Eating Animals

I’m reading this rather intense book. It’s called Eating Animals and is by Jonathan Safran Foer.

Maybe you’ve read it, it was published in 2009, or maybe you don’t. For the longest time I didn’t want to read it because I know a few people became vegetarian after reading it. I don’t want to be vegetarian.

I have nothing against it but I don’t think it suits me. I like food, I really like food. Almost all sorts of it and, maybe wrongly, I believe that you cannot be someone who truly likes food if you are vegetarian. I know I may be offending a few people here but, think about it, being vegetarian means you don’t eat about 70, 80, 90% (I don’t know for sure) of the dishes out there.

Vegetarian friends tell me that you forget how good meat and fish taste because you take them out of your menu. You make those 30, 20, 10% of food be all the food. And because there are less ingredients you can cook with, you are more imaginative with your cooking — use more spices, more herbs, nuts, anything to try to make vegetarian dishes as diverse as the omnivore diet. I get the point: I do that myself because I rarely eat meat at home and try to be as imaginative with my veggie recipes as possible. But isn’t that a bit like getting a kid a really colorful bird to make them forget about the puppy they can’t have? Maybe I don’t want to forget about my metaphorical puppy, and why can’t I have both the puppy and the bird?

Enters Eating Animals. A friend convinced me that I should read it (despite my ‘fears’, I’d been toying with the idea for a while) by telling me that the author did not write the book intending to convert people to vegetarianism (“I am a new father, eager to learn as much as I can about the meat industry, in an effort to make informed decisions about what to feed my son”), and that he too struggled with the idea of becoming vegetarian (he often mentions his grandmother’s signature dish, chicken with carrots, which he grew up eating). The thing is, I knew what most of it was going to be about: factory farms, animal rights and suffering, environmental issues. I know about all that and I’ve changed my food choices accordingly: I only buy organic meat in the rare occasions I do buy meat and virtually always buy organic (animal and vegetable) produce. And I do trust that organic farming in Germany means a bit more than it does in the US although, admitedly, I’ve never visit a farm in this country… (And, confession number 2, I do often eat meat when I eat out.)

What is interesting about the book, or at least the 25% I’ve read so far, is that it shows both sides of the issue.

Just this morning, I read a section where “the kind of person who finds herself on a stranger’s farm in the middle of the night” writes anonymously about how she goes into factory farms to rescue the poorly treated chickens, turkeys, hogs, you name it, and tries to show what happens inside those farms to the outside world (and it is not pretty).

The book follows with a letter from a factory farmer explaining how farms have had to adapt to the unwillingness of many consumers to pay the ‘fair’ price for their food (I’ve been known to complain about the €7 it costs to buy two drumsticks at my local organic supermarket, but maybe that price reflects how much it costs to raise a chicken in more humane conditions?). There are 7 billion people in the world and emerging economies are becoming more hungry for meat and animal products. “You hear about free-range eggs and grass-fed cattle, and all of that’s good. I think it’s a good direction. But it ain’t gonna feed the world. Never.”

I put the book down after that. The thing is, that farmer is right. I live in a country with a wealthy economy where organic farming is booming. I can afford to pay €7 every time I feel like eating chicken, and I have that choice. But I cannot picture a world where organic farming will feed China’s growing population and demand for meat. So what is the way forward?

Maybe the remaining 75% of the book will provide some sort of answer. I still strongly believe it is not vegetarianism: if you can’t convince someone like me who worries about this sort of stuff to become vegetarian, how will you even begin to convince the rest of the world that they should reduce their meat consumption?

Maybe the remaining 75% of the book will make me change my mind and become vegetarian, rendering my argument invalid.

I still really want to cook beef wellington for Easter Sunday lunch, though.

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3 thoughts on “Eating Animals

  1. Ricky The Farmer

    Dear,
    I can take you to a german farm one day, of course: an organic one, and a romantic one :-).

    Barbara, I like your thoughts. It’s far from being easy, and even if all the mankind would convert to vegetarians it would not be a solution: as far as you drink milk you can also continue to enjoy your cheesburger at Mc Donald’s, with the beaf of old milk cows in between some wheat bread…

    We should try to reach a better balance. That means not using force to make all of us vegans. In my opinion organic farming alone is not the answer, but part of the change.

    Let’s keep discussing, in a running way…..
    :-))))

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  2. Barbara Ferreira

    That is a good point, actually. If your worry is animal rights, being vegetarian is not enough in that chickens who lay eggs suffer as much as those who are raised for their meat, and the same goes for milk cows, I guess. But convincing the world to go vegan is even harder than getting people to be vegetarians!

    I agree the solution is somewhere in between: reduce meat consumption, go organic as much as possible and, somehow, try to improve agriculture and farming methods (I guess you have a part to play there :)). Nina pointed me to this article, which you may also find interesting: http://www.monbiot.com/2010/09/07/strong-meat/.

    And yes, please, take me to an organic Bavarian farm one day!

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  3. I see it as basically a social awareness issue. If people care about where their meat comes from, then they will seek sources compatible with their personal ethics; meat as a symbol of animal suffering is a product of consumer apathy. My personal experience has been that when I am poor, I have been a vegetarian; and now that I can afford it, I buy ethical meat. I happen to live in a part of the world where that means I know the man who caught the fish, the lady who raises the chickens, the couple who practice native plant stewardship while they raise their small herd of cows. But to do this I had to become aware, and then to learn and to practice, how to find local food. So I applaud books like this that teach people that their choices do matter, and that they have a cost other than the one measured out with money.

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