Right before reading Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, I treated myself to a conventionally-produced restaurant hamburger because I figured I would probably feel too guilty afterward to indulge.Well, I forgot to take the same measures before diving into Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals, so the family had bean soup two nights ago (with a little Skagit River Ranch Polish Sausage for flavor) and black bean burritos yesterday. Foer covers much familiar territory in factory farming but from a fresh perspective, asking why we human beings eat some animals and not others, or draw certain distinctions between which kinds of animal intelligence we respect and which we don't. Very interesting, thought-provoking reading.
Taking a page from Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal, Foer wonders why, for example, we euthanize thousands of dogs per year, only to render many of them into protein which is then fed back to livestock--shouldn't we just eat the dogs, and save a step? Cut out the middle-man, or animal, as the case may be? Why do Americans get sentimental about dogs and dog intelligence and not do the same for pigs, Charlotte's Web notwithstanding?
99% of meat purchased and consumed in the United States comes from factory farms. As one factory farmer points out, the cost of food has not gone up in decades. In most cases it's gone down. Which means, if a farm is to survive, it must produce the food at a lower and lower cost. Hence all the horror-movie craziness that goes on behind the scenes. If you have the money and access, you can be among the 1% of Americans buying your meat and seafood from humane, environmentally-sustainable operations like Bellevue Farmers Market's Skagit River Ranch, Samish Bay, Loki Fish Company, Fishing Vessel St. Jude, Hama Hama Oyster Company, Taylor Shellfish, and Tiny's Organic, but it's not an option for everyone. The higher prices found at the Market reflect the true cost of food, when it's raised with care for the animals and the earth, and not hidden behind government subsidies and efficiency-at-all-costs closed doors.
It's not just about factory chickens! Foer claims that, for every pound of Indonesian shrimp caught, 26 lbs of bycatch are thrown away, dead or dying. Yikes. Contrast that with Fishing Vessel St. Jude's claim that "our catch of other species while trolling for albacore averages about two fish per thousand albacore caught. None of the fish we catch is wasted, most provide a welcome change of diet to the crew." Or Loki Fish Company's Sustainable certification from the Marine Stewardship Council.
Maybe you're not inclined to go vegetarian. (I've yet to finish the book, but Foer will have an uphill battle with me. I love my meat, and I don't particularly like animals.) We can, however, inasmuch as the budget allows, reduce the proportion of factory-farm and big-seafood-operation protein we buy. It might mean switching completely to buying protein at places like our Bellevue Farmers Market. It might mean reducing the overall amount of animal protein we consume. It might mean a combination of both. But it would be hard to read Eating Animals without giving it some good, hard thought!
More on this next week. In the meantime, I have to place my Skagit River Ranch Buyers' Club order...