Monday, February 24, 2014

Book Review: Eating Animals

I’ve been a vegan for almost 4 years now. There are many reasons why one might choose this path, and for me it was to optimize health and athletic performance. The treatment of factory farmed animals didn’t really play into the decision, though I had read The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Fast Food Nation – both great books which paint a vivid picture of “life” on the factory farm. After reading these books, I did make efforts to connect with local farmers and started purchasing grass-fed, antibiotic-free, meat, poultry, & eggs from small local farms. However, because this was more burdensome and a lot more expensive, I also kept buying conventional meat in bulk from Costco’s meat department and whenever I ate out in restaurants. In continuing to spend money on conventionally farmed animal products, I was still contributing to the demand for cheap meat and even though it made me feel better about what I was doing, I realize now that “any plan that involves funneling money to the factory farm won’t end factory farming.”

Since turning vegan, it’s been nice to know that I’m no longer contributing to factory farming, but like I said before it was never the impetus for change and I didn’t think about it that much. Then the book Eating Animals came to me in the mail from a friend. I was intrigued so I started reading it and I couldn’t put it down! You should know that this book was not written by an animal-rights activist or hard-core vegan. It was written by a young omnivorous first-time father who wanted to find out more about exactly what he would be feeding his son should he continue to purchase animal products. I feel like the book is very objective and allows you to form your own opinions based on factual information presented. In my mind, the following reasons are more than enough to convince me that abstaining from factory farmed meat is the only viable conclusion.

Animal Cruelty
I won’t lie, it was not pleasant reading about the nitty gritty details of how factory farmed animals are treated; it’s downright shocking and disgusting. First of all, the animals I’m talking about should not even exist in nature. What I mean is that these farmed animals have been so meticulously and grotesquely genetically engineered over time to produce greater amounts of meat with less food in less time, that they literally are incapable of reproducing. Thus, it is a fact of biology that these animals should not even exist. They live their pathetic lives in overcroweded cages, are not free to engage in the natural behaviors of their species, are branded/clipped/cut all without pain killers, and don’t see the light of day until they are crammed onto the trucks to be taken to slaughter. Those that don’t manage to grow properly in the heinous conditions are simply killed or left to die because it would cost more for the farmer to continue to feed them. Of course the slaughterhouses are a nightmare and it’s commonplace for animals to be skinned or cut alive. The nature of the work often brings out sadistic behavior in workers who abuse the animals with physical force. I won’t elaborate on this because it’s only a google away if you want more details. It’s really hard to believe that so much cruelty occurs and so many people know about it, yet it continues to happen and is simply swept under the rug.

Ecological Impact
The book also talks a lot about the ecological impact of factory farming, which is staggering! Factory farming produces more greenhouse gases than all forms of transportation combined. Farmed animals in the US produce an incredible 87,000 pounds of sh*t per SECOND! Holy sh*t! That’s 130 times as much waste as the entire human population! Here is an excerpt of a story about a 120,000 square foot “lagoon” of nitrogenous pig waste:

A worker in Michigan, repairing one of the lagoons, was overcome by the smell and fell in. His 15-year old nephew dived in to save him but was overcome, the worker’s cousin went in to save the teenager but was overcome, the worker’s older brother dived in to save them but was overcome, and then the worker’s father dived in. They all died in pig sh*t.

In addition to excessive waste & greenhouse gases, we are clearing rainforests at an alarming rate to make more room to farm more livestock so that we can create more waste & more gas.

Health Impact
I’m not going to elaborate on this much because I’ve talked about it before and it’s not a focus of the book. But, in general science shows an undeniable correlation between the Standard American Diet (SAD) and the chronic diseases plaguing millions of Americans today, including the #1 and #2 killers – heart disease & cancer. The obvious link here is obesity, which is nearly impossible to achieve on a whole foods plant-based diet.

Economic Impact
One of the biggest problems facing the US today is the crumbling of our health care system. Drugs & surgeries are so expensive and are both treatments that do not remedy the underlying problems; rather they treat the symptoms. The cheapest way to prevent and reverse diseases that otherwise result in costly treatments (i.e. bypass surgery, dialysis) is to adopt a whole foods plant-based diet.

Medical Impact
It’s well known that bacteria naturally evolve and mutate to develop resistance to the antibiotics that we have against them. More and more strains of bacteria are becoming harder and harder to treat. This is not a result of humans overconsuming antibiotics – Americans consume about 3 million pounds of antibiotics per year. In comparison, 17.8 million pounds of antibiotics are fed to factory farmed animals! And this is not a situation where an animal gets sick and is then treated. The animals are fed antibiotics in their feed at each meal to prevent them from becoming too diseased to sell to consumers, which would otherwise be inevitable because of the close and dirty quarters that they inhabit. The lavish use of antibiotics in the factory farming world is setting the scene for the next global pandemic.

Hunger Impact
It is much much cheaper to produce a calorie of plant food than it is to produce a calorie of animal product. In thinking about ending world hunger, it would be much more cost-effective to feed people plant foods, rather than to try to solve the problem with meat. Compounding this problem is that more and more of the grain that could be used to feed hungry people, is being siphoned to animal farms to feed livestock. It’s a lose-lose.

Now, I think part of the problem with factory farming is educating people about the truth. IMO it’s really important that people realize where their food is coming from and how it is produced (raised, transported, killed, & processed). However, if you suggest that people should read books like “Eating Animals” or watch videos like “Meet Your Meat” you will likely be met with a lot of resistance. I think this is because people are content to exist in a state of ignorance. If they educated themselves on the topic then they’d be forced to make an ethical decision with taste/customs/traditions of food weighing heavily on one side of the scale. I don’t think anyone would actually condone factory farming and I certainly can’t think of a good argument to support it. No one thinks that it’s ok to abuse or mistreat animals, but then why is it so hard for people to demand the end of factory farming and insist on a more sustainable solution?

I’ll end this with a quote from the book that really resonated with me:

When we eat factory-farmed meat we live, literally, on tortured flesh. Increasingly, that tortured flesh is becoming our own.

So, where do you stand? Do you? Doing nothing is a choice and a vote for factory farming.

No comments:

Post a Comment