I wrote this for a friend's blog and thought I'd copy-paste it. It's kind of a book report/review. I'm going to beef up this entry later, possibly, with some excerpts/facts. For now, this is all.
Last night, I ate elk hamburger baked in a casserole (my housemate from Minnessota, who cooked the dish, proudly calls it a "hot dish," a traditional Minnesottan recipe she got from her mother). The night before, we ate baked chicken. Aside from a small bowl of Hawaiian-style sweet and sour chicken rescued from another housemate's employer's food pantry's excess, that has been the only meat I've eaten in the last four months, and it's the most meat I've eaten in such rapid succession in the two years since I became a vegetarian.
More specifically, I would be classified as a "conscious omnivore" or a "flexitarian" - and these three meals fit into my ethical guidelines: elk is not factory farmed, the chicken was organic, "happy" chicken from a local farm, and the Hawaiian dish was rescued from an untimely demise in a dumpster. But after reading Jonathan Safran Foer's new book, Eating Animals, last night's chicken is the last meat, or animal by-product, I probably will ever eat (note: not necessarily just yet. I'm realizing that becoming vegan is a process, a transition, and I won't be 100% vegan for a little while).
From what I can understand, there are four main ethical reasons vegetarians exist today. There are social reasons (feeding, housing, breeding, and giving water to animals to then eat for meat is incredibly wasteful of natural resources; millions of humans die for lack of these same resources). There are environmental reasons (the meat industry produces much, much more pollution than, for example, all methods of transportation combined and is the largest contributor to global warming). There are the health reasons (vegans, vegetarians, and some nutritionists, contest that the diet is healthier than one including as much meat as Americans tend to eat). And then there are the animal rights/animal welfare reasons. The social and environmental impacts of factory farms are what originally convinced me that I couldn't any longer continue to support the meat industry. I ate meat if it was going to go in the trash anyway, or if it was organic and "ethically" raised and slaughtered. I still ate fish (less impactful on both counts). Health was considered, in passing. But I didn't really care about the animals themselves.
No longer. I long ago saw "Meat your Meat," and since then have been successful at ignoring it, convincing myself that it was more important that the animals had a happy life than the manner in which they died. I never felt any special kinship with animals. If they were raised and then killed ethically, I figured we were all part of a circle of life of sorts, I thanked them for contributing their lives and deaths to my own. I respected animals in a way, but didn't really give them agency. I didn't see their suffering as real suffering, their pain as real pain, the cruelty inherent in killing them to eat them as real cruelty.
I do now, and I can't any longer continue to eat them. I had a choice to make - was it worth it? Was the taste of food worth the suffering of the animals that produced it? Everyone makes this choice whether they realize it or not. We're all "farming by proxy," as Wendell Berry famously said; when we buy and consume meat we are broadcasting our complicity in their (too often inhumane) slaughter. We tend to ignore facts that might convict us to change our lifestyles. Eating meat almost always means buying into a particular American ethic typified by Dick Cheny's famous quote: "The American way of life is not negotiable." And I can't any longer buy into that ethic.
I won't say any more; I am not writing this to proselytize or condemn. All one can do is learn as much truth as they are willing to and then act in accordance with their values. All I'm saying is that I read the book and I was convinced.
Jonathan Safran Foer's new book, Eating Animals, is exquisitely written, devastatingly researched, and is full of his trademark heart and humor. Read the book if you want to be made aware of the facts and then make your own decisions. But don't read the book if you aren't prepared to be convicted by it.