If you enjoyed Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, you will enjoy Eating Animals just as much or perhaps even more. Jonathan Foer challenges everything from his own grandmother to the fact that we eat pigs, chickens, and cows. He even challenges Michael Pollan, one of the 100 most influential people in the world. To do all that you must be clever, thoughtful, intelligent, witty and respectful. Foer is all of the above. I don’t think Foer had any ill will in his critique of the animals or the people. I believe he just wanted to find out more about meat because he struggled with a vegetarian diet in the past and now that he was about to have his first child he just wanted to once and for all know the truth so he and his family could live the best life possible. His integrity in this book is so greatly appreciated that I have been raving about it to anyone who will listen. It is informative, persuasive, funny and fearless. The facts speak for themselves and are presented so plainly that Foer does not have to try to sell you anything, you sell yourself. Or at least I did. You just end up saying to yourself, “now that I know better, I must do better.” Of course this won’t be the case for everyone, but it is for me. Eating Animals has had a thought-provoking, game-changing effect on my life. And now that I know better, I must do better.
For instance, it was fascinating to learn that 99% of chicken in America is factory farmed. Factory farms are a form of agribusiness that don’t value you and I or the animal, only the money. I am not totally against eating meat, but to know that 99% of the chicken available to me has only has 67 square inches of living space is frightening. Or, the fact that egg-laying hens can’t even turn around in their cages is disgusting. Foer writes, “scientific studies and government records suggest that virtually all (upwards of 95 percent) of chickens become infected with E. coli (an indicator of fecal contamination) and between 39 and 75 percent of chickens in retail stores are still infected.” Knowing these facts enrages me. I do have choices though and one is to not eat chicken. A horrifying thought when you consider that I probably eat more chicken than any other meat, but how can I do so now without “voting by proxy.”
Voting by proxy is the number one reason that I am eating meat far less and possibly will remove all together. I had never heard this term/phrase before and it really stuck with me. Often we say to ourselves that we had no other choice and we give in to things that we would rather avoid. For instance, if I eat chicken that is not raised on the farms that I approve of which in this case is the 1% of the market then I have in essence voted by proxy. I think you and I can agree that the only way for this to really change is for the 99% to start losing money. Until agribusiness realizes that we will not purchase meat that is raised inhumanely and strictly for profit, this trend will continue. I don’t know about you, but I am tired of purchasing chicken with a wrapper that has a picture of a hen grazing on open terrain only to learn that free range only means access to a little trap door at the end of a 75-foot chicken coop. Or to know that after chickens are slaughtered they are thrown into huge tanks of cold water known as “fecal soup” in the poultry industry. These tanks add water to the body which is good for business but they are also contaminating because they include several diseased birds. Yuck!
Now facts are one thing, but stories are another. Stories help you understand because they are firsthand in some cases, emotional, and are perhaps even more compelling than numbers. Well, Eating Animals includes stories as well. And not just any old story, but meaningful excerpts like those from slaughterhouse employees who have witnessed some horrifying things being done to the animals they slaughter. One letter in the book was from a Smithfield employee who witnessed hogs having poles simultaneously shoved up their rectum and vagina. Or the Tyson employee who witnessed his peers urinating on the line. Or cattle slaughterhouses that fail to knock cows’ unconscious with a stun gun so they slaughter the cow alive. In fact, things have gotten so ridiculously out of whack that Niman Ranch owner, Bill Niman, who was fired by his board because he would not give in to factory farming short cuts, said he would no longer eat the meat that bears his own name.
If you think the news about land meat isn’t tragic enough, wait until you learn about the meat we get out of the sea. Turns out that factory farming is not regulated to the farm. Many fishermen are using state of the art technology such as GPS to locate fish more easily. These global positioning systems help the fishermen know where to locate huge supplies of fish and are attached to longlines spanning 75 miles with rows of hooks clustered in intervals to trap fish like salmon. However, “longlines don’t just kill their “target species,” but 145 others as well.” They are not only catching salmon but everything else that swims its way and most of it ends up dead on a ship’s deck. For every fish caught, several other sea creatures had to die. And “trawling, which is used to catch another popular sea creature, shrimp, is not much different than longlines. The difference is trawling scrapes the bottom of the sea floor for its target species. “The average trawling operation throws 80 to 90 percent of the sea animals it captures as bycatch overboard.” Again, a huge deficit to incur for a few measly shrimp. Now while the aforementioned sea animals are “wild” and not “farmed,” don’t you think this is a little overboard?
In the end, it is Foer’s grandmother who sums up this book and my stance on meat so very well. A strong, proud and resourceful woman who barely made it to America without being killed by the Nazis, she is the type of grandma that ferociously clipped coupons, fed chicken soup to her grandchildren, and told unbelievable stories. She was also a woman of incredible wisdom. Once when discussing her life during Nazi Germany she told young Jonathan about a time when she refused to eat a piece of pork given to her by a Russian man because it wasn’t kosher. And, when her grandson challenged her by saying, “but not even to save your own life?” she so aptly replied, “if nothing matters, there’s nothing to save.”