Eating animals

I don’t know that the interview is all that great, but I enjoyed seeing Colbert use a piece of crispy bacon as a bookmark in Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals.

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Jonathan Safran Foer
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And, for what it’s worth, I suspect that I’m probably destined to backslide into veganism. Try as I might, I don’t think, when push comes to shove, that I’m cut out for the world of carnivores. But I’m not ready to fall off the wagon just yet. I think, once squid go extinct, though, I’ll be close.

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  1. Peace Meal
    Posted February 9, 2010 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

    Wild kingdom, baby, you’re a wolf! Or if you like to think like an animal, I’d be curious of your take of “killing me softly” Temple Grandin.

    Animals eat animals.

  2. Ed
    Posted February 10, 2010 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    I don’t have a link handy, but there was a funny episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia a little while ago about eating human flesh.

  3. Phil Peters
    Posted February 10, 2010 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    The book is incredible, bacon bookmark or not.

  4. Cynthia
    Posted February 10, 2010 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    An excerpt from the book, which I also love:

    Before visiting any farms, I spent more than a year wading through literature about eating animals: histories of agriculture, industry and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) materials, activist pamphlets, relevant philosophical works, and the numerous existing books about food that touch on the subject of meat. I frequently found myself confused. Sometimes my disorientation was the result of the slipperiness of terms like suffering, joy, and cruelty . Sometimes it seemed to be a deliberate effect. Language is never fully trustworthy, but when it comes to eating animals, words are as often used to misdirect and camouflage as they are to communicate. Some words, like veal, help us forget what we are actually talking about. Some, like free-range, can mislead those whose consciences seek clarification. Some, like happy, mean the opposite of what they would seem. And some, like natural, mean next to nothing.

    Nothing could seem more “natural” than the boundary between humans and animals (see: species barrier ). It happens, though, that not all cultures even have the category animal or any equivalent word in their vocabulary — the Bible, for example, lacks any word that parallels the English animal. Even by the dictionary definition, humans both are and are not animals. In the first sense, humans are members of the animal kingdom. But more often, we casually use the word animal to signify all creatures — from orangutan to dog to shrimp — except humans.

    Within a culture, even within a family, people have their own understandings of what an animal is. Within each of us there are probably several different understandings.

    What is an animal? Anthropologist Tim Ingold posed the question to a diverse group of scholars from the disciplines of social and cultural anthropology, archaeology, biology, psychology, philosophy, and semiotics. It proved impossible for them to reach a consensus on the meaning of the word. Tellingly, though, there were two important points of agreement: “First, that there is a strong emotional undercurrent to our ideas about animality; and, second, that to subject these ideas to critical scrutiny is to expose highly sensitive and largely unexplored aspects of the understanding of our own humanity.” To ask “What is an animal?” — or, I would add, to read a child a story about a dog or to support animal rights — is inevitably to touch upon how we understand what it means to be us and not them. It is to ask, “What is a human?”

    The conviction that humans are the pinnacle of evolution, the appropriate yardstick by which to measure the lives of other animals, and the rightful owners of everything that lives.

    The refusal to concede significant experiential likeness between humans and the other animals, as when my son asks if George will be lonely when we leave the house without her, and I say, “George doesn’t get lonely.”

    The urge to project human experience onto the other animals, as when my son asks if George will be lonely. The Italian philosopher Emanuela Cenami Spada wrote:
    Anthropomorphism is a risk we must run, because we must refer to our own human experience in order to formulate questions about animal experience. . . .

    The only available “cure” [for anthropomorphism] is the continuous critique of our working definitions in order to provide more adequate answers to our questions, and to that embarrassing problem that animals present to us.

    What is that embarrassing problem? That we don’t simply project human experience onto animals; we are (and are not) animals.

    Is it anthropomorphism to try to imagine yourself into a farmed animal’s cage? Is it anthropodenial not to?

    The typical cage for egg-laying hens allows each sixty-seven square inches of floor space — somewhere between the size of this page and a sheet of printer paper. Such cages are stacked between three and nine tiers high — Japan has the world’s highest battery cage unit, with cages stacked eighteen tiers high — in windowless sheds.

    Step your mind into a crowded elevator, an elevator so crowded you cannot turn around without bumping into (and aggravating) your neighbor. The elevator is so crowded you are often held aloft.

    This is a kind of blessing, as the slanted floor is made of wire, which cuts into your feet.

    After some time, those in the elevator will lose their ability to work in the interest of the group. Some will become violent; others will go mad. A few, deprived of food and hope, will become cannibalistic.

    There is no respite, no relief. No elevator repairman is coming. The doors will open once, at the end of your life, for your journey to the only place worse ( see: processing ).

    Not all chickens have to endure battery cages. In this way only, it could be said that broilers — chickens that become meat (as opposed to layers, chickens that lay eggs) — are lucky: they tend to get close to a single square foot of space.

    If you aren’t a farmer, what I’ve just written probably confuses you. You probably thought that chickens were chickens. But for the past half century, there have actually been two kinds of chickens — broilers and layers — each with distinct genetics. We call them both chickens, but they have starkly different bodies and metabolisms, engineered for different “functions.” Layers make eggs. (Their egg output has more than doubled since the 1930s.) Broilers make flesh. (In the same period, they have been engineered to grow more than twice as large in less than half the time. Chickens once had a life expectancy of fifteen to twenty years, but the modern broiler is typically killed at around six weeks. Their daily growth rate has increased roughly 400 percent.)

    This raises all kinds of bizarre questions — questions that before I learned about our two types of chickens, I’d never had reason to ask — like, What happens to all of the male offspring of layers? If man hasn’t designed them for meat, and nature clearly hasn’t designed them to lay eggs, what function do they serve?
    They serve no function. Which is why all male layers — half of all the layer chickens born in the United States, more than 250 million chicks a year — are destroyed.
    Destroyed? That seems like a word worth knowing more about.

