Sunday, October 10, 2010

[Reading] Eating Animals

I got into this book pretentiously knowing what to expect: that it was the story of a father-to-be questioning dietary choices available to his son. He would visit and vividly describe factory farms - I get it. But what I really got was a ton more.

Jonathan Safran Foer starts the book by questioning why we don't eat dogs. Not that he would eat a dog or supports the practice of eating men's best friends, but he questions the practice of eating fish, poultry, cattles, pigs, turkeys, and, wait a minute, why not dogs? They are not any more inferior or superior in terms of quality of meat or "animal-ness". I actually agree with his view. We don't eat dogs (or even think about eating them) because we use them as pets. What if, for instance, in a parallel universe men raise pigs as pets? Would the dogs and cats of that world become food?

The book disturbs me in not only the pictures it paints of animal life in factory farms or "farming" methods, most of which you and I probably know in the back of our heads but successfully ignores. For example: the overcrowding, the exorbitant amount of feces, and the castration/insemination (the last of which was new knowledge to me). It also describes the irony of the term "factory farming," precisely because what the factories are doing are the opposite of what we know to be traditional farming. Even the most dangerous and violent criminals have human rights to dignity and decency; what of these animals that have done nothing to perturb the human population to exist in peace? Don't they deserve any shred of decency in quality of life?

To say that one must not could not eat animals is not what Foer concludes. Eating (what to eat, when to eat, and how much to eat) is personal choice, but that doesn't mean one should eat blindly. To not know where or how your food comes from and the travels it had to go through, that is simply ignorance. To be better informed and make educated decisions, that is perhaps what Foer suggests.

I'm not sure I can give up meat altogether. Throughout my college and graduate-school days, I did experiment with vegetarianism. (As a dietitian, I believe that I should attempt different diets to know what my clients and patients go through.) It seemed that my body craves animal protein from time to time. I could eat less of it, even none of it for a few days. Then the desire comes with an urgency. It's unexplainable, and I don't intend to understand it, even after reading this book. But I would like to be better learned about food sources and invest in products that have come from a better way of farming, travel, and slaughter (as best as possible anyway - is there really such a thing as humane slaughter?). I hope all is not too late and that I can improve the way my family eats as well.

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