After I decided to begin listening to my own concerns about farming and eating animals, my excellent husband ordered a book for me. This one:
I haven't quite finished it yet and I've been reading it for a couple of months. That's because it's really, really hard to read at times. Foer discusses the cultural and philosophical conventions and possibilities surrounding food and particularly the eating of animals. He also talks about things like the practicalities of genetically engineering turkeys to maximise financial returns, the living conditions of factory farmed chickens and pigs and the things that go 'right' and wrong during the slaughtering process.
Mostly, reading the book gives me a sense of lightness, because although what I'm learning about is intensely sobering and sad, I feel relieved that I'm no longer contracting that particular cruelty*. I did however find myself sobbing in the bath the other day (watch out this next part is graphic) when I read about cows that are not stunned effectively during slaughtering and so wake up while they're being 'processed'. (That word processed is pretty shonky. It's our attempt to deftly sidestep naming ending an animals life and dismembering it.) Anyway, what this means is that the cows wake up while their carotid artery is being drained and their skin is being peeled off. A slaughterhouse worker in the book described the fear and confusion the cows express when they wake up that way. We would heavily censor a fictional movie depiction of this happening to a human, or perhaps not even allow it to be made. So why is it ok that this happens in real life to other animals (and regularly, according to the slaughterhouse worker in the book)? Is it because other animals fall short of an arbitrary level of 'intelligence' that confers rights? Why does a lack of so-called intelligence justify subjugation and cruelty? As the top of the pile, we have serious responsibilities. I think so anyway.
I feel like it's my responsibility to bear witness to all parts of the story of farming an animal before deciding what to eat. It sounds absurdly dystopian to me to be born into captivity, to be genetically engineered to become a better food product for another species, to be removed from family and social groups, to be killed at birth because you're male, to be killed because you stopped laying eggs for another species, to not be allowed to reach old age or even adulthood because you taste better as a child. Imagine these things happening to humans. If you imagine it properly, do you still think it's ok to farm animals? Why?
When I first gave up meat I went through a grieving process. I felt sad about all the foods I would never taste again. When I started reading this book I felt excited that I would never taste those things again. I don't feel censored and constrained any more. Now I feel really really free.
This is a pretty intense post, but I have had some pretty intense things on my mind.
*I am still currently eating eggs and dairy products and wearing wool and leather, so you could very legitimately argue that I'm still contracting some cruelty. I'd agree with you. But, I decided that in order to become a successful vegan, I should take the time to become an adept vegetarian first. I intend to raise a vegan/vegetarian family and I want to learn how to nourish my babies well.