    Most male layers are destroyed by being sucked through a series of pipes onto an electrified plate. Other layer chicks are destroyed in other ways, and it’s impossible to call those animals more or less fortunate. Some are tossed into large plastic containers. The weak are trampled to the bottom, where they suffocate slowly. The strong suffocate slowly at the top. Others are sent fully conscious through macerators (picture a wood chipper filled with chicks).

    Cruel? Depends on your definition of cruelty (see: cruelty).

    1) The shit of a bull (see also: environmentalism)
    2) Misleading or false language and statements, such as:

    Perhaps the quintessential example of bullshit, bycatch refers to sea creatures caught by accident — except not really “by accident,” since bycatch has been consciously built into contemporary fishing methods. Modern fishing tends to involve much technology and few fishers. This combination leads to massive catches with massive amounts of bycatch. Take shrimp, for example. The average shrimptrawling operation throws 80 to 90 percent of the sea animals it captures overboard, dead or dying, as bycatch. (Endangered species amount to much of this bycatch.) Shrimp account for only 2 percent of global seafood by weight, but shrimp trawling accounts for 33 percent of global bycatch. We tend not to think about this because we tend not to know about it. What if there were labeling on our food letting us know how many animals were killed to bring our desired animal to our plate? So, with trawled shrimp from Indonesia, for example, the label might read: 26 pounds of other sea animals were killed and tossed back into the ocean for every 1 pound of this shrimp.

    Or take tuna. Among the other 145 species regularly killed — gratuitously — while killing tuna are: manta ray, devil ray, spotted skate, bignose shark, copper shark, Galapagos shark, sandbar shark, night shark, sand tiger shark, (great) white shark, hammerhead shark, spurdog fish, Cuban dogfish, bigeye thresher, mako, blue shark, wahoo, sailfish, bonito, king mackerel, Spanish mackerel, longbill spearfi sh, white marlin, swordfish, lancet fish, grey triggerfish, needlefish, pomfret, blue runner,black ruff, dolphin fish, bigeye cigarfish, porcupine fish, rainbow runner, anchovy, grouper, flying fish, cod, common sea horse, Bermuda chub, opah, escolar, leerfish, tripletail, goosefish, monkfish, sunfish, Murray eel, pilotfish, black gemfish, stone bass, bluefish, cassava fish, red drum, greater amberjack, yellowtail, common sea bream, barracuda, puffer fish, loggerhead turtle, green turtle, leatherback turtle, hawksbill turtle, Kemp’s ridley turtle, Atlantic yellow-nosed albatross, Audouin’s gull, Balearic shearwater, black-browed albatross, great black-backed gull, great shearwater, great-winged petrel, grey petrel, herring gull, laughing gull, northern royal albatross, shy albatross, sooty shearwater, southern fulmar, Yelkouan shearwater, yellow-legged gull, minke whale, sei whale, fin whale, common dolphin, northern right whale, pilot whale, humpback whale, beaked whale, killer whale, harbor porpoise, sperm whale, striped dolphin, Atlantic spotted dolphin, spinner dolphin, bottlenose dolphin, and goose-beaked whale.
    Imagine being served a plate of sushi. But this plate also holds all of the animals that were killed for your serving of sushi. The plate might have to be five feet across.

    Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation, a.k.a. factory farm. Tellingly, this formal designation was created not by the meat industry but by the Environmental Protection Agency (see also: environmentalism). All CAFOs harm animals in ways that would be illegal according to even relatively weak animal welfare legislation. Thus:

    Common Farming Exemptions make legal any method of raising farmed animals so long as it is commonly practiced within the industry. In other words, farmers — corporations is the right word — have the power to define cruelty. If the industry adopts a practice — hacking off unwanted appendages with no painkillers, for example, but you can let your imagination run with this — it automatically becomes legal.

    CFEs are enacted state by state and range from the disturbing to the absurd. Take Nevada. Under its CFE, the state’s welfare laws cannot be enforced to “prohibit or interfere with established methods of animal husbandry, including the raising, handling, feeding, housing, and transporting, of livestock or farm animals.”
    What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

    Lawyers David Wolfson and Mariann Sullivan, experts on the issue, explain:
    Certain states exempt specific practices, rather than all customary farming practices. . . . Ohio exempts farmed animals from requirements for “wholesome exercise and a change of air,” and Vermont exempts farmed animals from the section in its criminal anticruelty statute that deems it illegal to “tie, tether and restrain” an animal in a manner that is “inhumane or detrimental to its welfare.” One cannot help but assume that in Ohio farmed animals are denied exercise and air, and that in Vermont they are tied, tethered or restrained in a manner that is inhumane.

    One night, when my son was four weeks old, he developed a slight fever. By the next morning he was having trouble breathing. On our pediatrician’s recommendation, we took him to the emergency room, where he was diagnosed with RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), which often expresses itself in adults as the common cold, but in babies can be extremely dangerous, even life threatening. We ended up spending a week in the pediatric intensive-care unit, my wife and I taking turns sleeping in the armchair in our son’s room, and on the waiting-room recliner.
    On the second, third, fourth, and fifth days, our friends Sam and Eleanor brought us food. Lots of food, far more than we could eat: lentil salad, chocolate truffles, roasted vegetables, nuts and berries, mushroom risotto, potato pancakes, green beans, nachos, wild rice, oatmeal, dried mango, pasta primavera, chili — all of it comfort food. We could have eaten in the cafeteria or ordered in. And they could have expressed their love with visits and kind words. But they brought all of that food, and it was a small, good thing that we needed. That, more than any other reason — and there are many other reasons — is why this book is dedicated to them.

    On the sixth day, my wife and I were able, for the first time since arriving, to leave the hospital together. Our son was clearly over the hump, and doctors thought we’d be able to take him home the following morning. We could hear the bullet we’d dodged whistle past. So as soon as he’d fallen asleep (with my in-laws by his bedside), we took the elevator down and reemerged into the world.

