The last book review published here at Birder’s Lounge was way back in July, 2008. Sure, I’ve started plenty of great books since then, but have not finished any of them. Except one – which I both started and finished in a matter of weeks.
It has been a month or two since I read Eating Animals, By Jonathan Safran Foer.1 I’ve been reflecting on the information I learned ever since, and I’m ready to talk about it – and to share my own road to vegetarianism.
For most of my adult life, I’ve thought of vegetarianism as weird. I’ve believed that vegetarians must necessarily be wan, if not a little sickly. Raised on “meat and potatoes,” and enjoying a robust and healthy life, it is a strange feeling indeed to be writing about vegetarianism from “the other side.”
The first point in my life when I considered the vegetarian lifestyle was the day I met Lynn Cuny, Founder and CEO of Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation, Inc, headquartered in Kendalia, TX. I remember touring the grounds of WRR’s impressive sanctuary, with Lynn herself as my tour guide. We spoke of many things, and I later published a post about WRR and the fantastic work they do.
It was during that tour that Lynn made comments about a plant-based diet. I remember positing that humans, as a species, needed animal protein to be healthy. I didn’t really know this for a fact – it just seemed like it had to be true. Lynn was of the opinion that animal protein was not actually required for humans to remain healthy…and so I left that day with a head full of thoughts to “try on.”
In the year or so that followed, I continued to eat a “normal” diet, which included favorites such as hamburgers, bacon, roasted chicken, and the occasional steak. Oh, and BBQ, which any self-respecting Texan consumes fairly regularly. I was so enamored with a particular hamburger – found at a single restaurant in Austin, TX – that I took a picture of it. This is the best hamburger I have ever eaten.
In 2009, I spent a lot of time learning about nature, ecosystems, and wildlife, in a months-long class to train Texas Master Naturalists. This training augmented my growing desire to eat less meat, by helping me to understand the interrelationships of different animals and ecosystems. The more I understood and respected the complex lives of non-human animals, the less distinction I saw between them and Homo sapiens. It seemed disrespectful to eat other animals.
Before I read Eating Animals, I watched the documentary, Food, Inc. Talk about an eye-opener. Images and commentary from that film are still rolling around in my head. It is fair to say that this film was the “last straw” for me and my inner struggle with eating meat. I haven’t eaten meat since that day, somewhere toward the end of 2009.
So, why am I reviewing the book, Eating Animals, instead of the documentary, Food, Inc.? Because the book related interviews and first-hand accounts about factory farming at a level of detail that sparked in me a desire to do more than abstain from meat for myself. This book has helped me to actively think about farm animals – instead of skipping over them in my general desire to help protect wildlife. Farm animals are domesticated – not wild. Somehow they have not “counted.”
How many of you prefer NOT to think of a cow’s face when perusing the steaks, roasts, and hamburger meat at the grocery store? How many of you have never even thought to consider what a chicken’s life is like until the day of slaughter? What about fish? When you hear “farm animals,” do you envision cows, pigs, and chickens roaming around a spacious farmyard and adjoining pasture? With sun shining warmly down on gently rolling, emerald green hills? And a farmer in overalls milking cows, while the children set out to collect eggs from the hen house? I believe each of us knows that these images, though perhaps once based on reality, are no more.
Read Eating Animals, and these pleasant, quaint notions will be replaced with the stark and horrifying reality of these tortured creature’s existence. Add to that the knowledge of the methods used to control disease and contamination of the meat that ultimately reaches your plate, and you will understand how risky every bite of meat can be. As we have seen with so many government regulatory agencies (the Minerals Management Service comes to mind, with respect to the petroleum industry), the USDA is no saving grace. The incredible and almost scary power of the factory farming industry dwarfs the USDA, and crushes farmers who don’t play by their rules.
If I have one wish for the impact of this book review (other than getting you to read the book), it is that it will prompt you to think about where your meat comes from. I want you to know that your meat comes from factories that raise animals in tiny spaces, devoid of even the smallest of comforts. The cows, pigs, chickens and turkeys are then carted off and slaughtered – often with great suffering. Believe me, I am doing you a great kindness in not recounting some of the grimmest details. That said, it is much too easy to push the beginnings of even the most benign thoughts out of your mind when you have a hankerin’ for a burger. My hope is that consumers will become educated about the meat they eat, and resist the temptation to shove all unsavory thoughts out of their minds.
Only we consumers, en masse, can demand change. I remember a line from Food, Inc., that I absolutely love. It was something to the effect that we “vote with our dollars,” in the context of the products we purchase (or don’t) at the grocery stores. What if consumers demanded their meat products be raised in the most healthy and humane conditions? Couple that with demanding less meat overall, and you have the beginnings of a change that benefits our collective health, the plight of the animals, and the condition of ecosystems around the globe.
Me? I’ve been voting with my dollars at my local farmer’s market, relishing the fresh fruits and vegetables and all of the new dishes I have come to love. The last vestige of animal protein in my diet is eggs. While I am hopeful that I may yet find a farm that produces eggs in a humane fashion, my last few eggs sit in the refrigerator right now. I’ve vowed not to purchase any more eggs unless the purveyor of my local farmer’s market can give me a straight answer about where the eggs come from.
Please visit the website home for Eating Animals to learn more about the book, and for links to retailers.
In writing this review, I came across a movement that is quite impressive. It is called “Meatless Mondays, ” – here’s a video that explains its purpose.
One other timely and noteworthy bit of information: The USDA and the Attorney General, Eric Holder have been conducting a series of workshops aimed at addressing the lack of competition in the poultry industry. The last workshop was in Alabama, just a few days ago, on May 21, 2010.
- Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer – Little, Brown and Co. (2009) – Hardback -341 pages – ISBN 0316069906. ↩
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