Eating Animals is a moving book by Jonathan Safran Foer that details the process by which animals are raised and processed for human consumption. Unlike many debates on the ethics of eating animals, Mr. Foer does not take a judgmental stance on the issue, instead, he simply strives to share as much information about modern livestock practices as possible.
Mr. Foer begins his tale by telling the audience how he had been interested in being a vegetarian since he was young, but continually dropped the practice when it became inconvenient. He goes on to explain that he and his wife didn’t like the idea of animals suffering for their consumption, but that they also both liked meat. When he finally became a father, Mr. Foer found himself wanting to settle his family’s ethical dilemma by conducting his own research into the matter. One of the ways he did this was to request large meat producing companies allow him to take a tour of their facilities. They never got back to him, so he went to the other side for some more information. The first point where the story turns dark then follows. He and his animal rights associate sneak into a turkey rearing facility at night and find a chick that appears to be having a stroke of some kind. The associate has to slit the poor chick’s throat.
From there, Mr. Foer begins retelling one of his most bewildering discoveries. That of how turkeys are hatched, grown, and killed. First key factor of the “industrial turkey” breed is that they are prone to weak immune systems, low fortitude, and a high death rate. Furthermore, just about every species of livestock is culled before reaching adulthood, and the way in which the killing is done cannot be considered humane even by the most liberal of standards. To take Mr. Foer’s turkey example, when it is time for the birds to be slaughtered, they are transported hanging by their feet, and not at all gently. Mr. Foer reports that many turkeys break bones, and sustain other major injuries while being transported. Once at the slaughterhouse, the turkeys go through an electric bath, meant to kill them. This slaughter method is however, rather ineffective as plenty of fully conscious turkeys are processed alive. While I would like to fully cover all the levels of unnecessary abuse to both animals, workers, and consumers stemming from these slaughterhouses, I think it’s best you just read that part yourself. Trust me, it gets far worse.
Despite the horrid processes Mr. Foer describes, there is a thread of hope for ethical animal agriculture in this book. Mr. Foer meets with several farmers who base their entire practice around the ethical treatment of their animals. To stick with the turkey example, Mr. Foer finds a farmer who raises heritage breed turkeys that are allowed outside, and not just the “free range” get to look out a window kind of outside, but the actual outdoors where the animals can perform natural behaviors in stable social groups until it is time for them to be (much more ethically) processed.
Before reading this book, I knew that I wanted to reduce the amount of meat in my diet for sustainability reasons, however this book showed me a reason closer to my heart to avoid factory farmed animal products. The ethics of factory farming. I had previously known that factory farms existed in large quantities, but I never understood just how terrible these places could be. As someone who has kept a large variety of animals in captivity, it was appalling to hear about the abuse and neglect these living beings were subjected to. After reading this book, I will definitely be looking for more alternatives to meat. If it’s not ethically sourced, I’m not sure I’ll be able to keep it down anymore.