    It was snowing. The snowflakes were surreally large, distinct and durable: like the ones children cut out of white paper. We glided like sleepwalkers down Second Avenue, no destination in mind, and ended up in a Polish diner. Massive glass windows faced the street, and the snowflakes clung for several seconds before descending. I can’t remember what I ordered. I can’t remember if the food was any good. It was the best meal of my life.

    Not only the willful causing of unnecessary suffering, but the indifference to it. It’s much easier to be cruel than one might think. It’s often said that nature, “red in tooth and claw,” is cruel. I heard this again and again from ranchers, who tried to persuade me that they were protecting their animals from what lay outside the enclosures. Nature is no picnic, true. (Picnics are rarely picnics.)

    And it’s also true that animals on the very best farms often have better lives than they would in the wild. But nature isn’t cruel. And neither are the animals in nature that kill and occasionally even torture one another. Cruelty depends on an understanding of cruelty, and the ability to choose against it. Or to choose to ignore it.

    There are sixty pounds of fl our in my grandmother’s basement. On a recent weekend visit, I was sent down to retrieve a bottle of Coke and discovered the sacks lining the wall, like sandbags on the banks of a rising river. Why would a ninety-year-old woman need so much flour? And why the several dozen two-liter bottles of Coke, or the pyramid of Uncle Ben’s, or the wall of pumpernickel loaves in the freezer?

    “I noticed you have an awful lot of fl our in the basement,” I said, returning to the kitchen.

    “Sixty pounds.”

    I couldn’t read her tone. Was that pride I heard? A hint of challenge?


    “Can I ask why?”

    She opened a cabinet and took down a thick stack of coupons, each of which offered a free sack of fl our for every bag purchased.

    “How did you get so many of these?” I asked.

    “It wasn’t a problem.”

    “What are you going to do with all of that flour?”

    “I’ll make some cookies.”

    I tried to imagine how my grandmother, who has never driven a car in her life, managed to schlep all of those sacks from the supermarket to her house. Someone drove her, as always, but did she load down any one car with all sixty, or did she make multiple trips? Knowing my grandmother, she probably calculated how many sacks she could get in one car without overly inconveniencing the driver. She then contacted the necessary number of friends and made that many trips to the supermarket, likely in one day. Was this what she meant by ingenuity, all those times she told me that it was her luck and ingenuity that got her through the Holocaust?

    I’ve been an accomplice on many of my grandmother’s food acquisition missions. I remember a sale of some pelleted bran cereal, for which the coupon limited three boxes per customer. After buying three boxes herself, my grandmother sent my brother and me to buy three boxes each while she waited at the door. What must I have looked like to the cashier? A five-year-old boy using a coupon
    to buy multiple boxes of a foodstuff that not even a genuinely starving person would willfully eat? We went back an hour later and did it again.

    The flour demanded answers. For what population was she planning on baking all of these cookies? Where was she hiding the 1,400 cartons of eggs? And most obviously: How did she get all of those sacks into the basement? I’ve met enough of her decrepit chauffeurs to know they weren’t doing the hauling.

    “One bag at a time,” she said, dusting the table with her palm.

    One bag at a time. My grandmother has trouble making it from the car to the front door one step at a time. Her breathing is slow and labored, and on a recent visit to the doctor, it was discovered that she shares a heart rate with the great blue whale.
    Her perpetual wish is to live to the next bar mitzvah, but I expect her to live another decade, at least. She’s not the kind of person who dies. She could live to be 120, and there’s no way she’ll use up half of the flour. And she must know that.

    Sharing food generates good feeling and creates social bonds. Michael Pollan, who has written as thoughtfully about food as anyone, calls this “table fellowship” and argues that its importance, which I agree is significant, is a vote against vegetarianism. At one level, he’s right.

    Let’s assume you’re like Pollan and are opposed to factory-farmed meat. If you’re at the guest end, it stinks not to eat food that was prepared for you, especially (although he doesn’t get into this) when the grounds for refusal are ethical. But how much does it stink? It’s a classic dilemma: How much do I value creating a socially comfortable situation, and how much do I value acting socially responsible? The relative importance of ethical eating and table fellowship will be different in different situations (declining my grandmother’s chicken with carrots is different from passing on microwaved buffalo wings).

    More important, though, and what Pollan curiously doesn’t emphasize, is that attempting to be a selective omnivore is a much heavier blow to table fellowship than vegetarianism. Imagine an acquaintance invites you to dinner. You could say, “I’d love to come. And just so you know, I’m a vegetarian.” You could also say, “I’d love to come. But I only eat meat that is produced by family farmers.” Then what do you do? You’ll probably have to send the host a web link or list of local shops to even make the request intelligible, let alone manageable. This effort might be well-placed, but it is certainly more invasive than asking for vegetarian food (which these days requires no explanation). The entire food industry (restaurants, airline and college food services, catering at weddings) is set up to accommodate vegetarians. There is no such infrastructure for the selective omnivore.

    And what about being at the host end of a gathering? Selective omnivores also eat vegetarian fare, but the reverse is obviously not true. What choice promotes greater table fellowship?

    And it isn’t just what we put into our mouths that creates table fellowship, but what comes out. There is also the possibility that a conversation about what we believe would generate more fellowship — even when we believe different things — than any food being served.

  5. Posted February 10, 2010 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    I love bacon!

  6. Burt Reynolds
    Posted February 10, 2010 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    Cynthia, that is not an excerpt. I think you just cut and pasted the book.

  7. Posted February 10, 2010 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    Squid aren’t the only delicious cephalopods. Octopus and cuttlefish are quite tasty as well.

  8. Cynthia
    Posted February 10, 2010 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    It’s the excerpt posted on book’s site, so I thought that it would be OK.

  9. Dick N. Hand
    Posted February 10, 2010 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

    yes, animals eat animals, but last time you checked, were you covered in fur, nice fangs, running wild through ypsilanti?

    until corporate agriculture changes, a good form of activism is to refuse to eat meat altogether, fish too. less activist people will simply want to make sure they source their poultry and meat from very local, very small time, farmers.

