Let me just start by saying I absolutely loved this book (says the vegan), but at the same type there were several instances it literally made me want to throw up. I’m actually serious when I say literally. I had to put the book down for about a day after the slaughterhouse chapter.
I started off a bit skeptical as he spoke about eating dogs and cats. I made myself stay open-minded during this chapter, and in the end I found myself agreeing with him. Yes, I am a vegan. No, I would never eat a dog or cat. Yet, I understand Foer’s argument. The comparison of dogs to pigs and cows was what initially convinced me to give up red meat. One of my biggest drivers as a person is to never be a hypocrite. When I read a post about dogs being factory farmed in China I was obviously grossed out and shaming these people. Then someone commented ‘how is this any different than American’s factory farming pigs and cows?’ I thought and thought, but couldn’t come up with an argument. This initially made me give up red meat, but slowly drove me to become vegan all together.
Overall, I think if you’re going to defend a meat eating lifestyle you shouldn’t shame other cultures for the kinds of meat they eat. Especially considering we kill thousands of dogs and cats at animal shelters, and proceed to throw them away. They may be eating what we consider pets, but it’s much more environmentally friendly and reduces the amount of animals that need to be bred to be eaten– subsequently reducing the number of lives that are produced for pain and suffering.
I like the point he makes on page 192, we judge other cultures, for example those who eat chimpanzees, but they look at us as though we are extremely lacking since we don’t get to enjoy the delicacy that is chimpanzee. There is a limit to the love of meat us Americans have. We love eating meat, but we love dogs more, so we don’t eat them. For vegetarians/vegans, we love eating meat, milk, cheese, etc. but we love cows, pigs, and chickens more.
It’s always possible to wake someone from sleep, but no amount of noise will wake someone who is pretending to be asleep. -pg 102
I think one reason it was so “easy” for me to become vegetarian and then vegan was because I was truly asleep. I knew meat came from animals, but I didn’t know all the pain, suffering, and environmental hazards it produced. When I started to figure it out, it was pretty easy to make the switch. The problem is, many people are purely pretending to be asleep. They don’t want to give up their lifestyle, favorite meals, barbecues with the family, etc. so they make excuses for why it’s okay to eat meat.
People also need to realize that they do not need to eat meat at every meal. Americans eat 150x as many chickens as we did 80 years ago. I think part of that is the taste and part is this general misunderstanding that meat is extremely healthy. As an athlete, we are given packets on how to eat healthy and almost every single thing I’ve gotten says you should eat a serving of meat at every meal. Contrary to popular belief, you can only process so much protein. You will not get stronger from just eating protein. They have also come out with studies saying eating red meat can lead to higher rates of cancer.
Though this book often sparked moments of anger from me, page 139 was a major eye-opening moment for me.
For example, the next time a friend has a sudden “flu” — what folks sometimes misdescribe as “the stomach flu”– ask a few questions. Was your friend’s illness one of those “24 hour flues” that come and go quickly– retch or shit then relief? The diagnosis isn’t quite so simple, but if the answer to this question is yes, your friend probably didn’t have the flu at all– he or she was probably among the 76 million cases of food-borne illness the CDC estimate occur in America each year. Your friend didn’t “catch a bug” so much as eat a bug. And in all likelihood that bug was created by factory farming. -pg 139
He goes onto say that there are 76 million cases of food-borne illnesses in America each year, so if you think you have the 24 hour flu, it’s actually probably food poisoning.
So why was this so eye-opening? When we were in the Galapagos Islands there was about 3 days where people where everyone was insanely sick. About 4 people were at dinner one of those nights. We literally ran out of water on the boat and had to borrow from another boat because everyone was throwing up (among other things) so much and had to keep flushing the toilets. I was one of the lucky ones that felt better after 12 hours or so. We considered it was possibly food poisoning, but the vegetarians (myself included) ate almost entirely different meals and were sick also. We chalked it up to something in the water or the actual flu that had been spread among us.
Now looking back, I can definitely say it was food poisoning, because while we did not eat the same things, they were all cooked in the same place. I was not as sick as some of the others, and I’m thinking that could be due to the fact that I didn’t eat whatever was actually bad, but just ate something that made contact with it. Another reason I am glad I don’t eat meat.
I have tried to use the argument Foer uses on page 213, many times, but somehow it never seems to resonate for people.
“Singer compared species bias to the most extreme racist theories. Singer argued that animal rights was the purest form of social-justice advocacy, because animals are the most vulnerable of all the downtrodden.”-pg 213
Essentially he is saying that it is very easy to ignore animal rights and allow abuse to occur, but when it isn’t you know social justice is being used at it’s highest power. So just because it is legal does not mean it’s okay. It just means we are not holding the justice system to it’s highest power.
He goes on to talk about how “ethical meat eating” can be negatively influential. In other words, you may be eating grass-fed, free range beef, from a cow that lived the best life, but those watching you just see it as meat. This will not motivate them to eat less meat or “nicer” meat. This may seem far-fetched but in a world where people are constantly seeing what other people are doing so they can try to fit in, it might not be so far-fetched. I have talked with many people, friends or strangers, who inquire why I am eating differently, and when I explain my reasoning there are two kinds of responses; first is the defensive people. These people act as though I am about to jump on a table and scream meat is murder at them and condemn them for their meat-eating lifestyle. Others, commend me for my effort, and often express their own thoughts about vegetarianism (or even “reducitarianism.” I always encourage these people that even eating less meat is helpful, and eventually you might see you don’t want or need meat as much and could naturally become a vegetarian. This is what Foer is talking about on page 214. Eating ethically might be good for one person in this planet filled with 7 billion people, but you probably won’t be influencing too many others to eat that way, nor is it viable for all 7 billion people to eat that way.
Next was the chapter on slaughterhouses, which I had to stop reading around page 232. He vividly described the cows trip, that’s for sure. The blow to the head that occasionally doesn’t kill the cow and allows them to be skinned alive pushed it too far for me. (says the girl who helped with a rhinos autopsy and helped with various medical procedures at a rehabilitation center this past summer.
I can’t find where I read it, but the section about the dairy industry and how it advertises how good milk is for you and how we need calcium, absolutely blew my mind. Prior to my vegetarian/vegan days I drank a ton of milk and ate a lot of yogurt. I developed a stress fracture and when I went to the doctor he said I was probably not getting enough calcium. I told him I consumed a lot of milk and yogurt, but he suggested taking a calcium supplement on top of that. I have been taking calcium supplements since, and have still struggled with stress fractures. After reading this I did a little digging to find that because of the way calcium from a basic food/drink like milk is absorbed, it actually pulls calcium from your bones. Same with supplements! My doctor told me to take these supplements and their bad for me?! Still don’t believe it? Countries that don’t consume dairy have exponentially lower rates of osteoporosis. Correlation doesn’t always mean causation, but that definitely convinced me.
I probably don’t need to say I’ve stopped taking them, but I have. And since I read this book in December (I was excited about this one) it’s been a couple months since I’ve been off them and my legs feel so much better. It could easily be a placebo effect, but regardless I am glad I am no longer taking them.
Even though I already eat, in my opinion, an environmentally friendly, cruelty-free diet, this book was so eye-opening for me. It not only reassured me of my values, but also gave me several ideas on how to approach eating animals when talking to people who inquire about my diet.