Reading Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer had been on my to-do list for sometime, but I’d managed to avoid it for years…knowing there were probably harsh truths in his book that might force me to change — and I wasn’t ready for change! I loved animals…but, I also loved eating them. So, remaining blissfully ignorant was an easy way for me to have my steak and eat it too. I knew factory farming was inhumane and unhealthy, but I didn’t eat fast food, or hotdogs from the NYC street carts, or frozen chicken nuggets. I bought organic milk & cheese and “free-range” eggs. I imagined all the restaurants I dined at would surely be using quality animal products. There was no chance I was contributing to that nasty factory farming system — but I absolutely was, all the time. Because little did I know that the factory farm accounts for more than 99% of all farmed animals raised and slaughtered in the United States.
When a friend forced me to take me her old copy of Eating Animals home, describing it as an “absolute must read, especially if you care about animals, your health and our environment…” I couldn’t put it off any longer and sat down with the book that evening, only to finish it two days later.“Must read” was an understatement.
Eating Animals changed the way I eat — it changed the way I think about food in general. It made me realize how thoughtful I really needed to be when it came to consuming anything that came from animals. But still, after I finished the book I didn’t become a vegan, what I did do was start to ask questions. And if I didn’t like the answer, I didn’t buy the product.
My milk said organic, but it didn’t say how the cows were treated. It sounds ridiculous, but it never dawned on me that cows have to be pregnant in order to produce milk…so how often are these cows artificially inseminated and where did all their calfs go year after year of giving birth? My eggs said “cage-free,” but instead of 30,000 chickens crammed into tiny cages in a windowless warehouse, did that only mean 30,000 chickens crammed next to each other in a windowless warehouse? Did the farms where my meat came from allow beak cutting, tail docking, removal of horn buds and castration without any kind pain relief? Did the organic bacon I loved so much come from a pig that lived her life in a gestation crate, too small to even turn around? If the meat industry really consumed 4/5 of all antibiotics, was eating animal flesh making me stronger or sicker? And what impact did raising, feeding and slaughtering all these animals have on our water, air and earth? Are global warming and the industrialized farming system really directly linked?
I had a lot of questions (to say the least) and Eating Animals helped me answer many of them. But at one point it’s Mr. Foer who asks the most important question of all — “What did you do when you learned the truth about eating animals?”
And my answer to him is this…
I’ve started to eat less animals! Ex: no longer cook meat or fish at home, drink less cows milk (love hazelnut, oat and coconut milk), use less butter and more olive oil, cut back on eggs and cheese. I keep meat eating for dinners out or special occasions and do my best to only choose restaurants that work with local humane farms. I’ve researched animal welfare certification programs who label products that maintain humane farming standards (I easily found certified brands at my local commercial grocery). I’ve begun to read labels more thoroughly and objectively and have a better understanding of which are legitimate and which labels are meaningless — ex: cage free, free range, all natural. I speak to shopkeepers and butchers and ask questions about the farms they work with, choosing the products from farms who’s practices are low scale, drug-free and humane.
But most importantly…I share my story about what I did when I learned the truth about eating animals.