  10. Posted February 10, 2010 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

    I think my next step is to just buy meat from small, trusted, local farms. I’ve been wanting to do it for a while now, but my love of eating out has kept me from doing it. I think it’s the right thing to do, though…. I don’t think it’s ethically wrong for humans to eat animals. I doubt my ancestors could have made it through the winter without doing so. I just think the system now is incredibly fucked up, and, as Foer says, it’s no longer consistent with the values that we as Americans claim to have. So, while being a vegetarian might be better, I think I’d be happy, for the time being, just cutting my intake down dramatically and paying more for meat produced in a way that’s more in keeping with my values.

  11. Peter Larson
    Posted February 11, 2010 at 6:51 am | Permalink

    Whenever I drive to Adrian, I pass by at least 5 cattle farms. There are cows in the fields eating grass. Not in boxes. In the field. Eating grass that grows from the ground.

    I am sure that there are evil farms out there, just as there are evil everything else but there are many farmers, much more than what this book will probably tell you, that raise livestock ethically and responsibly.

    Books like this make extreme cases because authors know that people will buy them if they do. Write a book about boring, responsible farmers and it simply won’t sell.

    I asked a vegan once if it was ok for me to keep a pet chicken and if that chicken happened to lay an egg and walk away from it, would it be ok for me to eat the egg. He stared at me for a while and started to talk about the weather.

  12. Peace Meal
    Posted February 11, 2010 at 10:06 am | Permalink


    Last I checked I was the product of a couple billion years of evolutionary development that got me to where I am today. If it’s cruel to put cows in stalls and feed them corn because it goes against their biology, why wouldn’t it be equally cruel for me to go against mine?

    And last I checked the methods humans use to kill and eat are, by enlarge, far less cruel than the rest of the wild kingdom that will slowly eat things alive.

    I think Mark’s solution is sensible and his form of activism will bring about change in the meat industry (by offering incentive and reward) more quickly than vegans who won’t eat it no matter how it’s raised.

    The best way to encourage farmers to grow more organic vegetables is to stop eating vegetables until they do?

  13. Cynthia
    Posted February 11, 2010 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    Does anyone know of a good local chicken provider? Are there local farms that treat birds well?

  14. Emma
    Posted February 11, 2010 at 12:03 pm | Permalink
    Their chickens are in chicken tractors which is not what I would consider free ranging but it is better than nothing…

  15. maryd
    Posted February 11, 2010 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    It is simple:
    Ypsilanti Food Co-op
    312 North River Street
    Ypsilanti, Michigan 48198
    (734) 483-1520 …

  16. Woody Lefurge
    Posted February 11, 2010 at 12:21 pm | Permalink


    Baer Farms based in Adrian is great for pork, turkey, chicken, duck, rabbit and fresh eggs. Karl comes to the Ypsi Freighthouse farm market all summer and makes occasional deliveries (by appointment) to Ypsilanti during the winter months. I hope he doesn’t mind me posting his number here: 517-403-3610 (it’s from the flyer he hands out freely at the market, so I assume it’s okay). Just call and ask when he’s scheduled to come out next. Also, check the freezer at the Ypsi co-op. There’s a lot of good, reasonably local meat choices in the mix, including Thomason beef (imported, I believe, from the Muskegon area).


  17. Andy Ypsilanti
    Posted February 11, 2010 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    Baer Farms will be in the Frog Island Park parking lot this Saturday from 10-12, usually along the trees opposite the frieght house.

  18. Cynthia
    Posted February 11, 2010 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    Thank you all for the suggestions. I have purchased meat in the past for the co-op, but since reading Foer’s book I’ve been more distrustful of the “free range” claim. I want to actually get my meat from a farm that I can visit. I want to know the farmer, ask questions, and see the animals.

  19. Emma
    Posted February 11, 2010 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

  20. jfs
    Posted February 11, 2010 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    I highly recommend checking out Lierre Keith’s new book called The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability.

    The description from Amazon:
    “Part memoir, nutritional primer, and political manifesto, this controversial examination exposes the destructive history of agriculture—causing the devastation of prairies and forests, driving countless species extinct, altering the climate, and destroying the topsoil—and asserts that, in order to save the planet, food must come from within living communities. In order for this to happen, the argument champions eating locally and sustainably and encourages those with the resources to grow their own food. Further examining the question of what to eat from the perspective of both human and environmental health, the account goes beyond health choices and discusses potential moral issues from eating—or not eating—animals. Through the deeply personal narrative of someone who practiced veganism for 20 years, this unique exploration also discusses alternatives to industrial farming, reveals the risks of a vegan diet, and explains why animals belong on ecologically sound farms.”

  21. Posted February 11, 2010 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

    Thank you all for your contributions to this thread. I look forward to following all the links.

  22. Mr.SwettyBallz
    Posted February 12, 2010 at 1:24 am | Permalink

    Peter larson wrote, “I asked a vegan once if it was ok for me to keep a pet chicken and if that chicken happened to lay an egg and walk away from it, would it be ok for me to eat the egg. He stared at me for a while and started to talk about the weather.”
    I think it is neat how some animal mothers eat the placenta after birth or feed it to the babies. Then it is not so neat how the mother will stand by and watch the stronger sibling eat the smaller, weaker one alive. Bald Eagles, for example eat their siblings during dificult years. They just peck their little brother/sister until they are a bloody stump and continue to eat at the meaty, nasty blood. It makes the chicken slaughter in the book look tame. “As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods.” But it is not sport. It is survival. Oh well.
    And that just goes to show that veganism is a fad. If things were to get really difficult in the US and we don’t have a bunch of money, we would be eating whatever we could find.
    With the exception of people who do it for traditional religious reasons maybe. Some Hindus won’t eat roots of plants for fear the plant will die.
    BTW, I hear scientists are going to try to clone a Neanderthal woman. I hope she is hot. I think redheads are great people.

