Hey, here’s an alternative
Above all else, reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals has been an exhausting growing experience. At the start, I was reminded of the complexity of the relationship between humans and food. The story of Foer’s grandmother to start – that for her, “Food is not food. It is terror, dignity, gratitude, vengeance, joyfulness, humiliation, religion, history, and of course, love.” His statement that “In high school I became a vegetarian more times than I can now remember, most often as an effort to claim some identity in a world of people whose identities seemed to come effortlessly,” reminded me of the way people and myself live in relation to food often is tied to and how eating habits can influence the formation of their identity.
My own relationship with food has been one of suffering, resentment, and starvation. Growing up, my parents were often too angry with one another to agree on cooking dinner, leaving my brother and I without food for dinners. They often would neglect to pay for our school meals, and suddenly we would be at school without lunches and snacks. Any time a dinner did manage to get on the table, it usually came with the requirement of listening to an intense screaming matches and death threats, in response to which I would leave my food on the plate and walk away, again not eating dinner, and honestly feeling that I did not need or deserve the food anyway. As my self-hatred grew more intense in my angsty teen years, the disordered eating instilled in me by my parents turned into the eating disorder I live with today, Anorexia Nervosa. For 6 years, I lived on less than 1000 calories a day, and 2 of those years were lived on less than 250 calories a day. Needless to say, I hated food, and even after 6 months of intensive treatment, some days it is still a struggle.
Thinking about how I’ve normalized this relationship with food, I am always thrilled and surprised to hear about the positive relationship that many people have with food. That for many families, and probably for many parents, eating and providing meals is a joyous occasion. As Foer says, “Feeding my child is not like feeding myself: it matters more. It matters because food matters (his physical health matters, the pleasure of eating matters), and because the stories that are served with food matter. These stories bind our family together, and bind our family to others.” What a beautiful perspective to have on food. I know that I will eventually get to this point with food, and certainly my relationship has improved, and that excites me.
So, here I am now, 22-years-old, 30 lbs heavier than I was at my lowest weight, healthier and happier than I’ve been in my entire life. Currently, I exist as a a fish and egg consumer (pescatarian? Ovo-blah blah I don’t care for a term for my eating habits). I stopped eating all meat besides fish because I don’t want to support an industry that contributes so heavily to global warming and harming the environment. Reading through some of the things that I view as atrocities in this book, I felt validated and affirmed in that decision, and challenged in the practice of eating fish and eggs. I knew the industry was bad, but I didn’t realize it was this bad. I could give countless examples of why, but here are a select few:
“Most male layers are destroyed by being sucked through a series of pipes onto an electrified plate.”
“Common Farming Exemptions make legal any method of raising farmed animals so long as it is commonly practiced within the industry. In other words, farmers – corporations is the right word – have the power to define cruelty”
“These factory farmers calculate how close to death they can keep the animals without killing them. That’s the business model. How quickly can they be made to grow, how tightly can they be backed, how much or little can they eat, how sick can they get without dying.” Wow, this sounds so familiar to the way I used to talk to myself about starving myself, and this is the mindset of a corporation… this is a literal system resembled in our society. Normalized and accepted by the government, specifically within the USDA. Fucking disgusting.
“Water-chilling causes a dead bird to soak up water (the same water known as “fecal soup”)” and “the USDA… allowed the checken industry to do its own research to evaluate what percentage of chicken meat should be acomposed of fouled, chlorinated water.”
“Once a dangerous contaminant, feces are now classified as a “cosmetic blemish.”
“76 million cases of food-borne illness the CDC estimates occur in America each year.”
I think to myself, Jeeze, and people don’t know about any of this and keep eating meat, and even some that are aware continue to eat meat even though they agree that the practice is wrong or flawed.
Are we so impulsive? What, we can’t shut this system down because people depend on meat so heavily? Because our economy depends on it? I want to throw my hands up and yell, “too fucking bad! You’re not going to die if you don’t eat meat! It’ll do you well to deny yourself your greedy cravings and food wants!” But hey, that’s easy for me to say, I denied myself the basic right to eat for 6 years of my life and almost died because of it. It’s not hard for me to not eat meat because I’ve been practicing abstinence from most food for most of my life, so why is meat any different?
And on top of all of this, I look at the comments about the fishing industry – bycatch and fish farming – and the damned layers of eggs in the egg industry – and boy, does my eating disorder psychology grab hold of that and run with it! “Damn, well I might as well just not fucking eat anything, then! To hell with it!
Why would anyone want to eat anything that has been put through such suffering? A couple of weeks ago, I was speaking with a friend about the “is my grandfather’s spirit in the chair” discussion we had in class a while back. I presented my argument that, “Your reality is your reality. If you believe the spirit is in the chair, then for you, the spirit truly is in the chair.” He is of the belief that all things, animate and inanimate, contain the spirit of whoever made or owned it, and that with corporations today, most things are embedded with a spirit of corruption and oppression. I share in this belief, and I think about that in the context of these factory farmed animals. I am disgusted at the thought of supporting an industry with such an oppressive and corrupt spirit – one that has been given power economically, genetically, socially, and in relation to people and animals. Where is the respect for life? Lost in a sea of greed and profit? Where is the respect for biodiversity? Where is the respect for human welfare (as the industry puts the world at a higher risk for a pandemic and toxic fecal lagoons seep into the soil and pollute our air)?
And the argument that they are simply giving the people what they want…. Well guess what, we don’t have to give people what they want. People will be fine without such disgustingly produced meats. We have alternatives. We have beans, nuts, lentils, spinach, supplements, protein powders, protein drinks. Even now, scientists are coming up with ways to use bacteria and yeast as sources of protein. Heck, some countries even eat crickets, they’re about 60-70% pure protein, and we can make flour out of that!
I’d love to see America shift toward protein alternatives. I’d love to see a change from factory farming back to local farming. Most of my thoughts on this subject feel pretty futile, but oh well. Might as well get them out on here anyway.