My boo very thoughtfully bought me this book for Christmas, which he now deeply regrets as I have woken him up reciting facts about animal agriculture and abuse every day since. As most vegans, I have done a lot of reading and documentary-watching on the meat and dairy industry but nothing has shocked/taught me more than this book and I think everyone – meat eater, vegetarian, vegan – should read it.
It’s so well written and has first hand accounts from factory farmers, family farmers, individuals working in slaughterhouses, PETA employees, a vegetarian farmer, animal rights activists etc. Jonathan Safran Foer began writing this book and conducting his research when he was expecting his first child and wanted to make an informed decision on whether he should raise him to eat meat or not – obv he and his family are now vegetarian as anyone would be if they did some research, hashtag shade.
The majority of the first half of the book is focussed on chickens which is refreshing as I find cattle usually take centre stage on this topic. The living conditions and the evidence of abuse described in factory farms are shocking and difficult to read. Perhaps most shocking however, for the last fifty-or-so years there have been two types of chicken: layers and broilers. Both chickens but completely different genetically with starkly different bodies and metabolisms. This is just so odd. A quarter of all chickens – the male layers – are useless and draining to the industry and destroyed immediately. Chickens once had a life expectancy of 20 years, they are now typically killed at six weeks old, made possible by their growth rate increasing by 400%. Why would anyone want to put this flesh pumped with chemicals into their body?
Fish farming is something I hadn’t thought much about before. I think I always assumed that fish couldn’t feel as much pain or be as intelligent as other creatures due to people opting for a pescetarian diet. Nope. Aquaculture and bycatching accounts for so much death of sealife, the average trawling operation throws 80-90% of sea animals it captures as bycatch overboard, some up to 98%. This sums it up –
“Imagine being served a plate of sushi. But this plate also holds all of the animals that were killed for your serving of sushi. The plate might have to be five feet across.”
In terms of suffering, however small the percentage is we can say that some cows and pigs are slaughtered with speed and care minimising their suffering and pain. No fish gets the luxury of a good death. You never have to wonder if the fish on your plate suffered. It did.
One thing that really made me think was the idea of the “species barrier”, Jonathan talks about a polar bear born in Berlin zoo in 2006, Knut. He was loved across Berlin, he had his own podcast, was always in the newspaper, the city’s hockey team wanted him as their mascot, there were Knut bowties, figurines and commemortive plates etc. However just a few feet from his enclosure was a stand selling ‘Wurst de Knut’, made from the flesh of factory-farmed pigs, which are just as intelligent and deserving. Why? Jonathan also mentions dogs in regards to the species barrier – many cultures eat dog, he even includes a recipe for dog curry within the first few pages. Even the most militant meat eaters will shudder at the thought of eating a dog, I find it so difficult to understand why this compassion isn’t extended to other animals.
This idea of the species barrier has always bothered me since turning vegan and I roll my eyes and sigh daily when I see people post on instagram/Facebook about how animal testing is so abhorrent and people who beat puppies should rot in hell. Yet scroll down and there’s a juicy beef burger and a milkshake. Why do people not make the connection? I frequently moan (exclusively in my head and to my boyfriend) when omnivores proclaim how much they love animals, I’m sorry hun but you don’t.
There is so much more in this book that I could share but I would just be reciting it cover to cover. Like how the terms organic and free-range mean next to nothing, how there is so much evidence that our generation are more ill more frequently due to meat/dairy consumption, how pigs and cows often nuzzle up to farm workers like puppies moments before they are murdered – or skinned alive. How pigs have favourite toys, how if a piglet doesn’t grow fast enough it will simply be ‘thumped’ – picked up by its hind legs and bashed headfirst onto the concrete floor. How workers at top suppliers to KFC have been shown to rip heads off live chickens, spray paint their faces, stub out cigarettes in their eyes and urinate on them. How workers in factory farms have been shown to take electric prods and stick them in pigs/cows eyes and anuses – just to blow off some steam, because they can, because the managers and supervisors condone this behaviour.
The book concludes with a section on the turkey’s role at Thanksgiving which is relevant as I spent 2 hours on Christmas Eve running around the supermarkets looking for one with my mother. Why is it tradition to eat turkey? Today’s turkeys are fed a grossly unnatural diet including meat, sawdust and leather by-products. Turkeys are given more antibiotics than any other farmed animals due to their vulnerability to disease. I don’t see how the idea of ‘clean-eating’ can be associated with factory farmed animals. What my mum actually ended up with in her shopping trolley were two rectangular meaty logs for £5 total. This says all that needs to be said about the quality of what they were putting in their mouths last week, let alone the question of whether these “turkeys” were treated humanely and slaughtered with care.
If you want to learn more about animal agriculture, refuel your fact bank or just want a good read; I can’t recommend this book enough.