Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Book Review: Eating Animals

I just finished reading Eating Animals, by Joanathan Safran Foer. This is a thick, long book that is not always easy to read, yet I'm really glad I did. Foer starts the book by talking about eating animals of all type (ie why we think it's ok to eat cows but not dogs) and how different cultures are very different in this respect. He talks about the words we use to describe how we eat animals - organic, natural, CAFO, etc. and what they may or may not mean (which is often different from what consumers think they mean). He describes factory farming in great detail, which is unsettling even if you already know how awful it is. He also describes the situation in slaughterhouses, which also terrible.

There are separate sections on how chickens, pigs and cows are treated. The section on chickens was particularly disturbing, since in addition to the inhumane treatment the birds receive, you see how fecal contamination gets everywhere and how it is impossible to buy "clean" chicken if it came from a factory farm. There is a lot of detail on the different kinds of flus that humans can contract, and how the way we process animals can contribute to the spread of those flus. For each type of animal, if there is a farm that does it better, he also talks about that, and discusses why some aspects might be better but some aren't very good at all.

He concludes with a big section on the choice to eat animals or not. He acknowledges that there are many points of view on this, and there is a lot of detail on both sides. He also talks a lot about how it is very difficult to eat meat, but only meat that was not grown on a factory farm or processed in a slaughterhouse that does not adhere to the standards he'd like to see. Reading this book renewed my wish to be vegetarian. One thing he did not go into in a lot of detail is the treatment of animals that are raised for their non-meat products (eggs, milk, cheese, etc.) From other reading I have done, I'm pretty sure that the animals in factory farms producing eggs and dairy are going through the same awful stuff. Ideally, I'd like to be vegan except for the rare instances when I can get products from small farms that are treating the animals humanely, feeding them food which makes them more nutritious, and processing them humanely and cleanly. Getting food like that is very difficult though, so I think I'll aim to eat an absolute minimum of animal products.

Whether you eat meat or not, or other animal products, this book would be a very thought provoking read. It is at times discouraging, since it's hard to see how much of this is going to change, but it's a start to know about it. I'd give this book 4 out of 5 stars. At times, it felt disorganized, and hard to look something up if you wanted to go back to it. I would have liked the sections to be more clearly marked. This book is best read from start to finish, as it's difficult to look up a particular topic.


hmd said...

This one's on my reading list too, although it sounds very similar to the one I just read, "The Way We Eat: Why our Food Choices Matter." It did go into the way laying hens, etc are treated which was seriously disturbing - like burying them alive or, in one instance, tossing tens of thousands of chickens into a wood chipper when they were no longer "useful." Talking about an impetus for changing the way I eat!

Thanks for the great review! I plan to read it, but I think I'll wait until I'm less depressed about the last one. There's only so much you can process about mistreatment at one time...

Kale for Sale said...

This is already on my list after a friend passed on a recent New Yorker issue with an atricle about it and a couple of months ago I'd read another in the NYT Magazine. I have to admit I cheered at how the author didn't pussy foot around how animals are treated to produce meat. But soon thereafter I had a conversation with a college student who I pass information on to and who now has a hard time buying meat at the market but can't afford to buy it other places which made me realize how few alternatives we have to industrialized meat in so many parts of the country. I wish there were an easy answer to this like so many things. Thank you for the review. You've spurned me to get my name on the list at the library.

hmd said...

I think meat and dairy are a tough subject because to buy sustainable products, they are much more expensive, but that's only because that is the TRUE cost to produce good product. Honestly, I think we call all afford to buy such products, but the catch (and controversiality) is that at sustainable prices we just can't eat meat/dairy at every meal, and probably not even every day. And it's hard to move forward telling people that they can't have something that modern times has deemed a "staple" of our diet.

JAM said...

Heather, you're right that this sounds similar to the one you just reviewed. In fact, I requested the one you reviewed, and when my husband brought this home from the library, I thought it was that! Turns out he picked this up because he had read a different book by him, but then thought I might be more interested in the subject. Now I have The Way We Eat... sitting on my coffee table waiting for me.

Kale, yes, I think we have to totally shift the way we think about meat - the farmers' market has a vendor selling heirloom turkeys and they were soooo expensive, but that's probably what a turkey ought to cost and maybe it should be a once a year thing.