Eating animals

This post is probably going to be a little out of line with the general tone of this blog, so bear with me on that.

I finished a book, about which I had some pretty strong feelings, and I share those at the risk of possibly alienating some, and pissing off others.

Let me preface with the fact that I love a good steak as much, possibly, as I love my little brother. Although I rarely eat them, a good filthy burger, slathered with goat cheese is something for which I would possibly trade a kidney, if I didn't probably need both kidneys to process all that sodium. I love ribs, I love chicken, I love a good pork chop. Seared ahi tuna, I'd most definitely trade that kidney for. A fat shrimp, grilled or chilled or covered in cocktail sauce, is the sweetest of delicacies.

Which is why giving up meat is certainly going to be a decision not lightly made, and very difficult to maintain.

I have been gradually avoiding meat for the last few months, not on ethical grounds, but because I simply wanted a healthier diet. I have been bothered by the fact that as Americans, we seem to revolve our meals around a meat dish. I decided that I never wanted to fall into the routine of, "this will be the meat, now what goes well with that?" I wanted meat to be something that sometimes goes with a meal, but most of the time it doesn't.

From a Mormon standpoint, (sorry if you aren't a Mormon, and aren't familiar with the theology) I have always been slightly bothered by the disconnect that devout Mormons have when it comes to the Word of Wisdom. The Word of Wisdom, being, the reason why Mormons abstain from alcohol, tobacco, and other addictive and/or judgement altering substances. The disconnect comes with the part where meat is to be eaten "sparingly" and "in times of famine." For whatever reason, that part seems not to matter to many Mormons. It certainly didn't matter to me for a large portion of my life.

But it should matter.

Eating large quantities of meat (what the Average American certainly does) is simply not a way to maintain a healthy lifestyle. But meat is easy, and cheap. It is much easier to spend 3 bucks and 5 minutes (more like 30 seconds) at McDonald's on double cheeseburgers, than the time, effort, and thought it takes to cook something wholesome. My point is, it isn't good for anyone to consume a good sized portion of meat, every single day. Ask any dietitian, or look it up on the interweb if you think I'm wrong.

Recently, I read the book Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, and pretty much fell in love with it. I found it to be a deeply moving, highly entertaining book. He recently published a book called Eating Animals, and having enjoyed Extremely Loud so much, I decided that I wanted to read it.

I knew it was about the American factory farm. I knew that I risked my love affair with with meat by reading it. But I also knew that I needed to really know what I have been eating my entire life, and what I would potentially continue to eat.

Eating Animals was not written by a PETA activist. It was written by a guy who has loved meat, and been an on again, off again vegetarian throughout his life. He chose to write the book when his son was born, because he realized that eating meat was no longer a personal decision, but one he would be making for his son. He wanted to find out if feeding his son meat was the right thing to do. So he set about doing 3 years of intensive research, which included breaking into factory farms, visits to actual sustainable, truly free range farms (the very few that are left,) and attempted contact and (legal) visits to some of the nations largest factory farms such as Tyson (none of which responded, nor allowed him to visit, for obvious reasons.) What he ended up with, I think, is a truly powerful (and truthful) exposé on the American meat industry.

A few years ago, my sister watched a short film online called 'Meat your Meat.' I had seen it previously, and dismissed it as extremism. I told her she was stupid for giving up meat, because there was no way that such a video was indicative of the industry as a whole. The video shows animals being treated and tortured in the worst ways imaginable. Now, after reading this book, I believe that this video is more the rule, rather than the exception. Or at least something close to it.

But, for the sake of people who will argue, let's pretend for a moment that it isn't. Let's go ahead and say that most animals aren't beaten with metal rods, aren't slammed upon the concrete until they die because they are too sick to move, and they aren't unnecessarily and often sadistically prodded with electric prods (much more than necessary) or a plethora of other common abuses, don't often occur. Sadism aside, there is plenty of inherent cruelty in the factory farm system that other potent examples are simply vegan icing on the shit cake.