  23. Dick N. Hand
    Posted February 12, 2010 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

    Peace Meal,

    You’re not going to graduate from community college with logic skills like that.

    But I’m glad my comment has got you fired up.


  24. Dick N. Hand
    Posted February 12, 2010 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

    Swetty Ballz,

    If you think veganism is a fad, I think you might not know many vegans.

    Let’s get back to the point of JSF’s book, which I suspect all but two of you haven’t yet read. Meat was once a necessary part of the human diet, and it tended to be hunted (historically) ethically, or raised by small farmers/individuals. We now have an agricultural system, led by just a few megacorporations, that raise incredibly sick, genetically crippled animals, and, as is well documented, many of these animals are very poorly slaughtered. Cows still alive when they reach the skinning platform. Turkeys that can’t stand up. It is for this reason that *refusing* to eat meat is an excellent marketplace vote against corporate agriculture.

    I don’t have dreadlocks. I love baseball and sex. And I’m now a vegan.

    Peace out, Dick

  25. Mr.SwettyBallz
    Posted February 12, 2010 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

    Dick N Hand wrote, “If you think veganism is a fad, I think you might not know many vegans.”
    Hmmm. You might be right. I don’t know a lot of vegans, but is it a concidence that I know tons of people who were once vegans?
    Vegetarianism, considered in the context of the entire history of the human race is a very new idea. We’ll see if it sticks. Until then, I will reserve judgement on it. And until then, I admire your activism. But have you considered farming yourself? That would be revolutionary.
    I have kind of an activist mindset, too. It seems strange to some people that I aspire to be a subsistence farmer when I grow up.

  26. Peace Meal
    Posted February 12, 2010 at 11:47 pm | Permalink

    Dick. With tit-for-tat like that, you won’t survive elementary school.

  27. Mr.SwettyBallz
    Posted February 13, 2010 at 1:13 am | Permalink

    And BTW Dick, I normally read all those bestseller diet/agriculture books, but I wait until I can get them at the tag sales for a few cents. Many people buy those books and scan them for cliff’s notes type of information so they will have something to say at work around the water cooler. If that kind of networking gets them their next job, that is cool, but no need for me to buy the book new and kill another tree or two when the book is almost free for the asking after it is a few months old.

  28. Peter Larson
    Posted February 13, 2010 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    “If you think veganism is a fad, I think you might not know many vegans.”

    Veganism is a fad for some people as they grow up. Like Mr. Ballz, I know more than a few ex-vegans. I’m one, too. I was a vegan for 7 years.

    ” Meat was once a necessary part of the human diet, and it tended to be hunted (historically) ethically, or raised by small farmers/individuals. We now have an agricultural system, led by just a few megacorporations”

    This is nonsense. Distribution systems may be run by corporations but more than 80% of the farms in the US are mom and pop operations. I tell you what, take a drive in rural Michigan and tell me how many suits you see out there driving tractors and raising cattle. Yes, there are CAFOs in the world but give yourself a day to drive around and check out how food is produced in the US. How about this, I will personally drive you around and take you to meet an actual farmer. Not a hippy, organic, leftist farmer, but a regular old farmer. You may hate the way he votes, but you’ll find that he’s just a guy trying to get by, a guy that likely inherited his farm from his father, who got his farm from his. I challenge you and the writer of this book to go and see a real farm.

    “It is for this reason that *refusing* to eat meat is an excellent marketplace vote against corporate agriculture.”

    No, it’s a way of consolidating a customer base that will serve only the really bad meat producers. Not eating meat does not stop people from going to McDonalds but not buying meat from local producers who sell through local distribution channels does hurt them badly. I thought the posts about where to get locally raised meat was a really positive step here and a surprising one. This would be like saying, I am not going to eat any more fast food. Sure, that cuts out McDonalds, but it also cuts out my local burger place, which offers better burgers and is run by some guy who knows my name. Who goes out of business first?

    Does my refusing the drink Coca Cola cut into Coca Cola’s profits?

    The United States has the safest food supply in the entire world. We have some of the strictest food production laws. We are the most well fed country in the world (for better or for worse). I would even argue that we have the strictest laws for the treatment of livestock and mostly people stick to them, outside of bad apples and CAFOs. I should know, I come from a family of farmers.

    I would like you to go to Malawi, where I do my research work. I assume that since you’ve never been outside of a city, you might not have heard of it. It’s a small and wonderful country of 12 million people in southern Africa. It a paradise for vegans. Everyone has their own farm. All the food is completely organic. Very few people eat meat, outside of the very wealthy who can eat chickens and fish.

    Trouble is, this ideal model of a self sustained organic food paradise presented by young leftists is completely unsustainable. One bad weather year, maybe a good insect infestation or theft can mean you have nothing to eat that year. People can only grow so much and often kids go without protein since there’s no Peoples Food Coop for them to get tofu. Hence, kids are sick, malnourished and they die despite living on some of the most fertile land in all of Africa.

  29. Curt Waugh
    Posted February 13, 2010 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    I’d also like to point out that Dick’s impression of our ethically noble ancestors is hooey.

    Humans have always been rampant opportunists who take any advantage they can find, ethical or not. Hunting, gathering and agriculture methods weren’t limited by choice, they were limited by technology.

    Even prior to the arrival of technology, early humans would burn fields and wait for the animals to run out. Humans are excellent long-distance runners. We would chase game until it was exhausted. Or they would chase large game to the edge of a cliff until the panicked animal went over the edge. Nothing like an animal dying in terror or from exhaustion to bring out the ethicist in all of us, eh?

    Noble savage, indeed.

