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Richie's Picks: EATING ANIMALS

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  • whenyoureachme34
    Richie s Picks: EATING ANIMALS by Jonathan Safran Foer, Little Brown, 2009, 344p., ISBN: 978-0-316-06990-8 Zuckerman thinks Wilbur is an unusual pig, and
    Message 1 of 1 , May 21, 2013
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      Richie's Picks: EATING ANIMALS by Jonathan Safran Foer, Little Brown, 2009, 344p., ISBN: 978-0-316-06990-8
       
      "Zuckerman thinks Wilbur is an unusual pig, and therefore he won't want to kill and eat him.  I dare say that my trick will work and Wilbur's life can be saved."
      -- from Charlotte's Web
       
      "Whether we're talking about fish species, pigs, or some other eaten animal, is such suffering the most important thing in the world?  Obviously not.  But that's not the question.  Is it more important than sushi, bacon, or chicken nuggets?  That's the question."
       
      Question for you: Given the potential environmental and economic benefits, is there some reason why U.S. meat eaters should not be consuming their fair share of the three to four million unwanted dogs and cats that are euthanized annually?
       
      Here's another one: Should it bother you to know that some fisherman has slammed a sharp, pointed gaff through the eye of a still-live tuna that is being hauled out of the sea to feed you?
       
      "No reader of this book would tolerate someone swinging a pickax at a dog's face.  Nothing could be more obvious or less in need of explanation.  Is such concern morally out of place when applied to fish, or are we silly to have such unquestioning concern about dogs?  Is the suffering of a drawn-out death something that is cruel to inflict on any animal that can experience it, or just some animals?
      "Can the familiarity of the animals we have come to know as companions be a guide to us as we think about the animals we eat?  Just how distant are fish (or cows, pigs, or chickens) from us in the scheme of life?  Is it a chasm or a tree that defines the distance?  Are nearness and distance even relevant?  If we were to one day encounter a form of life more powerful and intelligent than our own, and it regarded us as we regard fish, what would be our argument against being eaten?
      "The lives of billions of animals a year and the health of the largest ecosystems on our planet hang on the thinly reasoned answers we give to these questions...
       
      "The choice-obsessed modern West is probably more accommodating to individuals who choose to eat differently than any other culture has ever been, but ironically, the utterly unselective omnivore -- 'I'm easy; I'll eat anything' -- can appear more socially sensitive than the individual who tries to eat in a way that is good for society.  Food choices are determined by many factors, but reason (even consciousness) is not generally high on the list."
       
      The questions keep on coming: Are you on the right side of animal rights issues because you buy "free-range" meat or eggs?  
       
      Actually, we learn in EATING ANIMALS that this industry-created designation is meaningless.  As author Jonathan Saftan Foer explains, if thirty-thousand chickens jammed into a steel shed have access to a small door that opens out to a five-by-five patch of dirt, they are considered "free-range."
       
      I first read EATING ANIMALS back in 2010.  It had been published the previous year.  I was thoroughly horrified and moved by what I read, but chose not to write about it then, being it was no longer brand-new.
       
      But times have changed for me and for education.  Now we are in the midst of a major push toward having kids read nonfiction in school.  And now I teach a nonfiction class to future librarians.  
       
      In rereading this one, I see it being a great model for what I've recently heard called "argumentative nonfiction," that is, books in which the author "takes a persuasive position on an issue."  This makes EATING ANIMALS a great book for discussions in AP English classes. 
       
      Would you like to learn where the author has gathered the facts that lead to any of his many persuasive positions concerning factory farming?  It is easy to do, because EATING ANIMALS is a model of great documentation.  The backmatter contains many dozens of pages of source notes that are easy to follow.  For instance, I read about issues involving "free-range" on page 61.  I thumb through the Notes section which is organized by page number, and I can read through the half-page of detailed notes that connect specific sections of page 61 to the author's sources for that information.
       
      Not that the author limits his research here to merely reviewing documents.and articles.  We repeatedly find him out in the field talking with experts and investigating issues first-hand, including  risking arrest by stealthily entering a chicken facility via an unsecured barbed-wire fence, with an animal rights activist, at night, in order to experience and accurately gauge the conditions under which these animals are raised.
       
      Over and over again, what we learn from his research into factory farming -- which is responsible for producing over 99 percent of the meat eaten in America --is truly horrific.  Being an environmentalist worried about the long-term viability of our oceans, one of the issues that blows my mind is Foer's discussion of behemoth trawler operations:
       
      "There is something quite sinister about this scorched-earth style of 'harvesting' sea animals.  The average trawling operation throws 80 to 90 percent of the sea animals it captures as bycatch overboard.  The least efficient operations actually throw more than 98 percent of captured sea animals, dead, back into the ocean."
       
      That AP English student studying EATING ANIMALS may conclude that there are a limited number of personal options, once one is exposed to the facts.  One can disbelieve the wealth of scientific documentation that animals feel pain and experience misery.  Or one can believe that pain and misery is, in fact, experienced by factory-farmed animals, but still decide that these facts are not going to get in the way of one's enjoyment of eating meat.  Or one can try to vie for the fraction of one percent of meat in America that is not the result of factory farming. 
       
      Or one can stop eating animals.
       
      "It seems to me that it's plainly wrong to eat factory-farmed pork or to feed it to one's family.  It's probably even wrong to sit silently with friends eating factory-farmed pork, however difficult it can be to say something.  Pigs clearly have rich minds and just as clearly are condemned to miserable lives on factory farms.  The analogy of a dog kept in a closet is fairly accurate, if somewhat generous.  The environmental case against eating factory-farmed pork is airtight and damning.
      "For similar reasons, I wouldn't eat poultry or sea animals produced by factory methods.  Looking into their eyes does not generate the same pathos as meeting eyes with a pig, but we see as much with our minds' eyes.  All I have learned about the intelligence and social sophistication of birds and fish from my research demands that I take the acuteness of their misery just as seriously as the more easily grasped misery of factory-farmed pigs."
       
      Many imagine and depict our Maker as having human-like qualities.  Given all that I've read here, we better hope and pray that God does not actually have pig-like qualities.
       
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