Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Eating Animals--a review (kind of)

I recently read Eating Animals by Jonathon Safran Foer, and I was completely moved. I love books. I read lots of books, but I won't usually write a review because I figure most people have said what I have to say. But I'm going to ask you to humor me on this one, because I need to process some.

Foer made a good argument against eating animals, but also made a good argument for small, family farms, raising pasture-raised, grass fed beef, etc. His well-defined definitions of animal rights versus animal welfare helped me to really define where I stand. Many people don't really know the difference. Animal rights is the belief that animals should not be treated as commodities. They are here with us, not for us. Animal rights supports the ethical statement that because we do not need animals to survive, the taking of an animal's life for food or vanity is quite literally murder. Hence, "meat is murder." Animal welfare is different. Those supporting animal welfare believe that animals are, indeed, commodities, however should "have a good life and an easy death." Most people "support" animal welfare, but do little to nothing in financial or public support of it. When surveyed, well over 70% of people said they did not support factory farms. However, factory farms account for 99% of all farmed animals. So, quite literally, well over 70% of people do support factory farms.

Veganism in a nutshell
(This part is gross. If you have a weak stomach, you may not want to read it... or eat meat.)

Foer discussed health reasons for a vegetarian or vegan diet, primarily the foreseen pandemic the chicken industry will be responsible for. We're being fed significant amounts of antibiotics, raising our immunity to them, making the diseases that chickens carry nearly impossible to fight in the future. Influenza does not exist in a 24-hour run. The "24-hour flu" is more often than not, food poisoning from bad meat. Chicken meat often comes with fecal matter (they crap all over themselves out of stress), and then the meat is thrown into a big ole soup of what's supposed to clean the chicken... along with all the other crap-covered chicken. Then they're ready for packaging. The industry literally changed the official definition of feces to get away with this. Cancer is becoming a serious issue among cattle. Meat with puss-filled tumors are still considered acceptable to sell. The inspectors have to observe too many animals to make an informed decision about the meat they should be surveying. 30% of the meat that would have been refused 30 years ago is now packaged and sold. He mostly talked about the nasty shit (often literally) that people are eating. He didn't even touch on heart disease, diabetes, cancer, or memory loss... all issues found to have legitimate links to the consumption of animal products.

Comic Relief

(If you don't believe in global warming this may offend you. You should also probably start listening to your science teacher instead of your pastor.)

He discussed the very real issues around sustainability and the harm animal farming does to the environment. People... they're literally spraying shit. all. over. you. Animals contribute to global warming more than cars, trucks, planes, trains, and buses combined. Vegans leave less of a carbon footprint than those who drive hybrid cars. Animal feces often leak into the ground. Along with entire dead chickens, limbs of animals, blood, pus, chemical feed, antibiotics... and it's leaking into our water. Fishing is completely unsustainable. Fishing our oceans is killing way more species than those we eat. Those fish die and get thrown back into the ocean. The next option is fish-farming. Fish are packed into tanks with eyes red from the dirty water. The tight conditions cause the easy spread of disease. So... sustainability, or ethics? The grain used to feed farmed animals could literally feed all the hungry people on this planet. It takes 15 to 20 pounds of grain (something cows don't eat naturally) to produce one pound of beef. We can't live like this forever.

who doesn't love oranges?
(This section is about ethics. I encourage you to read it. "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." -Edmund Burke)

Birds are the worst-treated animals in the farming industry. Standard practices include searing off the beaks of chicks without anesthetic, and grinding male chicks alive. There is no purpose for them. Genetic mutation has caused chickens to grow so rapidly that their legs break beneath their weight and they develop serious heart conditions. Turkeys bred for slaughter can't even have sex. They are only meant to live a few months. Many birds die in transport under severe conditions (hot or cold), going days without food or water. Chickens are grabbed by their legs and thrown from place to place, their legs being broken and re-broken with every transition in the slaughterhouse. This is necessary in order to process the number of chickens expected of workers. These are just a few standard practices. Foer talks about sadism. Working under atrocious conditions, oftentimes people who seem like decent people in the real world develop sadistic behaviors towards the animals with whom they work. Videos taken at places that are considered the best factory farms and slaughterhouses show workers kicking chickens, spray painting their faces, sexually mutilating them, and swinging them by their legs. One can argue for a good life and an easy death... unless you're talking about fish. You can be assured that whatever fish you eat, it's death was inhumane. The pressure change causes their guts and eyes to pop out or they die from being dragged along the bottom of the ocean. It's difficult to sympathize with a fish because they are just so different from us. But does that mean they aren't worthy of compassion? Just because we can't understand them, does that give us the right to kill them without necessity?

These will never get old.
When I finished the book, it was clear that I was in favor of animal rights, and secondarily animal welfare. We do not need animals. Animals are unhealthy to eat. Our farming is killing our earth. Workers in animal industry are severely exploited. And even in the best cases of  local farming, inhumane practices are implemented. Branding. Separation of calf from mother. Unnatural feed for the few weeks prior to slaughter... And it is all unnecessary. In fact it is extremely harmful. So we are taking the lives and liberty of animals purely for our own pleasure. A cow goes through the slaughter line alive (a sickening number of cows are not killed on the first hit with a bolt gun and it must be implemented again. Even then many cows survive, suffering immensely, surviving the skinning, disemboweling and dismembering processes.) because someone wanted a hamburger from McDonald's. The evil of the industry survives all for a 15-minute experience of gluttony.

I have the best kale chips recipe. Ask me for it. ;)

I recognize that the world wants meat because they "just can't give it up," or they "love bacon way too much." I get that... because no one ever stops saying it to me (you don't need to justify your behavior for me). So, in that sense, I support animal welfare. Local farms need your support. It's the lesser of two evils. Factory farming will come to an end one way or another. It's simply not sustainable. Either we will take responsibility for this earth, or we will go with it.

Now. I don't want this to overwhelm you. Because I know it's overwhelming. I want you to know that you can make a difference. You don't have to be the demand. You can have health. You can lessen your harm upon this earth. And if you need help, I am your homegirl. Don't feel guilty. Feel empowered. Don't feel sick. Feel strong. You are the cause of so much good in the world. Let it expand to your fellow creatures on this earth.

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