I’ve been vegetarian before I read this book, but it definitely, unequivocally validated my choice.
Perhaps because he was driven by personal reasons, Jonathan Safran Foer so absolutely and thoroughly researched the subject of eating animals from all perspectives: nutrition, environment, and animal rights.
Although the subject is very serious and important, he still adds his little quirks and sarcasm (he wrote Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, highly recommended).
He also asserts at the beginning that the book is not a case for vegetarianism, and it isn’t, but he lays out all his research findings and arguments, and then it’s up to you.
Some facts (these are direct quotes from the book):
- —On comfort food: On average, Americans eat the equivalent of 21,000 entire animals in a lifetime.
- —On shortages: By 2050, the world’s livestock alone will consume as much food as four billion people. Also, more meat means more demand for grains and more hands fighting over them.
- —On health: Doctors are seeing all kinds of new illnesses that he never used to see, from juvenile diabetes, to inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, girls going through puberty much earlier, allergies to just about everything, and asthma is out of control. It’s all from food: we’re messing with the genes of animals and then feeding them growth hormones and all kinds of drugs that we really don’t know enough about. And then we’re eating them.
- —On impact: Globally, farmed animals contribute more to climate change than transport.
- —On space: Farmed animals in the United States produce 130 times as much waste as the human population. And yet there is almost no waste-treatment infrastructure for farmed animals.
- —On necessity: The average shrimp-trawling operation throws 80 to 90 percent of the sea animals it captures overboard, dead or dying, as by-catch.
- —On innovation: From 1935 to 1995, the average weight of “broilers” (chicken raised for flesh) increased by 65 percent, while their time-to-market dropped 60 percent and their feed requirements dropped 57 percent.
- —On dinner: The drug-stuffed, disease-ridden, contaminated chickens are injected (or otherwise pumped up) with “broths” and salty solutions to give them what we have come to think of as the chicken look, smell and taste.
- —On adequacy: Vegetarians and vegans (including athletes) “meet and exceed requirements” for protein, and tend to have more optimal protein consumption than omnivores. In fact, excess animal protein intake is linked with osteoporosis, kidney disease, calcium stones in the urinary tract, and some cancers.
- —On best interests: Factory farming is all about money, creating a food industry whose primary concern isn’t feeding people. Farmers do not aim to produce healthy animals.
- —On choices: There isn’t enough non-factory chicken produced in America to feed the population of Staten Island and not enough non-factory pork to serve New York City, let alone the country. Any ethical-meat advocate who is serious is going to be eating a lot of vegetarian fare.
- —On selection: There are thousands of foods on the planet, so why do we eat only the relatively small selection we do?
- —On pets: Turning around the inefficient use of dogs — conveniently already in areas of high human population (take note, local-food advocates): If we let dogs be dogs, and breed without interference, we would create a sustainable, local meat supply with low energy inputs.
- —On side-stepping: The conversion of animal protein unfit for human consumption into food for livestock and pets transforms useless dead dogs into productive members of the food chain. So let’s just eliminate this inefficient and bizarre middle step.
- —On industry: It shouldn’t be the consumer’s responsibility to figure out what’s cruel and what’s kind, what’s environmentally destructive and what’s sustainable. Cruel and destructive food products should be illegal.
- —On the course of acton: Farming is shaped not only by food choices, but by political ones. Choosing a personal diet is insufficient. A collective will is necessary—a political will, and also a will of consumers, retailers, and restaurants.
And just how destructive does a culinary preference have to be before we decide to eat something else?
Deja Dragovic is a contributor for LivingGreenMag, an online publication that informs and educates readers on a range of environmental and lifestyle issues, and highlights various non-profit causes. Visit www.LivingGreenMag.com.
Editor: Hayley Samuelson.