I asked for a copy of this book for Christmas and I got what I bargained for–literally. Upon receiving it, I immediately began to immerse myself into the author’s words about his life growing up with a grandmother who survived World War II (and her delectable chicken with carrots dish) and his transformation from a waffling vegetarian to a committed one. It wasn’t until the months leading up to his son’s arrival that he began to think about eating animals and the impact this demand for meat has on our environment.
Foer’s words also made me think about my own life as a waffling vegetarian. For the past year, I’ve dabbed into excluding animal flesh from my diet–with some result. However, like most new veggie-lovers, I had a few slips. I never thought it was a big deal until I began reading Foer’s book.
Aside from the usual account of the life of a factory-farmed animal, Foer recounts his middle-of-the-night visits to farms that “prepare” animals for slaughter (don’t want to spoil the details for you, but you can just do an Internet search and finds out what the life span–and what they go through–of a tasty animal is). He also took the time to talk to numerous owners of chicken, cow and pig farms about their business and the morality of farming animals to fill our bellies. Hearing these farmers justify the means to an end, talk about animal husbandry and consent (the idea that animals “consent” to being our eventual meals because we humans will take good care of them) really opened my eyes into how eating animals has been justified in our culture.
I don’t consider myself an animal rights activist by choice. I never grew up around dogs or other animals for me to develop this passion for animals as a whole. Sure, I had dogs, but they were outside dogs and I never got a chance to form a bond with them. I grew up eating meat–chicken, pork, beef, turkey, etc.–and loved it. My favorite was chicken and turkey. My absolute favorite dish would be chicken (baked, broiled or friend) with English peas, mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese. My mom also had good pork chops that I liked. I also liked ground beef in spaghetti and lasagna (although I believe both dishes taste a lot better with ground turkey). I never thought of the concept of vegetarianism until the last year or two. It always crossed my mind as something I would like to do one day, but I never took it seriously.
I began to seriously consider becoming a vegetarian after a co-worker went veg. I thought, “Well, if she can do it, then I can certainly try.” I went home that day and began my research into vegetarianism and meat production. Here’s a great video shot by PETA (I know, I’m not a fan either), but I think it’s a really good start:
I must say I was horrified at what I saw. I knew where meat comes from, but I was never informed of the cruelty and suffering these animals must undergo in order to feed me. From that moment on, I never looked at meat–or meat eating–the same. Every time I see a person pile a piece of animal flesh onto their plate, I think to myself about where this animal came from and what horrors did it undergo in order to feed this person. These simple videos and my research into the practice of farming animals transformed me into a person who rarely thought about animal rights into a citizen concerned about the toll eating animals has on our environment and our health.
Like others in the industrialized world, eating meat was ingrained into my psyche as something we just do; we never questioned where the meat came from or the practices uses to get cheap meat onto our tables. Sure, we all know where meat comes from, but we don’t like to remind ourselves that we are eating the remains of a corpse. With my recent exploration, I began to think of eating meat in a whole new light. I began to wonder, how can we as meat eaters justify these means to an end that only last for less than 10 minutes? How can we justify the castration and the mutilation of animals in order to satisfy our appetite for animal flesh? How can we justify the impact of factory farming onto our environment and human health?
As Foer outlines in his book, eating is a shared activity–often around a dinner table. Eating meat is something we can all come together and participate in and usually feel good about doing. Just about every holiday, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, families get together and share in the joy of eating good, plentiful meat in each other’s company. Along with being centered on kitchen and dining room tables, food, specifically meat, has become the center of our lives. As humans, why have we divorced meat eating from the undeniable environmental impact the practice has had on our planet? How can we humans allow other humans to factory farm our meals at the expense of our health and the future environmental health of Mother Earth? The two go hand-in-hand, in my opinion.
No, I’m not here to recruit you into becoming a veg. While PETA and other pro-vegan organizations would like me to do so, I don’t believe I should proselytize about and impose my food habits onto others. I can tell anyone about the pros of going veg, but I can’t make anyone ditch their meat. However, what I can do is ask one to begin researching where their meat comes from and the carbon footprint industrialized meat production has on the environment. I can urge one to be informed about the pain and misfortune animals go through in the name of feeding humans. I can urge one to begin thinking about meat eating and how it’s become part of their lifestyle and how our food culture has become embedded into our psyche. I can ask one to think about how our bodies has been affected by our glorious past time of eating meat.
Finally, I can urge one to ask himself (or herself) two simple questions: Is your appetite for meat superior to the physical and psychological torture animals being prepped for slaughter must undergo? Are your 10 minutes of pleasure more important than factory farming’s impact on the environment?