Eating Animals

  • Author: Jonathan Safran Foer

  • Published: September, 2010

 

99% of the meat we consume comes from factory farms. This is an incredible statistic. Yes, those same factory farms featured in documentaries and undercover PETA footage, showing diseased animals writhing on steel floors and hooks as they bleed out under phospherescent lights. Those same farms that produce massive lagoons of animal feces and flesh. Those same factory farms that spread disease and misery amongst the animals and the employees. Those factory farms we don’t like to see or even think about because they’re so disgusting, and because, well, our burger tastes so good. 

Very few books have the power to change your life. Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer, is one of them. A brilliant, blistering, thoroughly researched and passionate work on what it means to be a modern day meat eater. Yes, it’s hard to read at times. The sinister and depraved practices taking place at factory farms all over the world, every second of every day, can leave one feeling shaken. But it takes a writer of uncommon ambition and courage to detail these houses of horror, and then flip the reader’s feelings of disgust, powerlessness and pity, into a determination to change behaviors and rebel against the deceptions of the industry.

Foer makes no compromises and tells no half-truths. This is no feel good tale where readers are given a pass. The harsh reality is, if you choose to eat meat, you are supporting the systematic torture and suffering of billions of animals, the degradation and destruction of our beautiful planet, and helping to foment the next world wide pandemic. It’s scary stuff, and it hit me like a thunderbolt. 

I’ve eaten meat my entire life, pretty much on a daily basis. Backyard BBQ’s, cookouts, crawfish boils, taco-fests, burgers at the bar - just tell me where and when. I picked up Eating Animals on a whim at a book fest. As a new father, I thought it could make for interesting reading, and help inform me about what foods I should avoid giving my daughter. Foer, who had dabbled with vegetarianism in college but never fully committed, wrote the book for the same reason. He wanted to explore the moral dimensions of what foods he was going to put on his baby son’s plate. This simple mission turned into a sprawling multi-year investigation which eventually turned into Eating Animals.

Foer tackles the many problems of factory farming with the same ferocity that the meat industry employs in the pursuit of profits. Each area is reason enough to turn down your next hot dog.

Environmental Impact

Animal agriculture makes a 40% greater contribution to global warming than all transportation in the world combined; it is the number one cause of climate change.

I always knew raising and slaughtering livestock was bad for the environment, but I had no idea it was the top cause of global warming. Foer goes beyond that breathtaking statistic to cover the less obvious evils as well - land degradation, spills and river contamination, loss of biodiversity, air pollution, water shortages, etc. And that’s not to mention the massive contaminated shit lagoons. With over seven billion people on earth, there are over seventy billion cows to meet our meat demands. The amount of land needed to graze and grow food for this many cows knows no bounds. Over 100 yards of rainforest are destroyed every second to make way for cows. Seven million pounds of feces are produced daily, with no sustainable way to dispose of it. Two thousand gallons of water are needed to raise and slaughter a pound of meat. Foer puts it simply, “Someone who regularly eats factory-farmed animal product cannot call himself an environmentalist without divorcing the word from its meaning.”

Cruelty

The lives and deaths that billions of chickens, turkeys, cows, pigs and fish have to endure while imprisoned inside concealed factory farms is truly horrifying. Cages and crates so small animals can’t turn around. There are countless chickens whose nails have grown around the grating underneath their feet. There are pigs that turn insane when confined to a gestation crate and begin chewing the tails off of the unfortunate pigs in front of them. Salmon with soars and skin disease huddled into makeshift pools. Combine that with unnatural diets, no natural light and feces and corpses everywhere, - one would hope for the merciful release of death. Unfortunately a quick and painless death isn’t a given to all. As Foer puts it, “The combination of line speeds that have increased as much as 800 percent in the past hundred years and poorly trained workers laboring under nightmarish conditions guarantees mistakes.” As a result, huge quantities of animals are bled, skinned and dismembered while conscious every day. These places are truly houses of horror.

Animal Intelligence

Scientists continue to discover that animals, especially pigs, but even fish and chickens, are far more clever and possess much more sophisticated memories than we’ve ever given them credit for. Foer cites multiple fascinating studies, and the results are astonishing. There’s too much to go into, but It makes their bleak existence and punishing deaths even more tragic. Suffice to say, the realize what’s happening to them.

Sickness & Health

The amount of antiobiotics and hormones pumped into the livestock we consume is also mind-boggling. Current studies are now finding links between our diet and our countries spiking rates of allergies, autism, etc. It’s becoming more and more clear that the human digestive tract is not built to process this type of Frankenstein flesh. Not to mention the commonly known effects of a diet heavily meat based - increased chance of cancer, heart attack, hypertension etc.

But the truly scary parts is the antibiotic resistant flu strains (salmonella, e-coli) etc. that are incubating inside our livestock, waiting to make the jump to humans and causing the next world wide pandemic. Most experts believe it’s simply a matter of time.

Myth Busting

Big Ag and Government have been in cahoots for years, and the amount of disinformation they’ve pumped into the public consciousness is no surprise. What is a surprise is how easily their propaganda has been taken as fact. 

  • People need meat or they won’t get enough protein. False.
  • Without industrial slaughter people would starve. False. (The vast majority of crops grown around the world are for livestock)
  • The meat you eat is safe and thoroughly inspected by government regulators. False. The USDA hasn’t come close to keeping up for years.
  • All animals are treated humanely. False. Torturous conditions and deaths are commonplace.

The list goes on.

The good news is the Foer’s prose is not all doom and gloom. His approach is a fascinating blend of research and memoir. Some of the books strongest moments come from the letters he includes, ver batim, from many people involved in the industry. There’s the last family-run poultry farmer, the woman from PETA, the Factory Farm executive, the slaughterhouse owner. All have compelling stories to tell, and each does so with passion and elegance. 

Foer’s mission is a complete rethink on how and why we raise, kill and eat the way we do. No stone is left unturned, and you know the man is serious when he tackles that most sacred of meat-eating traditions, the Thanksgiving Turkey, and challenges you to give it up for good. 

I’m now convinced that future generations will look back on this system and scratch their heads. How could things have strayed so far from the norm? Factory Farming did not start to gain traction until the 1920’s, and didn’t become prevalent until after WWII. In one generation, the relationship people had with animals has gone from one of respect and intimacy, to a perverse, indifferent system of annihilation that’s destroying our planet and our health. The good news is, through efforts such as Jonathan Foer’s, people are beginning to wake up, and with each new convert, factory farms take a hit. I’m not so naive as to think everyone will become vegan or vegetarian. As long as there are people, there will always be meat eaters. But I hope one day in the future, we’ll have a slaughter system of integrity. A future where people understand that meat is a delicacy. Something to be enjoyed rarely, and produced humanely, or not at all.

But sadly for our generation, the choice is quite stark. If you choose to regularly eat meat, you support factory farming. It’s that simple. Turn a blind eye, or don’t. Value more than just human life, or don’t. Fight global warming, or don’t. I have drastically changed my own eating habits as a result of this book. My guess is, so have many others. Jonathan Foer, you bastard.