Eating Animals (again)

To anyone who’s already done a bit of reading on factory farming and animal welfare, Jonathon Safran-Foer’s book Eating Animals is unlikely to say anything all that new, but what it will do is present the old arguments in a new and impassioned way.

Safran-Foer is happy to admit that the arguments against eating animals are deeply subjective, multifaceted and often hypocritical, and this is reflected in the structure of the book itself, where the author’s own polemic is interleaved with often conflicting, personalised accounts from animal rights activists, factory farmers and vegans (among others).

This narrative style lends the book an engaging and readable quality that so many of the more stern treatises on the subject lack, and it’s for this reason—coupled with the author’s already well-established reputation as an author with Everything is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close—that I hope Eating Animals will reach as wide an audience as possible.

Buy it. Then read it. And then encourage others to do the same.

Here are some bits that had me reaching pen-ward:

“Not responding is a response—we are equally responsible for what we don’t do. In the case of animal slaughter, to throw your hands in the air is to wrap your fingers around a knife.”
p. 226

“Just how destructive does a culinary preference have to be before we decide to eat something else? If contributing to the suffering of billions of animals that live miserable lives and (quite often) die in horrific ways isn’t enough, what is? If being the number one contributor to the most serious threat facing the planet (global warming) isn’t enough, what is? And if you are tempted to put off these questions of conscience to say not now, then when?
p. 243

“However much we obfuscate or ignore it, we know that the factory farm is inhumane in the deepest sense of the word. And we know that there is something that matters in a deep way about the lives we create for the living beings most within our power. Our response to the factory farm is ultimately a test of how we respond to the powerless, to the most distant, to the voiceless—it is a test of how we act when no one is forcing us to act one way or another.”
pp. 266–267

“When we lift our forks, we hang our hat somewhere. We set ourselves in one relationship or another with farmed animals, farm-workers, national economies and global warming. Not making a decision—eating ‘like everyone else’—is to make the easiest decision, a decision that is increasingly problematic. Without question, in most places and in most times, to decide one’s diet by not deciding—to eat like everyone else—was probably a fine idea. Today, to eat like everyone else is to add another straw to the camel’s back. Our straw might not be the backbreaker, but the act will be repeated—every day of our lives, and perhaps every day of the lives of our children and our children’s children.”
pp. 261–262

Eating animals

Jonathan Safran Foer’s new book, Eating Animals, has been serialised in The Guardian this past week, and if you’re unlikely to pick up a copy of the book itself, then I implore you to at least read the extracts. His writing on this topic has such clarity, drive and purpose, and it just seems to make so much bloody sense. (But then I would say that I suppose.)

Remain unmoved and you will earn my frustrated astonishment, which I will dribble out, bag up and post to you via DHL.

Meat meets production

This really is a mighty joke …

Given the ubiquity of industrial farming methods around the world—which see animals caged, terrorised and butchered with relentless automaton regularity—the uproar over two men killing a rat, for food, on television, seems to miss the point in a truly mind-bending way. Quite apart from the fact that eating live animals has been a staple of the show in question ever since its inception, this rat’s demise, and the reaction surrounding it, seems to shed some light on humanity’s warped sense of animal welfare.

Dead animals are, of course, advertised, cooked and eaten on television every day, usually alongside pointers on how to prepare your own tasty morsel should the desire take hold. Joints of meat are seasoned and tenderised, sealed and roasted in front of a beaming studio audience wildly clapping their hands at the banality of it all. Anyone who’s seen the quasi-pornographic Marks & Spencer adverts on British TV—where great sides of beef, filmed in slow motion, are generously doused in unctuous gravy—will have noticed that the sheer animal desire to consume meat continues unabated.

So then what’s the difference between these two televised events? Why is one considered to be animal cruelty and the other beyond reproach? The answer I think lies in the tactical and deliberate separation of the words ‘meat’ and ‘production’—a gulf that is to be maintained if the stunning, dehiding and butchering of cows is to remain distinct from a beef steak being griddled with onions and garlic. In trapping, killing and skinning a rat, for food, on television, ‘meat’ and ‘production’ have become uneasy bedfellows. And the word that emanates from this linguistic union? Cruel.

Meatpackers and supermarkets don’t want people to know where their meat comes from, which is handy, because people don’t seem that interested in its provenance either. To most people, meat is a shiny consumer end-product, much like a hand-stitched football, so what’s the need to peer into the shitty feedlots and slaughterhouses to see where this shrink-wrapped, sterilised nourishment began its own short and doomed life?

To begin to answer this question is, of course, to close the gap between ‘meat’ and ‘production’, and in doing so expose the inherent cruelty and barbarism of industrial farming and mechanically raised meat. That the consumption of a rat on a vacuous reality TV show can start to pose these questions only shows how clumsy and misguided our distinction between animal cruelty and animal consumption really is.