Comiendo los Animales

Eating Animals by Johnathan Safran Foer

This proved to be a very good book.  It presented our food production system in an unbiased manner.    I truly enjoyed learning about all the facts that he presented.  Here are some that caught my eye:

  • “On average, Americans eat the equivalent of 21,000 entire animals in a lifetime” (121)
  • “Virtually all (upwards of 95 percent of) chickens become infected with E. coli (an indicator of fecal contamination) and between 39 and 75 percent of all chickens in retail stores are infected.” (131)
  • “76 million cases of food-borne illnesses… occur in America each year [estimated by the CDC].” (139)
  • “Nearly one-third of the land surface of the planet is dedicated to livestock.” (149)
  • “Americans choose to eat less than .25% of the known edible food on the planet.” (1)
  • “In the US, farmed animals represent more than 99 percent of all animals with whom humans directly interact.” (73)
  • “Today, it isn’t unusual for meat to travel almost halfway around the globe to reach your supermarket.  The average distance our meat travels hovers around fifteen hundred miles.” (104)
  • “In the US, about 3 million pounds of antibiotics are given to humans each year, but a whopping 17.8 million pounds are fed to livestock.” (140)
  • “Farm animals in the US produce 130 times as much waste as the human population–roughly 87,000 pounds of sh*t per second.  The polluting strength of this sh*t is 160 times greater than raw municipal sewage.  And yet, there is almost no waste-treatment infrastructure for farmed animals.” (174)

Foer mentioned a few repeated themes; what happens around food is more important than the food itself, animals are what we are and are not, and the emphasis on cheap food regardless of the health cost.

He mentioned Marion Nestle, a public health expert that argues that “food companies, like cigarette companies will say and do whatever works to sell products”.  This analogy is great at portraying the food industry as the “bad guy” or the ones influencing us to consume in this unhealthy and unsustainable manner.

Some excellent quotes from this book are:

  1. “To think the war we find ourselves waging in is not only a duty, a responsibility, an obligation, it is also a necessity, a constraint that, like it or not, directly or indirectly, no one can escape…The animal looks at us, and we are naked before it.” (38)
  2. “I felt shame living in a nation of unprecedented prosperity–a nation that spends a smaller percentage of income on food than any other civilization has in human history–but in the name of affordability treats the animals it eats with cruelty so extreme it would be illegal if inflicted on a dog.” (40)
  3. “Whether or not you are in favor of offshore oil drilling, whether or not you ‘believe’ in global warming, whether you drive your Hummer or live off the grid, you recognize that the air you breathe and the water you drink are important.” (73)
  4. “The power brokers of [the]… sad business of factory farming…know that their business model depends on consumers not being able to see (or hear about) what they do.” (87)
  5. “We live in a world in which it’s conventional to treat an animal like a hunk of wood and extreme to treat an animal like an animal.” (93).
  6. “Having little exposure to animals makes it much easier to push aside questions about how our actions might influence their treatment.  The problem posed by meat has become an abstract one; there is no individual animal, no singlular look of joy or suffering, no wagging tail, and no scream… Cruelty… prefers abstraction.” (102)
  7. “We have focused the awesome power of modern genetic knowledge to bring into being animals that suffer more.” (159).
  8. “Drugs are not for curing diseases, but substitutes for destroyed immune systems.  Farmers do not aim to produce healthy animals.” (188)

I do have a few questions and comments about this book..

  1. Is it the system that’s corrupt, or is it so efficient that it has taken over its operation and grown out of control?
  2. What are some steps we can take to fix the problems of our food system?
  3. What is my responsibility as a consumer?
  4. What is the government’s responsibility to the consumer?
  5. On page 35, Foer mentions “the takeover of the factory farm could itself be taken over”.  What does he mean by this? What will take over the factory farm?
  6. Why is there a stigma associated with those who are vegetarians/very environmentally conscious?
  7. Of course, the question posed at the end of the book… Where will it end?

“We have let the food industry craft our national nutrition policy, which influences everything from what foods are stocked int he health food aisle at the local grocery store to what our children eat at school.” (147)

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