Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer, has been on my to-read list for quite some time now. I’ve been a reluctant, uncertain, and on some occasions enthusiatic, meat eater at varying points in my life, and any thing or anyone who takes the time to stimulate my thoughts on the topic is nearly always worth my time.
My mixed feelings about meat probably started when I was a child. My most salient memories of meat were of choking on huge, tough mouthfuls of steak and being saved from death by my parents. A wad of meat lodged in one’s windpipe creates a lasting memory, to be sure. Not exactly a promising beginning for a carnivore in training. The lesson? Meat is tough, dry and it will kill the eater if he or she is not careful. After reading Eating Animals, the idea of meat has me feeling no safer, but for different reasons.
Foer is clearly biased against factory farming, which I sympathize with but which doesn’t endear him to me as a researcher/writer, but he makes good points which I happily share with you in bullet format:
- Vegetarians are often accused of being to sentimental about animals. But who is more of an irrational sentimentalist: The person who doesn’t eat meat due to concern over the treatment of animals and the effect of raising animals on the environment, or the person who eats factory-farmed, unhealthy, arguably inhumane, and polluting animal flesh simply because “it tastes good” (i.e., “it makes me feel good”)?
- The frequent use of antibiotics in the raising of animals has had a documented effect on weakened efficacy of antibiotics in humans.
- Factory farming, with its high density of animals in one location, increases the risk of the development of superbugs that can create global pandemic.
- Selective breeding of animals to increase their growth rate can also erode their natural abilities to withstand normal environmental conditions, requiring additional resources to support their survival. An example would be chickens with an over-large breast due to selective breeding whose legs cannot support the weight of their more profitable bodies.
- The biggest ethical concern is not the mass killing of animals, which most people focus on, but the systemic mistreatment they suffer in their raising.
- Why are we okay with mistreating animals to satisfy our taste buds* but not okay with mistreating animals for the sake of art, for example? Would creating conditions likely to result in animal pain for the sake of a museum display be acceptable?
- A handful of reasons to not eat animals are offered: (1) better health (2) ethics of animal treatment (3) environmental impact of animal farming (4) increased risk of pandemic due to bird or swine influenza caused by factory farming.
- Pig farms directly pollute the environment due to the prodigious amounts of feces produced by swine.
For me, the ideas in this book are not about passing judgment against meat eaters. We have to approach each other with understanding and empathy. I am an anxious part-time carnivore myself. It is about being conscious of how meat comes to your table, who brought it there, and what it does to the planet and your body.
* It appears to be sound science that humans in general can do quite well without animal foods by eating with a minimum level of conscientiousness, so I conclude that the only reason for eating animals is for whatever pleasurable experience that may bring. Some supplementation may be required.