Fact--factory farm animals (especially chickens and other poultry) are confined to small, disease ridden, shit infested spaces. Fact--through factory farming, genetically altered birds have been created for maximum growing potential and efficiency--the average broiler, (the chicken you eat) is slaughtered in 42 days. Sometimes 39. Can you even fathom the growth hormones and antibiotics necessary to create a succulent chicken breast in 42 days? Growth hormones, because nothing on this planet could naturally grow so fast and be ready for consumption, and antibiotics, because of the filthy conditions in which these birds are kept. Have you ever seen a 42 day old kitten, or puppy? Puts things in perspective...

So. We know (from government provided statistics, and obvious math ((if 30+ thousands birds are confined to a warehouse the size of a grocery store, it can't be any other way)) that animals really are unbelievably confined to small, filthy spaces. So why is that okay? Everybody, at one time or another, has seen an evening news story about some man or woman, who was discovered to be hoarding dogs or cats. We all look on in sadness, disbelief, and disgust while filthy, shit covered feral cats, with sores and scabs are being captured by animal control men wearing face masks. Why is that scenario punishable by fines and even jail time, while the same thing (just a different animal) ends up in your frying pan, or in between a bun, and slides happily down your gullet without ever a second thought?

These are questions that need to be asked. These are things that need to be thought about.

I think the problem, is the average american has no idea where his or her chicken, beef, pork, or fish is coming from. The idea that anything you purchase at a grocery store, or a fast food restaurant (or virtually any other restaurant, for that matter) is coming from a farm as you know it, is pure fantasy. I think if people really knew what the American factory farm was doing, and how meat actually gets to the end of your fork, there would be many more hesitant people when it came to meat consumption.

If you knew that children were used as the chief source of labor in the production of Ipods, and were terribly abused in the process, would you keep buying or using an Ipod? I know that animals aren't children. But the concept, I think, is fair. Meat is by no means a necessity, just like having an Ipod isn't a necessity. CD's play music too. So, upon finding out that there is extreme inherent cruelty built into the system (with factory farm demand, and the desire for cheap meat, things can be done in no other way) what can one do?

Again, let's set aside cruelty. Factory farms are probably going to be the cause of the next big pandemic. Because of the amount of antibiotics preemptively fed to factory farm animals, new strains of highly virulent, antibiotic resistant viruses are being, basically, farmed. With every bucket of KFC chicken, we are giving money to an industry that is inadvertently probably creating the next pandemic.

Do we need to even talk about how problematic 1.37 billion ton (not lbs, mind you) of shit per year produced by American livestock is?

I guess when it comes down to it, I am not opposed to the consumption of meat--sparingly. I do not think that the actual act of eating meat is wrong. However, what seems unequivocally wrong to me, is the manner in which our meat is derived. Which makes me feel that eating meat from a factory farm (which is most meat) is wrong.

Eating Animals, I think, may be one of the most important things I have ever read. Here is an excerpt, and one of many contained therein that I think lend credibility to his argument, and overall "agenda."

"My decision not to eat animals is necessary for me, but it is also limited--and personal. It is a commitment made within the context of my life, not anyone else's. And until sixty of so years ago, much of my reasoning wouldn't have even been intelligible, because the industrial animal agriculture to which I'm responding hadn't become dominant. had I been born in a different time, I might have reached different conclusions. For me to conclude firmly that I will not eat animals does not meat I oppose, or even have mixed feelings about, eating animals in general. To oppose beating a child to "teach a lesson" is not to oppose strong parental discipline. To decide that I will discipline my child in one way and not another is not necessarily to make a decision I would impose on other parents. to decide for oneself and one's family is not to decide for the nation or world."

If you read this book, I think you will be surprised by what you read. It doesn't feel preachy. It feels honest, and rational. You may disagree with most of what I have said here. And I get that--I have been there for most of my life. But I think I was there because I never had, what I felt like, were the facts presented to me. Meat consumption is one of the most polarizing subjects out there. Vegans and hardcore vegetarians are adamantly opposed to the cruelty and lack of animal welfare, often to the point of extremism, while meat lovers vehemently defend their steaks and God given right to exercise dominion and eat all creatures bond and free, while a lot of people in between just do what is easy, and mosey along in an ignorant, carnivorous bliss.

Meat is probably a large part of your life--it was certainly a large part of mine. Don't you think you should know a little more than "chicken comes from a chicken, and chickens live on farms"? If you are going to be an eating animal, you should know what that really means.


Jillith said...

