Saturday, May 8, 2010

Bookshelf: Jonathan Safran Foer (Part Deux)



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I finished reading "Eating Animals" tonight and I'm not really sure what to say about this book. It was amazing, eye-opening, well written, horrific, and even on occasion after working all day and reading on the T - textbook-ish. The thing is, it couldn't have been written any other way and even during the parts where instinct told me to turn away from the words to calm my churning stomach I couldn't close my eyes. You need to read this book.

I was completely unaware of Jonathan Safran Foer until I watched Ellen a few weeks ago. It was an old episode (thank you dvr) and when I saw the title in the info blurb I almost hit delete. But then I thought, you know what, I'll give it a chance. So I pressed play and I cannot tell you how glad I am that I did. Apparently, Safran Foer had already been on Ellen once before (I must have deleted without watching) and this time was welcomed back because viewers had written in about how reading "Eating Animals" changed their lives. The story that stood out the most for me was one woman (a cancer survivor) who had lost 15 pounds and felt great after reading the book and changing her diet. I was intrigued but not completely sold. And then Ellen said something that struck me. Up until two years ago she ate meat all the time and loved it. Then she read a book (not this one), became aware of factory farming and stopped eating meat. Since then she hasn't gotten sick, she sleeps better and feels better. I heard her say that and thought, yeah right, like not eating meat changes your body that much. I was skeptical, which I think is a natural reaction when someone says something like that on TV, but when she talked about the hypocrisy of calling herself an animal person but eating animals I really paused. So I went out to Porter Square Books and picked it up. I had a feeling it was going to change me in some way and I was open to that. I'll admit that I do not have a healthy relationship with food. Some nights for dinner I have oreos and wine, other nights cheese and crackers. So a change for the better, well that wasn't really something I was going to fight. But I also was afraid that reading this book would make me lose an appetite for things I adore, like sushi and ground beef (what's lasagna without the meat?).

Safran Foer opens with a story about his family relationship with food and I felt immediately welcomed into his life. I knew that this book was going to be a journey, for both him and the reader, and while I think I had more of a dilema with should I or shouldn't I stop eating meat, I'm glad that he took me to the places he went.

"Eating Animals" took three years of research (as evident from the sixty page bibliography) to write. The idea blossomed after his son was born and he stopped to look into what he was putting in his family's mouths. It's something to really ponder, expecially with lables on food that say words I can't even pronounce. The meat we purchase at the grocery store is so far removed from the process it took to arrive there that people don't even hesitate before grabbing the package of ground beef. At least I never thought about what it was. Let's be clear. I KNEW it was from a cow, but I never THOUGHT about it.

It's hard for me to really tell you about the book because I know that just the idea of it will stop some of you from even finishing this review. I know the feeling. It's the reason I didn't read "Omnivores Dilema" a year ago when a friend suggested it. But I don't want to be ignorant anymore. I want to be informed. I'm taking charge of my body and my life and I'm surging forward. So I opened this book and began reading and learning.

Safran Foer covers so many issues that there's no way I can properly do them justice. So let me just tell you this. He interviewed a woman from PETA and went with her on a covert mission to see the inside of a turkey farm. He befriended farmers and ranchers and got their side of the story. He explored and uncovered the medical issues with consuming meat and I can't even express how ignorant I was of all that. Maybe Ellen was right about not getting sick once she stopped eating animal products.

I know that many of you won't read this book because you're afraid. You're afraid that if you know what is going on behind the closed (and often locked) doors of factory farms then you'll never want to taste chicken or beef or pork again. I understand that fear because I felt it too. There's nothing like grilling steak on a summer night with friends in the back yard. But at what price does that steak come to you?

I've thought about how to present this material. I could tell you that between 39 and 75% of chicken sold in grocery stores is infected with E. coli. I could tell you about the process a chicken goes through from birth to slaughter and the horrid conditions that animal suffers through to get to your plate (it will churn your stomach, I promise you). I could tell you about the sodomy, gruesome beatings and torture animals go through as they head down the line towards death. I could tell you how the Spanish Flu, H5N1, H1N1 and that "stomach bug" you had last week are all related to meat consumption. I could tell you that the chicken you had for dinner tonight was only alive for 45 days from the time it hatched to the time it was killed and that to make it the right size for consumption in that month and a half it was stuffed full of antibiotics that affect how your body protects itself from disease. I could tell you how something as silly as pig shit, when mismanaged by factory farms, is lethal to entire communities. I could tell you it's more than common (it's actually the norm) for cows to still be alive as they are skinned and dismembered because the blood flow affects the quality of meat. But unless you're willing to change none of that will matter to you.

I was almost done with "Eating Animals" this week when my sister started talking with me on gchat about how her new favorite thing is hotdogs and she can't get enough of them. Aside from a bad experience with a cheese-filled dog back when I was ten I have no issue with hot dogs (beef ones of course). But I'm no longer ignorant of how that encased meat got to my mouth and so I obviously had to lecture her on what I was learning. I made my points as well as I could but my sister is not one to back down in an argument, especially if it's with me. "We were created with canines in our mouths for a reason," she said. "Humans have been eating meat since creation so why should we stop now?" Her point was valid and I knew I wasn't going to get anywhere with her, but I thought to myself, there are a lot of things we do because we can, but that doesn't make them right. Like deforestation. Or dumping trash in the ocean (have you read about the floating landfills out in the middle of the Pacific?). Or poaching endangered animals.

I know a lot of people are going to bypass this book for their own reasons, but I say this whole heartedly and without agenda - you have to read this book. If you're afraid it's going to turn you off of meat and that's why you refrain from reading it then all I have to say is this. If you're strong in your convictions, whether about meat or politics or your view of "Twilight", then you have nothing to fear. Maybe you'll come out on the other side craving a juicy steak. I hardly doubt it but it's not entirely impossible. I am telling you that you HAVE to read "Eating Animals" because everyone should be aware of economic, ecological and heath conditions affecting your person, your community and the world.

I thought quite seriously about posting videos and pictures about animal slaughter in this post, but I didn't want to scare you off from reading the review. If you're feeling brave though, google "Factory Farming" and look at the images. Some of them probably won't affect you. I know not everyone is like me when it comes to animals. I mean, how many people actually want a pig as a pet? Just me?

As I type this post my cat Beans is laying next to me and she looks so peaceful because she is safe and can nap knowing that her nine lives are safe in my hands. That can't be said for the baby cow awaiting it's turn to be your dinner. That is the reason why I am no longer eating meat, because I don't want to be cause for another being's suffering.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinions and can make their own choices. But make sure you're making those choices for the right reasons and not because you've chosen to ignore the facts. I leave you with this excerpt from "Eating Animals"...

"We can't plead ignorance, only indifference. Those alive today are the generations that came to know better. We have the burden and the opportunity of living in the moment when the critique of factory farming broke into the popular consciousness. We are the ones of whom it will be fairly asked, What did you do when you learned the truth about eating animals?"

Whatever your thoughts on meat, please, please, please read "Eating Animals".

xoxo
Stephanie
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