Three or four weeks ago in a bookshop. I find Jonathan Safran Foer‘s little section on a shelf and flick through, searching for new material to devour. Last year in Jerusalem a friend’s copy of “Everything Is Illuminated” had me breaking down on a bus in front of strangers. The image of a falling man rising back into the burning World Trade Center from “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” still haunts me.
I find the last of his three novels: “Eating Animals” is plastered across the cover in green. “Read this book. It will change you,” demands Time Out (whoever that is) from the sleeve. Hmmmm.
“This isn’t gonna turn me vego is it?”
“Probably. It did it for me, and it did it for her,” says the bearded guy behind the counter. The redhead behind him flashes a grin.
I bought it anyway, simply because I love Foer’s writing and, well, part of me wants to be reassured that being a carnivore isn’t all that bad. That it’s a necessary evil. And hell, if it’s a preachy vegan manifesto I’m sure as hell going to prove that smug bearded guy wrong.
“First, find a chicken that will grow big fast on as little feed as possible. The muscles and fat tissues of the newly engineered broiler birds grow significantly faster than their bones, leading to deformities and disease.”
“Needless to say, jamming deformed, drugged, overstressed birds together in a filthy, waste-coated room is not very healthy. Beyond deformities, eye damage, blindness, bacterial infections of bones, slipped vertebrae, paralysis, internal bleeding, anemia, slipped tendons, twisted lower legs and necks, respiratory diseases, and weakened immune systems are frequent and long-standing problems on factory farms [where 99% of our eggs and chicken meat comes from].
“Load the crates into trucks. … Upon arrival at the plant, have more workers sling the birds, to hang upside down by their ankles in metal shackles, onto a moving conveyor system. More bones will be broken. Often the screaming of the birds and the flapping of their wings will be so loud that workers won’t be able to hear the person next to them on the line. Often the birds will defecate in pain and terror.
“The conveyor system drags the birds through an electrified water bath. This most likely paralyzes them but doesn’t render them insensible … After it has traveled through the bath, a paralyzed bird’s eyes might still move. Sometimes the birds will have enough control of their bodies to slowly open their beaks, as though attempting to scream.
“The next stop on the line for the immobile-but-conscious bird will be an automated throat slitter. Blood will slowly drain out of the bird, unless the relevant arteries are missed, which happens, according to another worker I spoke with, “all the time.” So you’ll need a few more workers to to function as backup slaughterers – “kill men” – who will slit the throats of the birds that the machine misses. Unless they, too, miss the birds, which I was also told happens “all the time”.
“I spoke to numerous catchers, live hangers, and kill men who described birds going alive and conscious into the scalding tank.
I’ll spare you the rest in the interests of good taste and my own legal liability.
Needless to say, the thought of eating chicken or indeed any animal makes me physically sick at the moment. I’m not even halfway through the book yet. I can’t emphasise this enough – I really love meat. I’m one of those “I’d go vegetarian if meat didn’t taste so damn good” types. And it’s not like Foer is preaching that we should all stop eating meat right away. He wants us to make informed choices about our eating habits. Knowing what I now know, both from Foer’s book and my own research, I’ve decided it’d be pretty heartless for me to not at least give the vegetarian gig a go. At the end of the day, 18% of the world’s greenhouse gases are generated by the livestock industry, according to the UN.
So I’m not sure if this is just a phase or if it will really last. In any case, it’ll be an interesting experiment to see whether I experience any physical changes or health ramifications. I’m not even sure exactly whats in and what’s out at the moment. Are the processes of procuring butter, milk and cheese inhumane as well? Butter and cheese I could probably live without, but I really love my full cream milk. As a uni student, it’s my main source of sustenance. I’ll often eat corn flakes and full cream milk for three meals a day. Will soy be able to fill the void? Commercial methods of producing eggs are definitely unethical, but what about the RSPCA certified “free range” variety? Are they OK to eat? Or are those chickens cruelly killed off when they’re past their prime, or if they’re male, like the not-so-lucky factory farm ones? Is the added cost even worth it?
Last night I ate a steak at my dad’s place. Possibly my last ever. Possibly not. This morning I ate cereal, with the last of my full cream milk. For lunch I ate two oranges. For dinner I cooked up rice salad, from a recipe that can be found here (despite the unbelievably bland name it’s damn good, and makes enough to feed an army!). My first day of vegetarianism.
Jesus, I had a coffee in the city with a friend today. If cow’s milk is out, am I forever condemned to be one of those annoying vegos who’re always chasing soy milk? What about my beloved milkshakes!? My pork spare ribs? My favourite meal is chicken with feta cheese sauce and pasta… Will ethics triumph over the gratification of base senses?
I guess the moral of the story is this: don’t read Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Eating Animals”. Not unless you’re ready to seriously consider changing your eating habits – you may find yourself with no moral alternative. Damn, consciousness is a bitch.
Wish me luck!
P.S. If anyone’s interested in giving up meat themselves (not that I want to get preachy), I found the Australian Vegetarian Society’s website really helpful as well. But read the book.