I just finished reading the book "Eating Animals" by Jonathan Safran Foer (he is also the author of the book "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close"). Gulp. Not for the faint of heart, but if everyone in America read this book, I'd like to think our world and the health of it's inhabitant would look radically different. This is quite possibly the most powerful and convincing book I have read about earth stewardship. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
I went into the book thinking I already knew all the evils of factory farming and doubted that I would learn anything new. Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Turns out eating animals is not as simple as well... eating animals. The whole process of eating animals from factory farms creates a ugly tangled web of animal rights issues, social justice issues, environmental issues and moral issues that many of us (myself included) are blind to...or would rather ignore.
In this book, Safran Foer spends 3 years exploring factory farms and their accompanying slaughterhouses, talking with farmers and employees, getting first hand accounts of what really goes on behind closed doors. This is not the rant of a lunatic PETA protester. Safran Foer writes with calm clarity and insight, on a quest for the truth, presenting the reader with facts and allowing us to come to our own conclusions. What sets this book apart from other animal rights books I have read is the author's focus on how animal suffering creates human suffering - for the farmers (who are often trapped in the system - they are not bad people, they're simply trying to make a living and the food giants told them this is the way of the future), the slaughterhouse employees (who work in inhumane conditions), and for us, the consumers (who eat the flesh of sick animals). This quote from the book stopped me in my tracks:
"Our sustenance now comes from misery. We know that if someone offers to show us a film on how our meat is produced, it will be a horror film... When we eat factory farmed meat, we live, literally, on tortured flesh. Increasingly, that tortured flesh is becoming our own." -p. 143
The more I learn about the truth behind factory farming, the more uncomfortable I become. That's the thing about knowledge, friends. Once a truth has been revealed to you, how can you forget it? In the past, I could claim ignorance about factory farming. I had no idea what it involved, and quite frankly, I didn't care. But now... now that I know, what will I do? How can I knowingly support an industry that goes against everything I believe in, an industry that knowingly harms people, animals and the planet? I cannot imagine that this is what God intended when He commanded us to "rule over the fish of the sea and birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground." He said rule, not torture, destroy or oppress.
One solution, many will point out, is to become vegetarian. I now understand why so many people choose this path, but it is not for me. While I agree that meat is almost unnecessary in our modern culture (which has a wide variety of foods available to us at all times), I still feel that meat can be part of a healthy diet, when consumed in moderation (you also should be aware that after his 3 years of writing this book, Safran Foer is now a vegetarian).
The only other solution I can come up with is to essentially become a vegetarian when I'm in social situation where I don't know where the meat came from. I'm adopting the term "flexitarian" to describe this type of eating - I still eat meat, but only in special circumstances (like the safety of my own home, where I know the meat is humanely raised). Hopefully, this will placate people who are curious why I'm eschewing meat, because I fear if I explain to people that I don't want to eat factory farmed meat, I will be labeled a "snob". Why is this? Why is it perfectly acceptable for people to be vegetarian, but if someone chooses to only eat humanely raised meat, they are considered a high-maintenance snob? Is there something wrong with wanting to opt out of inflicting horrific suffering on animals?
How do I explain this to people without offending them? Is it rude to refuse what a friend serves me? If so, then why is it not considered rude when vegetarian turns down meat or a person of Jewish heritage declines eating pork? How do I find out where the meat comes from without asking the host/hostess and starting a whole string of questions, without seeming disrespectful? Am I ready to deal with the social and relational implications of this choice? Blah. I don't have answers. All I know is this: knowledge calls for action. What good am I if I learn about suffering and do nothing about it? I know I'm only one person. I cannot change the world. But maybe, just maybe, I can plant a seed... and we all know what marvelous things can come from one tiny seed.
I take comfort in knowing that factory farming is a fad and will soon dissolve. It is so ridiculously unsustainable, it will never survive. In fact, it may be breaking down sooner than later, as droughts hit and feed costs rise through the roof. When will we realize that animals were not created to eat this way, to live this way, to grow this way? Someday, our children and grandchildren will ask us what it was like eating meat from factory farmed animals. "You mean to tell me that you guys actually ate meat from sick, suffering animals that were jammed into stuffy barns, that were pumped full of antibiotics, just to keep them alive long enough? You supported farming practices that polluted our land, lakes, and rivers? You destroyed the livelihood of small farmers, put small town slaughterhouses out of business and ruined entire towns just so you could buy meat a little cheaper? Thanks for leaving us this legacy, this giant mess that we have to deal with. What were you thinking?" Obviously, we were not.
"I felt shame for living in a nation of unprecedented prosperity - a nation that spends a smaller percentage of income on food than any other civilization has in human history - but in the name of affordability treats the animals it eats with cruelty so extreme it would be illegal if inflicted on a dog." - p. 40