If there’s one sentiment, one state of being, one need, that prevents us from learning and growing, it’s comfort. The modern human is addicted to comfort. That makes the fight against climate change and racial injustice so hard. Comfort, it’s the synonym for chicken soup.
At the moment I’m reading ‘Eating Animals’, a book by Jonathan Safran Foer, published 10 years ago. It’s a compelling and important book. At moments uncomfortable and shocking. Last night I was reading about the life of a modern chicken and turkey, from birth to the moment they go on transport to the slaughterhouses — packed with thousands on a truck — to the process of arriving and machines cutting their throats open and ‘kill-floor’ employers, not seldom underpaid immigrants, prepare the flesh for the consumers market.
You may be thinking, why I’m doing this to myself? I’m reading about these animal lives, because I want to know. I don’t have to be persuaded to become vegetarian or vegan, I’m home already — home is my compassionate place.
Learning about factory farming is just as uncomfortable as learning about racism and white privilege, ‘hot’ conversations these days. Actually we don’t want to know, we’d rather keep things comfortable, often that’s the way things always have been.
Factory farming — raising animals for human consumption — also the quilt-soothing animal friendly and organic certificated labels, it’s eating tortured flesh. I remember when I still lived in Amsterdam and I cycled through the city, waiting for a green traffic light, and stickers saying “Animal-friendly meat doesn’t exist” were glued to the stoplights. I remember I found them annoying, because at that time I ate organic meat, cage-free chicken meat, and free-range eggs and believed it were ethical alternatives. I thought I was doing the right thing. The most chance to consume ‘animal-friendly’ meat though, is meat that comes from small family farms which have become a curiosity these days. Most chance to ‘happy cattle-life’ meat is in the hands of small farmers, who see the animals as more than only capital.
The life of a modern sheep, cow, bird or pig, it’s a dark pit to descend to and most people don’t want to go there. They maybe know more than they admit, but mouths only open to taste the flesh and close again. Thoughts wander into obliviousness. It could be too painful. The secret doors, they rather keep them closed to walk away from what happens behind them. The way humans treat animals, it’s one of the blind spots we have. And it’s an ugly one.
I’m halfway the book now and I don’t feel Foer is preaching. On the contrary, he mentions facts, based on lots of research material, interviews with farmers and owners and employees of slaughterhouses and even some undercover-actions in poultry farms with a female animal activist, as his requests of a farm visit were kept unanswered or denied. Foer wrote the book, a fine mix of arguments, science and storytelling, as he became a father and wanted to write a book on where our food — meat, fish and eggs — comes from. He writes about American factory farming, but it’s very much applicable to the European agricultural industry as well. We know ‘big pharma’. Well, we also know ‘big agriculture’.
As I said, I’m home. Food for me is plant-based, with occasionally an egg from the neighbour’s chickens and some raw honey from the bees of our landlord’s friends in Asturias.
Surprisingly, there are people, even one of my favourite writers, Roxane van Iperen, who claims that eating plant-based is elitist, too expensive for ‘normal people’. I can tell you that’s nonsense. I’m living proof of the contrary.
‘If you eat meat and fish, you should read this book. Even if you don’t, you should. It might bring the beginning of a change of heart about all living things’ ~ Joanna Lumley
Opinion article – spot on – by Jonathan Safran Foer in New York Times. Read this!