter, do the animals who are kept virtually constantly pregnant but have their calves ripped from them upon birth not suffering? Is that milk not also produced through pain and suffering? If you are arguing pain and suffering, it seems a cop out to go for anything less than a vegan diet. If you are arguing for conscious eating, environment, and change in the food system, then the argument is for knowing where your food comes from.
I believe that some people will be shocked by the information presented and hopefully it will lead to some honest reflection before making their food purchasing decisions. No, we can't support our current level of meat consumption if everyone decided to only eat from sustainable farms, it would take two things:
1. reduce the amount of meat we eat, without sacrificing our cultural heritage (a piece that he laments and never really answers that question). In our home we will get maybe a sausage or a half chicken (from the farmer's market or our CSA) for a week or two and use it as flavoring and compliment to a healthy diet of vegetables and grains.
2. change the food system, support sustainable, humane farms. Increase the ability of these farms to make a living and then factory farms won't be able to buy them out. Go visit your local farms, get to know how they operate. Go to the farmer's market. Help them to have enough business to support humane slaughterhouses.
To me Eating Animals falls somewhere in the middle between Barbara Kingsolver's novel Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and The Omnivore's Dilemma, presenting personal story supported by research, but the jury is still out as to how profound an effect it will have.
I encourage you to read it, if only to support this type of research and exposing the horrors of the factory farming system.
So, have you read it yet? I'm curious to hear your thoughts.