Almost every Sunday I shop at my local farmer’s market. I find the vendors selling organic seasonal produce and buy what looks good.
When it came to other foods though, especially dairy and protein items, I used to not give it as much thought. That was, until a few years ago when I read this book.
By the time I read this book, I had already read “Omnivore’s Dilemma,” “Fast Food Nation,” and other similar books. I had seen some of the mainstream documentaries on the food industry (“Super Size Me,” “Food Inc,” and the like). I learned something from all of them, though nothing affected me more than Jonathan Safran Foer’s, “Eating Animals.” Part memoir and part investigative reporting, this book describes in graphic detail, what lies behind every packaged chicken, burger or fish we so freely grab at the supermarket. And it’s disturbing. Very disturbing.
Some of what comes out in this book is not new. We have read, heard or seen versions of it before. What makes this account different though and so moving, is the author’s authentic attempts to find out for himself how a chicken comes to land in a styrofoam package, neat and clean for our consumption. Not through research or interviews, but by sneaking into a chicken farm in the dark of night himself to witness the conditions. And he’s not a former Navy Seal or the like. Just a new parent who cares to understand the morality behind what we eat. Like most of us, but willing to go the extra (many) miles.
The chicken is but one example of many and after finishing this book, I was forever changed. I think about the quality of life most of these animals get vs. those they deserve. I cringe at the thought of buying meat or fish that contributes to the thoughtless suffering of an animal for profit. I smile when I see cows grazing freely, on real grass in pasture.
Obviously I highly recommend this book. If you have any interest in food activism, this is an essential read. If you are lucky enough to live near a Whole Foods Market, they now have an animal welfare rating system for their meat. They also have a bare minimum standard for the meat and fish they carry that accounts for welfare and sustainability. Farmer’s markets also often sell protein that is welfare conscious and environmentally responsible. Even large supermarket chains and warehouse stores (like Costco) have devoted a portion of their market to organic and sustainable protein because there is enough of a demand by educated consumers. I know one thing for sure. After reading, “Eating Animals,” I cannot imagine eating a steak or a piece of chicken or a fish that I knew suffered to get to my table or caused significant environmental damage for my consumption. I cannot say that we, as a family are 100% perfect in our habits, but we strive to be and so hopefully we hit it most of the time. It gives me renewed respect for the pioneers of the modern slow food movement like Alice Waters, who I was fortunate to hear speak about a year ago. (Still on my bucket list: Chez Panisse!)