  30. Jeff Clark
    Posted February 13, 2010 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    Peter, I’d love to hear some of your thoughts after you’ve read _Eating Animals_, and possibly also _The Omnivore’s Dilemma_. Your impression that “[w]e have some of the strictest food production laws” is, in fact, emphatically untrue; if the US did have strict food production laws, livestock wouldn’t be drugged and pumped with hormones, corn wouldn’t be genetically modified, there would be no patents on seed, to name just a few things. New research is also beginning to suggest that a large percentage of short-lived “bugs” that people get, occur after having eaten industrially processed meat.

    I appreciate your sense that small farms are raising animals in a way that bears no resemblance to meat factories, but I want to point out that as of 2008, you can count on two hands the number of slaughterhouses in this country that process animals in a safe, small-scale, humane-as-possible manner (this information comes from Temple Grandin, among several others). There are many reasons for this; the one I fond most infuriating is that the USDA, which exists, in principle, to protect us, does far more to protect corporations. Federally-approved slaughterhouses (and a small farmer can’t have her animals processed at anything but a USDA-approved slaughterhouse) have, as a rule, a USDA inspector on-site, 24/7. Are they allowed onto the killing floor? No. What about impromptu inspections of facilities that have received citations for egregious activity/conditions?–they’re announced ahead of time, and, as Grandin writes, even then has she witnessed sadistic treatment of animals, as well as of workers (low pay, long hours, but more crucially, the demand to process animals twice as fast as circa-1940 processing standards; slaughterhouse work is among the two or three most dangerous professions in America).

    So, while there are many mom and pop farms across the country, as you point out, if they’re raising meat animals, unless they’re butchering on site and selling at farmer’s markets, their animals are being processed at megafacilities. Even Nyman’s Ranch beef is, unfortunately, processed at less-than-decent abattoirs (note too, per Safran Foer, that Bill Nyman was recently fired from the progressive cooperative he helped found).

    I’m not a vegan, but after reading _Eating Animals_ and _The Omnivore’s Dilemma_, I’ve even stopped eating occasional meat at The Roadhouse (there’s no other restaurant around, to my mind, that offers pastured beef). I’ve made the decision to no longer eat meat or fish not so much as a fuck-you to corporate agriculture, but because it’s become clear to me that meat in my diet is totally unecessary. For anyone who does feel that eating meat is somehow biologically necessary, it’s easy enough to buy well-raised, well-treated, humanely-slaughtered meat from the farmer’s market.

    Curt, you write, “Humans have always been rampant opportunists who take any advantage they can find, ethical or not.” I believe this generalization doesn’t apply to all the members of my community of friends and family here in Ypsilanti, many of whom are vegetarian in some fashion or other, or are ethical (thinking) meat eaters.


  31. Kathy Waugh
    Posted February 13, 2010 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

    Jeff, I very much appreciate your well-considered comments. But citing some local personal examples does not a trend make. Clearly, there are many folks who do now, and have always, made what they consider to be ethical choices. But that doesn’t take away from the entire species’ unrepentant climb to the top of the food chain. (Sure, eventually bacteria, viruses, prions and such will probably take us down. Whadda ya gonna do?)

    I would ask, given the choices you have made, where you draw the line and why? You say that you have not gone vegan, but aren’t milk and egg producing animals treated pretty much the same as meat producers? Aren’t leather producers treated the same? I admire your ethical stance, I’m just curious as to your thought process.

    (And while this is semi tongue-in-cheek: What about the ethical treatment of the human animals who supply our produce? Taken to an extreme conclusion, all these ethical choices leave us with harvesting mushrooms and berries in the forest and maybe eating grubs. I just get the feeling that we’re all drawing arbitrary lines in the sand.)

  32. Curt Waugh
    Posted February 13, 2010 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

    Sorry, that last post came from Curt Waugh. Gotta stop using my wife’s computer. Talk about drawing lines in the sand…

    ~ Curt

  33. Jeff Clark
    Posted February 13, 2010 at 9:39 pm | Permalink


    Your first paragraph hovers around inanity, but paragraph two asks some important questions. Calder, the dairy we get our milk and butter from, raises animals well, by all accounts. The eggs we buy are also local, and from well-tended chickens. As for my leather boots, you’ve got me. I have neither a way of understanding, nor of rationalizing, my wearing of leather. I hope to, eventually. I also understand that imperfection is a fact of humanness.

    Your last paragraph touches on a kind of debate I’ve encountered a few times, recently. Suffice it to say that if you get your produce from a local, organic farm–Tantre, for example–you’re not supporting the system that abuses migrant farm workers.

    You don’t need to eat only wild mushrooms and berries from the forest to be eating responsibly. As I’ve written, I believe you can eat organic, locally-grown produce, eggs, and dairy, and even meat if your tastes run that way.

    Not rocket science, and neither elitist nor contradictory.

    One general thing I’d like to drawn attention to, which is something Safran Foer touches on in his book: there is often a pronounced defensiveness from meat eaters when the notion of vegetarianism or veganism is brought up. What fascinates me is that vegetarians, for example, aren’t ever implying, “You dumb-ass, stop eating meat.” In fact, vegetarians often are in a position of having to say, “I don’t eat meat,” or, “Actually, I don’t eat meat, and here’s why.” Yet meat-eaters often hallucinate an indictment which has not been made; this suggests to me an unconscious discomfort–on the part of the meat-eater–with eating meat, or being known as a meat-eater. Otherwise, meat-eater would probably react with something along the lines of, “Ah, you don’t eat meat. That’s great. I do eat meat, and am comfortable with it for these reasons . . .”


  34. Curt Waugh
    Posted February 14, 2010 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    Jeff, thank you for calling me “inane”. You’ve really won me over with the humble tone of your prose.

  35. Posted February 14, 2010 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    This kind of makes me sad, as I think you two might actually like one another.

