I picked this book up in a quaint little bookshop in Broadway Market, fittingly called The Broadway Bookshop. It sat on my bedside table for a while (along with a leaning tower of others) because I find myself reluctant to read books about the horrors of animal agriculture. I don’t need telling what a bloody mess we’re in and I’m already on side - the thought of reading an entire book reminding me the whole world’s gone to shit fills me with dread.
But, as a wiser person than I recently said to me, in the information age, ignorance is a choice. I’m glad I eventually opened it. Eating Animals is an excellent piece of work.
Admittedly, Eating Animals was first published in 2009, so some of the farming practices described within these pages might have changed. But how many have changed for the better? Can we really hope that great swathes have been made in the arena of cheap meat? I’m now reading The Uninhabitable Earth and I can confirm that nothing is better now. Everything is worse.
(Eating Animals has been brought up to date - Natalie Portman has produced and narrated a documentary based on the book, coming to theatres now)
Two things have stayed with me since I finished this one. Firstly, Safran Foer does a very clever bit about eating dogs. He really makes the case for it. He argues that it’s irresponsible not to eat dogs, seeing as there are so many of them milling about and we’re facing a future where billions of carnivores want meat on their plate at every meal. He says that in America, millions of dogs (and cats) are euthanised every year in animal shelters, then become the food for our food. (i.e fed to livestock.) Why not cut out the middleman and eat the dogs ourselves?
Of course, in making the case for eating dogs, Safran Foer reflects the world’s selective carnivorism right back at ya. It feels disgusting, reprehensible, unkind, to even think of eating dogs. What a shame dog lovers can’t extend that kindness, compassion and intolerance to the very thought of a doggy dinner, to other animals.
Secondly, the utterly shocking bit about the fishing industry. Jesus H Christ, fishing is insanely out of control. In my ignorance I imagined fish were still caught one by one, or at least in nets that weren’t 30 miles long. Yes, you read that right. THIRTY MILES LONG.
He describes the way we’ve entered the oceans to pillage its depth as a war. We have raged war on the oceans. I quote: ‘Once the picture of industrial fishing is filled in - the 1.4billion hooks deployed annually on long lines, the 1,200 nets, each one thirty miles in length, used by only one fleet to catch only one species, the ability of a single vessel to haul in fifty tons of sea animals in a few minutes - it becomes easier to think of contemporary fishers as factory farmers rather than fishermen.’
If only those insane, 30 mile long nets did only catch one species. But of course they bloody don’t because humans are dicks. It’s called bycatch. Shrimp account for 2% of global seafood by weight, but shrimp trawling accounts for 33% of global bycatch - other sea life is thrown overboard, dead or dying.
Then there’s the 145 other species regularly killed while fishers catch tuna. Safran Foer lists a long handful, but we’re talking manta ray, numerous types of sharks, mackerel, marlin, swordfish, a ton of fish I’ve never even heard of, turtles, gulls, albatross, whales and dolphins. It is INSANE that this is legal.
One can only hope that the astonishing beauty revealed in David Attenborough documentaries like One Planet can somehow wake the world from this walking sleep.
Now for some well-done-us. According to the UN, the livestock sector is responsible for 40% more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transport sector - cars, trucks, planes, trains and ships - combined. Omnivores contribute seven times the volume of greenhouse gas emissions than vegans. Which is handy to know, next time you’re up against an environmentalist who eats animals.
The book shares some inside thoughts from a factory farmer and reveals the history of agriculture and how we got ourselves into this sorry mess - Herbert Hoover declaring in 1928 that he wanted to build an American society where there was a ‘chicken in every pot’ - for example. Nice one Hoover. It’s thanks to you there’s an EZY CHOOK or similar on every high street. One hundred years ago there were no factory farmed chickens. At the time the book was written, there were 50 billion chickens living in factory farm conditions worldwide. Chickens are curious, intelligent, sweet, clever little things. Not that it would matter if they were stupid - no living creature deserves this kind of life.
There’s an explanation of the horrors endured by pigs and piglets, cows and calves, the horrors of farm life and the horrors of slaughter. I won’t go into detail here because I really want you to read this book. And then, as Safran Foer says, we can truly ask ourselves: What did you do when you learned the truth about eating animals?
A change in practice will only arise when we, the people, change our practises. We can vote with every meal and every purchase. We can put a stop to this barbarism. It’s as simple as switching to vegan sausages, oat milk and nut cheese. Our forebears got us into this mess but we can get us out of it. Isn’t that marvellous? Little old us, one by one, we can do this!