[disclaimer: I know. It's loooonnng. I think I'm making up for several months of pictures without much written material. Think of all the time I've saved you (the seven of you who read this blog) by only posting pictures...now it will even out.]
Should I consume less meat? Should I only eat meat from reliable sources? Should I stop eating animals altogether?
These are just some of the questions spinning a tangled web through my mind after finishing Jonathon Safron Foyer's wonderful book Eating Animals. His research is thorough (he committed three years to the project), balanced (he used the most conservative statistics available) and about as unradical as a book about factory farms can get.
It wasn't just this book, or these past few weeks reading it, that got me thinking about my meat intake. This internal dispute has been going on since 2005 when I stumbled upon a copy of Fast Food Nation, and continued through the years with Michael Pollan and the recent documentary Food, Inc. And finally, I seem poised to take some sort of leap into a mysterious and foggy eat-less-meat place, a position that I couldn't even begin to imagine the implications. What do I order out? What happens when we eat at a friends place? If I decide to eat some meat, where do I get it from?
This book, along with myriad other sources, has challenged me on several fronts. Probably what eats at me the most in regard to eating animals is the entire food process that takes place from the animal's birth to slaughter to transport to my mouth. And since 80-99% of the meat we eat comes from a factory farm, it only makes matters worse. The amount of research and interviews and videotapes of the gross and inhumane treatment of animals that happens in factory farms is staggering (think workers abusing animals in the cruelest ways possible). And even when the animals aren't being abused by their caretakers, their very existence is a short and cruel means to an end (think battery cages and disease and famine). One example Foer gives is that of a pregnant sow (and this is only half of it):
"Consider the life of a pregnant sow. Her incredible fertility is the source of her particular hell. While a cow will give birth to only a single calf at a time, the modern factory sow will birth, nurse, and raise an average of nearly nine piglets. She will invariably be kept pregnant as much as possible, which will prove to be the majority of her life...After her piglets are weaned (14 days instead of the normal 14 weeks), a hormone injection makes the sow rapidly "cycle" so that she will be ready to be artificially inseminated again in only three weeks.
Four out of five times a sow will spend the sixteen weeks of her pregnancy confined in a "gestation crate" so small that she will be not be able to turn around. Her bone density will decrease because of the lack of movement. She will be given no bedding and often will develop quarter-sized, blackened, pus-filled sores from chafing in the crate.
To avoid excessive weight gain and to further reduce feed costs, the crated sow will be feed restricted and often hungry."
And when you think about the way we have CREATED these animals through genetic engineering (vs. animal husbandry), the meat we eat doesn't even seem like real food. Through great feats of science, we have engineered chickens, for example, to grow so rapidly that they are slaughtered after 42 days of life. They are so fat they can't fly and often can barely walk by the time slaughter day arrives. And the only way they can even survive those 42 miserable days (sometimes even 39 days) are because we have laced them with hormones and antibiotics. The hormones and chemicals keeping them alive are also coming into my body, which doesn't sit very well. And the kicker for me on this front is that we don't even know the physical implications all this meat eating is having on our bodies because factory farming is such a new trend. And the same goes for pork and beef and even fish, believe it or not.
Then there are the slaughterhouses. And the greedy factory farm owners who have literally put hundreds of thousands of family farms out of business (or hired them and paid them barely enough to get by). And the reports coming out now that livestock contribute more to global warming than anything else (think massive piles of shit that seep into our rivers and lakes and release toxins into our air -- a typical cattle feedlot produces 344 million pounds of manure annually).
Of course, it's not all bad news from Foer or any of the other factory farm critics. There are farmers out there who still care for their animals and feed them real food and let them roam freely and find more humane slaughterhouses. And more and more people are asking these questions and shifting away from eating factory farmed meat, or any meat at all.
I read and studied and watched because I'm curious. I care about these issues because I eat meat almost every single day and I pretty much cover every common animal during the week. If I care about where I shop and where I get my fruits and vegetables and where I eat out at, it only makes sense that I would care about the meat I eat.
I'm one of many who simply wanted to know where this meat is coming from and how it's processed along the way. What I have found haunts me enough to make some changes. I'm not exactly sure what these changes will look like, but I'm ready to find out. Step one is to find local sources of meat from farms that raise animals in an ethical and humane way, where the animals are hormone and antibiotic free. Step two is to stop eating meat from restaurants, unless I know where it's coming from. Step twelve will be to raise some chickens of my own for eggs, but that might take a few months. :)
More of this journey to come...