Another thing people don't realize is that cows produce about as much pollution as cars do. Agriculture is responsible for about 14% of the world's greenhouse gasses. If people really cared about "going green", they'd give up meat too.

Debbie said...

Totally agree...I have a dvd you would probably enjoy, Food,Inc. It's something I believe everyone should see. Really opens ones eyes to where our food comes from. Disturbing.
Oh yeah, stylin new hair! You're dad will be jealous. lol

Fish Nat!on said...

Livestock actually produces more greenhouse emissions than do cars.

Becca VT said...

I've been lurking around your blog for awhile now, but I find this post particularly interesting because I have been going through a similar process lately - reducing meat consumption for health reasons, reading up on arguments for vegetarianism as well as trying to educate myself about the way that the meat industry works. I think your observations are dead on - although I'm not sure I'm going to be able to kick the junior bacon cheeseburger habit. On the Word of Wisdom front, I was reading an article in edible wasatch where someone made the argument that Mormons tend to also ignore the "everything in its season" clause. Perhaps this is because when it was written it seemed odd to even consider eating a fruit or vegetable out of season,but now we can get anything flown from anywhere any time of the year, despite the environmental cost. The writer pointed out that if God cared about our health enough to write a commandment about it, why wouldn't he also have it help sustain the bounty of his earth? I think that can also be applied to the eat meat "sparingly and in famine" bit. Meat is certainly one of the least efficient ways for us to get nutrients from the world. (also, since i have never experienced a famine or been short of food, shouldn't this mean that I should never have to dip into this "in case you need it" clause and eat meat?)Slow food and local food movements have been touting these same principles more and more. Anyway, this is a long comment and I should probably just write my own post. Nice to e-meet you!

Chris Almond said...

Kudos Andy.
It is really exciting for me to see vegetarianism becoming more and more widely accepted. As people who aren't radical left-wingers embrace the seemingly obvious idea that we should be nice to animals it helps other people who might have been turned off to vegetarianism by what they see as 'tree huggers'. Thank for writing a post like this, I hope it gets people to think about this important issue.

Jenna said...

When I decided to give up meat, people told me it was unhealthy. For some odd reason, a lot of Mormons are outraged when you decide to do something so 'left sided.' They can stick to their meat and potatoes, but you will live longer.

Unfortunately, I gave up after two months. Then again, I did go full out vegan, which is insanely hard to maintain as a college student. If I ever try vegetarianism, it will be a while from now. I got really, really sick of tofu based everything.

I am excited to see someone so informed and open minded with this. Good luck. No more double downs.

Joliene said...

Hey there, Fish. I know you know I already read this book. I loved it as much as you did, though I have to disclose that I was a vegetarian before reading this, which is much easier to do as a San Franciscan than a... Provan? Anyway, I wrote my own post after reading it. I saw dude being interviewed on The Colbert Report and bought it shortly after.

I also come from a meat-and-potatoes family. My family, my roommates, my boyfriend, my friends... I am the lone vegetarian and many of my meat-eating friends are quite adamant about their carnivory.

My mom was quite frightened the first time I went vegan for lent and even mentioned it to the doctor one time in my presence, hoping he would try to deter me. Instead, he laughed and said it is entirely possible to get proper nutrition without meat. I know a few people in the medical industry who are vegetarian for their health. It's actually pretty silly to think that vegan and vegetarian diets are unhealthy and don't provide proper nutrition... the reality is that most evidence shows quite the opposite!

Of course you know all of this now. There is some book called Going Vegan in 30 Days which I haven't read (mostly because I was a veggie head before hearing about it), but perhaps you'd be interested in.

I think the hardest thing about being vegetarian it is the harassment I get. I get lots of jokes thrown at me around dinner tables. People hate vegetarians that get preachy. I try really hard not to be one, so I am secretly (or not so secretly, in this case) pretty annoyed when people give me shit when I feel I'm the one who should be giving people shit for acting carelessly.

Anywho, I also have a Veggie Blog should you be looking for more recipes/reading material.

Kudos for reading that! Most people shy away from those topics, because yes, ignorance is a bit bliss-y.

And vegetarianism gets easier with time. The longer that business is out of your system, the less you'll crave it :)

Roxy said...

geez. these comments are really long. someday when I have an hour set aside I will come back and read them. Welcome to the world of flexitarianism.