Eating Animals

First, I should preface that I probably read this book with a different perspective than most, if not everybody, in this class. I grew up on what Foer (and my family) would consider a “hobby farm,” or a subcategory of family farm where the animals were raised for a combination of sustenance and companionship. Every year we raised animals for both consumption and to show and sell at the county fairs. On any given day during the summer my daily chores would include tending to half a dozen pigs, three or four turkeys, a steer or two, a coop of chickens, and over 100 national award-winning show rabbits. This may seem like a lot to some or nothing at all to others, but what matters is I spent every day ensuring that each animal on our “farm” had the best quality of life possible.

My agricultural experience goes beyond the animals I owned. Our land was nestled between two of the biggest beef producers and slaughterhouses in our part of the county. If you would drive for two miles in each direction, you would find yourself at the two largest hog farms in the county. Farming was just an everyday part of life and almost everyone did it to some degree or another, even if it was just raising a chicken for the 4-H sale.

Most importantly (as related to this class), all of this boils down to eating animals. My whole life I never had to worry about factory farm meat unless it was meat that came from frozen dinners or canned soups, etc. All fresh meat was either grown right outside our door or our neighbors. Even at our local grocery store almost all meats, produce, dairy, and eggs were locally sourced.

Like most others where I’m from, for a long time I didn’t believe factory farms existed. I honestly thought they were some PETA-concocted bullshit. I’ve been on every kind of farm imaginable and have always saw each animal treated (and killed) humanely, I would think as I defended farming, factory farms are rare and aren’t as bad as PETA makes them out to be. Oh how wrong I was.

Taking all of my personal experiences into consideration, you could say that I had incredibly mixed reactions while reading Eating Animals. My emotions ranged from sorrow, anger, remembrance, nausea, regret… the list goes on. I found myself both in total support of Foer’s arguments in some places, but in complete opposition in others, both of which I will describe more below.

I could write pages of the examples Foer gave for eliminating factory farms. It is undoubtedly completely inexcusable to ever treat in any animal in such conditions that their quality of life or death is decreased in any way. These examples were the most moving and effective at getting the point across. Most of the examples he used I had never been exposed to, especially the sections about slaughterhouses. I have experienced firsthand what processing looks like when you take the time for each individual animal. Here, I recognized myself and my community in the “characters” of Frank, Bill, Nicolette, etc.

It also made me think more deeply about my life on the “farm.” Everything about it was so unnatural. All of the animals ate unnatural feed that was a combination of corn, grains, and supplements. The pigs and steers had particularly unnatural food which was loaded with steroids and antibiotics to keep them healthy and increase muscle mass. Just as described, the turkeys were a “breed” known as “Commercial” – they couldn’t fly or mate. In a mere 5 months they would exceed 50 pounds. I could go on… but does this mean that it was “bad?” Does unnaturalness always equate to being “bad” or “wrong”? I am still in a state of confusion and I’m unsure how to feel. I certainly did not have a factory farm but I violated some of Foer’s arguments. What does this mean?

Although does this in no way imply that I support factory farms (which I definitely don’t) I must point out some flaws in Foer’s arguments and facts. Most were miniscule, such as being ill-informed about ear-notching suckling pigs (as newborns this pain is actually quite acute and studies have proven that there are only minimal elevations in stress levels, likely partially caused by the unfamiliarity of the situation) and farrowing crates (ALL farmers use them for the safety of the piglets). I only point these out because I think he can make a strong enough argument without distributing misinformation for the sake of persuasion.

Overall, I felt Foers arguments to be very moving. Even if I did not necessarily agree with everything he was standing for, I thought he did so well. While he appears to be naïve and even blatantly misinformed (or at least pretending to be to strengthen his points) in many aspects, this book was overall very effective as both an educational tool and a persuasive one.

In conclusion, I’m not sure how much this book impacted my diet. Yes, over the three days I read it, I did skip the chicken for dinner, but I don’t know if that will be lasting. I have always identified as a selective omnivore. On campus I usually eat vegetarian (or close to it) most days simply because the options seem to be healthier/more appetizing. In fact, almost my entire freshman year, I ate almost entirely vegetarian when it came to campus food. When I told my dad, he asked me, “Why?!” as if I had turned my back on family tradition (which in a way I did). “Because it just tastes funny,” was my simple explanation. And it was the truth. The meat served on campus does not taste at all like what I grew up eating and it’s not just because of different cooking styles. If anything, this book brought me back to my selective omnivore ways. I will probably never stop eating meat since it has been such a huge part of my upbringing, but I will fall back on my roots of striving to only eat family farm raised products.

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