Wednesday, May 19, 2010

What I'm Reading: Eating Animals (Part Two)

I just couldn't limit my discussion of Jonathan Safran Foer's book, Eating Animals to one post, so the conversation continues!

Obviously, among other things, this book discusses the choice of whether or not to eat meat. One point that resonated with me was the amount of meat our modern world is consuming, starting with America. Many of us do not realize how eating this much meat can affect our world in so many ways:

"The global implications of the growth of the factory farm, especially given the problems of food-borne illness, antimicrobial resistance, and potential pandemics, are genuinely terrifying. India's and China's poultry industries have grown somewhere between 5 and 13 percent annually since the 1980s. If India and China started to eat poultry in the same quantities as Americans (twenty-seven to twenty-eight birds annually), they alone would consume as many chickens as the entire world does today. If the world followed America's lead, it would consume over 165 billion chickens annually (even if the world population didn't increase).(page 148)."

In addition to the sheer amount of meat being consumed, the way this meat is raised has reached staggering levels of heinous in factory farms in the U.S. I will warn you, this next quote is graphic and may be upsetting to read. However, it also makes a statement explaining why you should never eat KFC again:

"Tyson Foods is a major KFC supplier. An investigation at one large Tyson facility found that some workers regularly ripped off the heads of fully conscious birds (with explicit permission from their supervisor), urinated in the live-hang area (including on the conveyor belt carrying the birds), and let shoddy automated slaughter equipment that cut birds' bodies rather than their necks go unrepaired indefinitely. At a KFC "Supplier of the Year" Pilgrim's Pride, fully conscious chickens were kicked, stomped on, slammed into walls, had chewing tobacco spit in their eyes, literally had the shit squeezed out of them, and had their beaks ripped off. And Tyson and Pilgrim's Pride not only supplied KFC; at the time of writing they were the two largest chicken processors in the nation, killing nearly five billion birds per year between them(page 182)."

With his graphic descriptions and personal stories, Safran Foer at times writes in the same vein as Eric Schlosser of Fast Food Nation fame. Safran Foer and Schlosser both bring us behind the gates of factory farms and onto the kill floors to see what is really going on. I admire both of them for having the bravery to expose these issues.

Industrial farming methods do not just affect land-based animals; the fish in the sea are also at risk. Learning more about sustainable fishing and making responsible fish purchases is something that is very important to me as I don't eat a lot of meat, but I do eat fish regularly. Reading this next passage really made me think:

pg. 190-192 "So are wild-caught fish a more humane alternative? They certainly have better lives before they are caught, since they do not live in cramped, filthy enclosures. ... But consider the most common ways of catching the sea animals most commonly eaten in America: tuna, shrimp and salmon. Three methods are dominant: longline fishing(many lines, often kill other sea animals in the process), trawling (pulled along the ocean floor...worse because it kills even more animals and also screws up ecosystem), and the use of purse seines(a net is put around the fish and tugged up like a purse string...they keep what they're looking for and throw the rest of the dead or injured fish back into the water)(pg 190-192)". *info in brackets = my words, summarizing definitions he provided.

Even more well said was this passage, cutting right to the core of the issue and seriously making me understand the connection between my "culinary desires" and the welfare of the species we kill and eat. Food for thought, in more ways than one.

"What conclusion would most selective omnivores reach if attached to each salmon they ate was a label noting that 2.5-foot-long farmed salmon spend their lives in the equivalent of a bathtub of water and that the animals' eyes bleed from the intensity of the pollution?" "You never have to wonder if the fish on your plate had to suffer. It did. Whether we're talking about fish species, pigs, or some other eaten animal, is such suffering the most important thing in the world? Obviously not. But that's not the question. Is it more important than sushi, bacon, or chicken nuggets? That's the question(page 193)."

Before I go ahead and quote the entire book to you, I will end on this note, also in Jonathan Safran Foer's words (he explains it so well, I just can't paraphrase!) This statement explains exactly how I feel about some of the difficulty we go through in trying to make ethical, socially and environmentally-responsible choices when putting food on our tables. Does it have to be this challenging? Why are we at this stage where we even need to question what is on our grocery store shelves?

"It shouldn't be the consumer's responsibility to figure out what's cruel and what's kind, what's environmentally destructive and what's sustainable. Cruel and destructive food products whould be illegal. We don't need the option of buying children's toys made withlead paint, or aerosols with chlorofluorocarbons, or medicines with unlabeled side effects. And we don't need the option of buying factory-farmed animals(page 266)."

However, since we are in this situation, I hope we can all try to commit to at least some small changes in our buying decisions. Consider not only the animal that had to die, but also how it may have been treated, its health and how your purchase affects our community and the environment, at home and at large. After reading this book I have not decided to go vegetarian, but I am staying committed to making more responsible choices when purchasing animal products.

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