  36. Peter Larson
    Posted February 14, 2010 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    Mr. Clark,

    I have very little interest in reading the books you mention as I believe that they have little to offer in the way of balanced information regarding food in the 21st century. I distrust industry sources that seek to emphasize the positives and downplay the negative of food production in American but can say with confidence that such PR is presented in the interest of promoting business and protecting jobs and welfare. That, to me, is a simple equation and allows me to parse out information easily as the motivations are simple, clear and pragmatic. However, books such as “Eating Animals”, written by a Professor of Creative Writing, have much more suspicious aims, first and foremost being book sales and secondly being the tendency of the left to disdain the lifestyles and attitudes of the society that birthed them, to the point of blindness, exaggeration and untruth. In short, it’s easy for me to understand what is likely true and untrue in a PR clip from Monsanto as I know their aims. Mr. Foer’s aims are much more difficult to parse out, and as he is not beholden to stockholders and regulation, he can say pretty much whatever he wants, no matter how exaggerated it may be.

    I agree with much of your statement and do not intend to imply that food production in the US is perfect. My point is to say that the claims that eating meat is intrinsically detrimental to world welfare is untrue and that claims of meat production being entirely through COFAs and factory farms is untrue. COFA’s only account for 30% of meat production in the US, to my knowledge. As far as genetically modified corn, the debate on safety is open, but to my knowledge, there is, as of yet, little scientific evidence that population health is being comprised by the creation of more robust crops. Of course, time will tell but the fact stands that wealthy people in the US (as well as other countries in the developed world) have the longest lifespan that has ever been seen in human history, and at least some of this is directly attributable to large scale agriculture, cheap food, available sources of protein. Sure, we can argue that people in the US don’t live as long as people in Sweden, but both countries are living longer and healthier that they did 150 years ago and still live longer than folks in Malawi.
    Is there corruption in farming? Yes. The Farm Bill is a wonderful example and I support it’s repeal. Are slaughterhouses poorly run? I don’t know and can’t say. Likely employees are treated poorly, and I am sympathetic and of course, in support of better working conditions, but but that has little to do whether I believe that calls for vegetarian/vegan diets and individual organic farms are worthwhile as safe and ethical options are clearly available.

    My original point was that merely stopping the consumption of meat will do little to change the bad since the customer base for the good dries up. Think about cars. If, one day, every leftist in the US said, “SUV’s are bad, I will not drive anymore” then there would be no impetus for the auto industry to create any alternatives as the customer base for SUVs stil exists. If, however, people who think SUVs are bad are willing to invest in more fuel efficient cars, automanufacturers are motivated to create such vehicles, which eventually could results in SUVs themselves becoming more efficient as we have seen. Stopping driving and walking does nothing to curb the flow of SUVs.

    I will admit that I am very hostile to followers vegan and vegatarian diets in the same way that I am hostile to fundamentalist Christianity and creationists. You are very wrong when you say that vegans have a passive and accepting approach to other people’s food choices and a host of books bear this out. Veganism is not born out of rationality or likes/dislikes. It is born out of a hatred of what is perceived to be the core of middle class, white America and a spit in the face to the culture from which many of these people come from. I believe that rational debates as to the need for safety and regulation of food production suffer from the non-participation of these people, who sit on the sidelines and write reactionary books that few people read and form self-serving cliques, rather than getting involved in local policy making or politics that could improve the health and welfare of animals as well as people. But that is merely my opinion.

    Enough rambling, back to work.

  37. Glen S.
    Posted February 14, 2010 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    I think the “moral” argument for vegetarianism provides for interesting discussion, although I tend to agree with those that argue that throughout history, the “natural order” has been for animals (including humans) to be opportunistic with regard to eating to survive. Therefore, I’m not sure I necessarily believe that eating meat is, on principle, “bad’ or “wrong.”

    On the other hand, as world conditions related to population growth, energy, and food production are undergoing unprecedented change, I think there are a variety of very compelling reasons to consider eating much lower on the food chain — including little or no meat, and seeking out food that is locally-grown and organic whenever possible.

    First, regardless of whether eating meat is “moral” or not — producing, processing, storing and refrigerating meat requires enormous inputs of water and energy — both in terms of the animals themselves, but also the tremendous amounts of grain, etc. that are necessary to produce a given unit of food energy.

    Second, as an ever-growing percentage of meat and meat production is being concentrated into a shrinking number of multi-national corporations, a major component of the American diet has come to depend on industrial-scale processes that feature genetically-engineered animals whose basic biology and life-spans have been altered (sped-up) by being fed massive quantities of synthetic hormones and antibiotics; and which are processed using ultra-low-cost methods that have created an epidemic of contamination scares.

    Third, these same “Meat Multinationals” are at the core of a Government/Corporate infrastructure that that is rapidly gaining a stranglehold on our entire food supply — creating a system that narrows consumer choices, and imperils health, by subsidizing low-cost, low-quality homongenous “staples” like corn, soy, and wheat — at the expense of a wider variety of a more locally-sourced and diverse variety of food choices.

    Fourth, overwhelming evidence has shown that a diet that relies too heavily on commercially over-processed animal products is a major contributing factor to many human diseases, including obesity, heart disease, and many cancers, while, conversely — a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains has been shown to not only reduce the incidence of these diseases, but may actually provide an important disease-prevention function, as well.

    I don’t eat meat, but in addition to a wide variety of plant foods, I do eat eggs, fish and dairy. However, as a rule, I seek out eggs (local farm-sourced, free-range); fish (sustainable species, wild-caught); and dairy (RGBH-free, and organic/locally-produced, when possible), that I hope not only are better for the environment, but which also support food diversity and help to sustain small businesses and local economies.

    In short, although I am mostly a vegetarian, I personally would find the idea of eating venison from a wild deer, or a steak from a naturally-pastured cow significantly less troubling than, for example, eating a Quarter Pounder.

  38. Jeff Clark
    Posted February 14, 2010 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    Curt: I didn’t set out to win you over, my man. Also: I said that your first paragraph, not you as a person, verged on the inane.

    Mark: Don’t be sad.

    Peter: With all due respect, I can’t even make it through your first paragraph.

