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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Eating Animals

Recently finished listening to Jonathan Safran Foer's "Eating Animals."  I had already become a quasi vegetarian and vegan wannabe based on Jeffrey Masson's "The Pig Who Sang to the Moon -- The emotional world of farm animals" over a year ago.  Foer reinforced Masson with new facts that either I hadn't heard before or had forgotten.

I should probably listen to Masson again, but as I remember it, the book went through each and every farm animal -- cows, sheep, chickens, pigs, and maybe more -- and told stories about how essentially human they are.  All of them are as smart or smarter than most dogs.  And they feel pain, and have emotions, just like dogs and people. Yet factory farms treat them as insensate commodities; if profits could be maximized by keeping these animals in perpetual agony, that's what would happen.  In fact, for most pigs and chickens, life is something approaching perpetual agony, from birth to merciful (if often painful) death.  Dairy cows and laying hens live under dire conditions, so really one has to be a vegan to be completely ethical.

But here's my thought.  Both of these books have convinced me that the only ethical approach would be to abstain from all factory farmed meat, dairy, and eggs.  But I have not accomplished that.  Maybe I will, maybe I won't.  I have reduced my intake of those products by something approaching 90%.  I almost never eat meat, and I've cut back on dairy and eggs.  But sometimes (once a month or so), it's just too darn convenient to pull into a McDonald's and order a plain McDouble, for a dollar.  That little bit of occasional meat is probably even good for me.  If I could only persuade one other person to adopt a similar diet, the two of us would have a much greater impact than I would if I had been a pure vegan.  It's much much easier to use my diet than it would be to be a pure vegan, so it should be easier to persuade people to do so.  And if everyone adopts this diet, then factory farms will quickly dry up.

Here are some facts that I happen to remember from Foer:

1.  Chickens are killed after 42 days of life.
2.  Cows are killed at about the 1 year point.
3.  I don't remember about pigs, but pigs are probably the smartest of these animals, can be affectionate, and live truly terrible lives.  In many cases, not enough room to turn around, have to wallow in their own excrement, even though all their instincts cry out against doing so.
4.  Many acts of deliberate sadism (too brutal to spell out here) by slaughterhouse and farm workers toward animals have been documented (and caught on film).
5.  Cows are often not killed immediately, and go through the slaughterhouse disassembly line conscious, until finally they are sawed in half.
6.  Eating fish is not much of a solution.  They feel pain, and farmed fish are raised in awful conditions.  For caught fish, the problem is bycatch.  For every pound of tuna, or piece of shrimp, many many pounds of other animals are killed and simply thrown away.
7.  Laying hens are bred and given hormones to cause them to produce eggs at three times the normal rate, under cramped and unpleasant conditions.  They can't sustain that laying rate after they are one year old, so they are killed then.
8.  Male chicks are killed at birth (actually, I think I first heard this in Joshua Foer's "Moonwalking with Einstein" although it's probably in Jonathan's book too).
9.  Many -- probably most -- animals have their balls, beaks, claws, and/or tails cut off, for various reasons.  Never with anesthetics.  Branding is also painful, although that doesn't bother me nearly as much as it bothers Foer.  For me, compared to everything else, the very temporary pain -- searing though I'm sure it is -- of branding is practically de minimis.  We've all felt searing physical pain at one point or another, but we get over it pretty quickly.  Few of us humans have experienced anything comparable to the other abuses that animals routinely suffer.
10.  There is no good waste disposal system.  The animal excrement is a serious pollution problem and health hazard that is unsolved; it's an externality that is not included in the price of meat.
11.  Raising animals (instead of eating plants) may be the single largest contributor to global warming.

We can probably also blame the acceptance of factory farms for the fact that meat is so cheap compared to vegetarian food.  Still, it does not make any sense that vegetarian food costs so much.  There is probably a lot of fat there, for some entrepreneur to take advantage of.

I'll probably add more as I remember them.

Oh, and apparently Masson's book has become a documentary.  Haven't watched it yet:


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