Title: Eating Animals
Author: Jonathan Safran Foer
Genre: Food and Health, Animal Rights
Publisher: Back Bay Books; Reprint edition (Aug 31, 2010)
If The Omnivore’s Dilemma got you concerned that there just may be something rotten in the food industry, this one just may freak you out a little. I think “thoroughly disgusted” was the phrase I used in my facebook status update the Saturday morning I sat reading the chapter on how chickens are “processed”.
A stellar piece of investigative journalism, Foer takes it one step further than anything else I’ve read or seen on the subject of factory farming and just how ghastly the conditions are in the very places that we trust to produce our food. Each time I see a nice neatly cellophaned tray of chicken breasts in the supermarket I still, months later have a mental picture of live screaming, squawking chickens being hung upside down and defecating on themselves as they are ferried to the automatic throat slicer and then into the tank of scalding water, afloat with the feathers and feces of those who went before. Then the machine slices and guts them nearly ensuring that the meat is contaminated in the process. According to Foer, government records suggest that 95% of chickens are infected with E-coli. But not to worry, after they’ve had their chlorine bath (yes there are washed in bleach) only 39 – 75% of them will still be contaminated.
And that’s just the chickens! Foer sneaks into a turkey farm with an activist to give water to and “rescue” dying birds. He’s also has stories from the pork and beef industries. Most of the “farms” won’t let him in, so he interviews employees and former employees. Some have written chapters in their own words. They poignantly and gut wrenchingly tell stories about abusive working conditions (many of the employees are illegal immigrants) and the cruel and unsanitary conditions that the animals live and are slaughtered in. Those that make it to slaughter that is. Many die from the poor conditions and of those that make it to the ‘appointed time’ many are visibly sick with scabs and sores on their bodies.
As I mentioned, this is a stellar piece of investigative journalism. I urge you to read it, and then I challenge you to do something; if it’s nothing more than refusing to support this conduct with your grocery dollars.
Since reading this book, I’m unable to eat meat from the grocery store. I was unable to eat meat at all for a while, but for me that just wasn't sustainable. I’ve found a couple of farmers and a local reputable butcher and I get my meat there. I suddenly have this need to know where my food comes from. Some things you just can’t un-know.
This abuse and exploitation continues and will continue so long as we look the other way.
Here’s a Consumer’s Report article on salmonella contaminated chicken
Update: Since I wrote this review a few years ago, I've continued to keep an eye on the food industry. There is still lots to improve, but when it comes to meat production, producers seem to be getting the message. This gives me hope.
Books like this, and like Omnivore's Dilemma do make a difference. There are now options for available in stores for meat that is raised without hormones and raised in more humane environments. Much to be done, but much progress as well. Thank-you Jonathan Foer and thank-you Michael Pollan.