    Glen S, on the other hand, is making some great points. He reminds me of something we haven’t touched on yet, which is that livestock-rearing generates more greenhouse gases than even transportation does, and that it also massively contributes to land and water degradation.

    To get back to Mark’s original post, though: I really do urge those of you who haven’t to read this book; there’s a wealth of information, as well as riveting first-person narratives by members of all sides of animal husbandry/slaughter/eating. Accounts by beyond-organic turkey farmers as well as lengthy ripostes by more traditional ranchers. Safran Foer isn’t an expert, but doesn’t claim to be; there is something in non-expertise that can ballast the autonomy necessary for discovery.

  39. Peter Larson
    Posted February 14, 2010 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    Yes! Power through obfuscation!

  40. Jeff Clark
    Posted February 14, 2010 at 4:28 pm | Permalink


    Some things don’t warrant my attention, for a variety of reasons. But the moment you craft something that’s measured, interested, and without reactionary hysteria, you can be sure I’ll read it thoroughly.

    All best,


  41. Peter Larson
    Posted February 14, 2010 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure where you are coming from.

    How is a book such as “Eating Animals” anything less than reactionary hysteria?

  42. Posted February 14, 2010 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

    As I think you said earlier, Pete, that you haven’t read it, I don’t know how you can make a blanket statement about it being reactionary hysteria. As I understand it, Foer just relates the facts of factory meat production. In the bits I’ve read thus far, I haven’t seen any hand-waiving, or heard him say that we’re all going to die horribly.

  43. Peter Larson
    Posted February 14, 2010 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

    I read the excerpt and read the responses from his followers.

    I think that it’s fairly clear.

  44. Peter Larson
    Posted February 14, 2010 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

    I reread the excerpt. It’s reactionary hysteria dressed up by a creative writing teacher.

  45. Peter Larson
    Posted February 14, 2010 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

    Mark, you know I hate this kind of shit. Why did you drag me into this?

    For all others, Mark wrote me earlier today to get me to respond to Mr. Clark’s earlier post.

    I will have my revenge.

  46. Peter Larson
    Posted February 14, 2010 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    I read another excerpt. Mark, you disappoint me.

  47. Peter Larson
    Posted February 14, 2010 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

    For the record, I was set up.

  48. Posted February 14, 2010 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

    If you want to fight, you know where I’ll be tomorrow at noon.

  49. Posted February 14, 2010 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

    What’s the schoolyard closest to Mahek?

  50. Peter Larson
    Posted February 14, 2010 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

    I’ll kill you.

  51. Posted February 14, 2010 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

    Humanely, though, right?

  52. Posted February 14, 2010 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

    And, FYI… Whoever kills me has to take over the blog.

    So, before you pull out your shiv, you’d better ask yourself if you’re willing to sit in front of a computer four hours a night for no money and deal with the likes of yourself.

  53. Crack Snapple
    Posted February 14, 2010 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

    Before I make a snap judgment, can any Foer fan tell me if his book is substantially different than his NY Times promo?

    If not, I think Peter’s summation is pretty lucid and Mark should be eaten in the same manner a hawk eats a hare.

  54. Posted February 15, 2010 at 7:02 am | Permalink

    I would love to have someone eat my hair, as it would save me the $20 I’m about to spend getting it cut.

    And I’m not defending Foer. Like I said, I haven’t read the book yet. I’m just stating that, from what I’ve heard, his analysis seems to be pretty grounded in reality.

  55. Curt Waugh
    Posted February 15, 2010 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    No worries, Mark. I still like the conceptual human who is Jeff.

    I’d like to throw just one more tiny little wrench in this whole dicussion: If all of the many subsidies given to the meat industry were removed, we’d pretty much cut down by several orders of magnitude how much meat we eat. Problem solved! They inlude:
    – pasture land
    – transportation (roads, fuel, technology)
    – water
    – feed (farm bill)
    – other

    We throw so much money at meat, it’s no wonder you can get a New York Strip at Costco for $7-8 per pound. It’s an utterly insane price for choice beef (and DAMN it’s good). Pork tenderloin is what, two-three bucks a pound? Crazy.

    If I were a vegetarian/vegan, I’d go after the subsidies first. It’s gonna be a lot easier to hit ’em in the wallet than to change everybody’s minds.

  56. Jeff Clark
    Posted February 15, 2010 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

    A MSC film on CAFOs in Michigan:

    A surprise at 10:30: Kathy, an amazing woman who sells native MI plants at the Ann Arbor Farmer’s Market. Which reminds me of the activist work she does w/ her friend, emerita EMU Creative Writing Professor, Janet Kauffman, against a polluting CAFO near their farms in Hudson.

    Curt, you’re right: if big ag weren’t so heavily subsidized, and people paid for meat and produce what it actually costs to grow, America would very likely be consuming a lot less meat. Both Pollen and Wendell Berry touch on the fact that eating responsibly costs a good deal more than not. The more I’ve thought and talked about this fact, the less I feel stunned by spending so much of my income on groceries and a CSA.

  57. Peter Larson
    Posted February 15, 2010 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    I am all for repealing the Farm Bill. It would not only result in a jump in meat prices, but also for sodas, snack and fast foods. This is a far better strategy to get Americans to reduce meat consumption than writing quasi-religious, reactionary books.

    However, it would result in a massive loss of jobs, putting farmers all across the nation out of business as they watched farm production move to Mexico and South America, who have even lower standards for food production and almost zero accountability on this side.

    Like I said, I’m for repealing the Farm Bill, but you can’t ignore the potential consequences.

  58. Posted February 15, 2010 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

    You’ll all be happy to know that Pete didn’t kill me today.

    And, thank you, Jeff, for the link to the video on Janet’s work. I hope to watch it tonight, if I can stay awake.

  59. Stan
    Posted February 16, 2010 at 7:18 am | Permalink

    How can you be sure that he didn’t kill you? Haven’t you seen the film The Sixth Sense? In it, Bruce Willis doesn’t realize that he’s been killed until the very end.

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