Just to be Informed

About a month ago I read Jonathan Safran Foer’s book Eating Animals.  My motivation for reading the book had nothing to do with eating or animals, really I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  I was looking for something to read on my new kindle and did a search for Foer.  I loved the book Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: A Novel and I happened upon Eating Animals.  I can’t even remember if I realized when purchasing that it was a non-fiction book.  That’s the beauty of the kindle – that super fast non-existent checkout.

I won’t go into too many details about the book, I’ll just say that it was life changing and I strongly believe that everyone who eats meat, and probably even those who don’t should have to read it.  Just to be informed.  It’s a quick read, although not an easy one.  The content is disturbing…shocking at times, but as is pointed out in the book, not necessarily something that we don’t know on some level.  The book can get a bit preachy at times, but not in an overwhelming way because it seems to sneak it in with thought provoking questions.

If you haven’t guessed, the book is about eating animals and more importantly how the animals we eat find their way to our tables and restaurants.  To say that it’s not pretty is an understatement.  For me, it really hit home, in a way that other things haven’t.  For instance, about a year ago, my friend and I got in a bit of an argument over organic milk and cream.  Was there really a reason to pay twice as much for the organic label.  After doing a couple of hours of research, I concluded that no, buying organic didn’t make sense.  The book actually brings that point home for me…well, sort of.  The thing with the milk was that the organic companies biggest claim was the idea that the cows weren’t treated with hormones…well, much of the milk I can purchase from the store is from cows not treated with hormones – even the grocery store brand.  And what I found out about the organic label was that it can be just as much a factory farm as any other.  But what I didn’t take into consideration was the treatment of the animals.  I was right not to buy into the whole idea of the organic label, but wrong not to question where the products were coming from and what was happening to the animals.  And really, the dairy cows appear to be the luckiest of the bunch.

Eating Animals created a radical shift in how I thought about my food.  I suddenly realized that I couldn’t go back to eating the way I always had been which meant huge changes because factory farmed meat is EVERYWHERE.  As Eating Animals points out – it’s not just about “what am I going to fix for dinner tonight,” but it can begin to change everything from what you grab when you need a quick bite out to how you are going to approach Thanksgiving or other traditional family meals.  Add to that the fact that my husband is an unapologetic carnivore who made it very clear that whatever I decided he was going to continue to eat meat.

I think the most important thing that I took away from the book was the idea of being informed.  It’s in my nature to want to know, to research, read, figure things out.  So I set out to find more information.  I started by getting two books – Slaughterhouse: The Shocking Story of Greed, Neglect, and Inhumane Treatment Inside the U.S. Meat Industry by Gail A. Eisnitz and The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Polan.  I haven’t made it through Slaughterhouse yet, it’s a tough read because it is so disturbing.  But, it was exactly what I needed to be reading to propel me to find some alternatives.

So, what am I doing differently these days?  Well, the good and bad thing about where I live is that it tends to be quite rural.  That means that stores that would make it easy to make better meat and dairy choices like Whole Foods and Trader Joes are not easily accessible.  But, that also means that finding local sources of meat and dairy are not too difficult.  I know that to some people the idea of this is not acceptable – how could I read the book Eating Animals and not end up a vegan like Natalie Portman or the author himself.  I’ve read the arguments and for now have come up with some compromises that I can live with.  Buying  local meat, dairy and produce is one of them.  One of my main concerns with changing how we eat is the cost involved.  Expense is one of the primary reasons factory farming has been able to take such a deep hold.  The alternatives are usually double the price. Like many families we are not able to spend more money on food.  There was also no way to get my husband on board if I had to justify a steep increase in our grocery bill.  I quickly realized that the answer was to consume less meat.  It would be easy enough to throw a couple of vegetarian meals into our week and when we did use meat to go for stir fry’s casseroles and soups so that using half as much meat wouldn’t be noticeable.  I also joined a CSA (community supported agriculture) for fresh vegetables this summer – this is not the case everywhere, but here, I can actually save money on vegetables as long as I plan our shopping around what I get.  Finally, I found a local farm that I can purchase pork, beef and chicken from that delivers every other week.  Most importantly, the farm is part of a co-op processor, so they are actually processing the meat themselves in small batches and every piece is USDA inspected.  The animals don’t have traumatic rides to the processing center and the standards are higher than in many other processing centers.

I think what it boils down to for me is asking questions about where my food comes from and then making informed decisions based on what I know.  Deep down I had a sense that something was not right I wonder why it took so long for me to act on that sense.

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