Friday, May 14, 2010

"Eating Animals"

I’ve been struggling to complete this blog posting for over a month now. The main reason for this delay is that I have found it very difficult to describe my own experiences and choices without appearing to be either prescriptive or judgmental of the choices of others. So please read this posting in the knowledge that I am aware that I hold the truth for no one but myself. Also, please accept that my personal choices imply absolutely no judgment of the choices of others.

I’ve recently finished reading the book, “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer (author of 2 previous books, which I enjoyed immensely: “Everything is Illuminated” and “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”). Jonathan undertook the research, which eventually led to his writing this book, because he wanted to make informed decisions about the food he would choose to feed his infant son. Despite the fact that three years of intensive research into farming practices went into the writing of this book, I also undertook a personal mission to verify for myself, as far as possible, some of the practices described therein.

I have always had a terribly uncomfortable feeling about the keeping and slaughter of animals for human food and this was something that I hid from myself in order to continue partaking of all the foods I enjoyed - a dirty little secret that I avoided looking at. Now that I have the cold, hard facts about factory farming, I find that I am unable to justify for myself the continued consumption of most of these foods.

Although I have called myself a “vegetarian” for almost 3 years, I have still enjoyed the occasional seafood and I have continued to eat free-range eggs and r-BST free milk, cheese, butter and yogurt. After reading what is actually meant by factory-farmed “free-range” eggs I find that I am unable to give my permission to the cruelty involved. A simple e-mail to our retailer of choice clearly indicated to me that I am condoning the most horrific cruelty by eating even so-called “free-range eggs”. Try it. Ask your retailer exactly what is meant by free-range (specifically how much space each chicken actually has to walk around in and the life expectancy, health and holding conditions of even free-range chickens). Also ask what happens to the male chicks… When I discovered the sheer criminal wastage of so-called “by-catch” associated with modern fishing practices and the pollution and cruelty associated with fish farming, I found myself unable to partake of seafood any longer. It simply isn’t financially viable to farm in a more humane fashion, as we require ever-increasing amounts of food at relatively cheap prices.

But, as Safran Foer points out, I vote 3 times a day with my fork in favour of the continued cruelty associated with modern factory farming practices. Until I stop…

We are all, in the words of Wendell Berry, “farmers by proxy”. What am I prepared to condone in the name of “taste”? I agree with Safran Foer that it’s in EXTREMELY bad taste to torture animals in order to gratify my taste buds. I wonder how an advanced race of beings visiting our planet would experience the human race if they were to be shown the unbelievable cruelty and wastage associated with animal factory farming and slaughter?

But what do I do with this information I now have about farming practices? How does this affect my future food choices? Do I become a dreaded “food fascist”? And what do I do about my leather shoes, belts and jackets? Do I wear out the clothing I currently have and then purchase only made-made fabrics in future? But how about the destruction of natural habitats caused by the production of such synthetic fabrics and do I look deeply into the practices involved in the production of these products? Where do I draw my own personal line? Do I try and change the world by becoming an activist? Do I wish for THIS to become my life’s purpose?

Some of the things I can immediately do include searching for a local family farmer that can provide us with eggs and milk products that I can consume with a clear conscience. Certainly I will personally visit the farm and make sure that the animals are treated fairly and humanely. Until then I no longer eat eggs and I have severely limited my intake of milk products (alas, for me, cheese is the hardest thing to give up!) In the last few months I have discovered that it’s definitely not necessary to eat vast quantities of animal protein, as I have become increasingly aware of the multitude of beautiful, nutritious and absolutely delicious foods that are available to vegans. I have already, and continue to reduce my wasteful consumption of consumer goods. But, are these measures enough?

Eating food is an incredibly intimate thing to do - taking the body of another living being into my own body as a means to continually re-create myself. It stands to reason that each decision I take about every mouthful I take is a decision about how I wish to create myself. Here, in this moment, NOW, I decide who I will become in the future.

I am not advocating veganism, even though I think that I will probably end up making the choice to become a vegan myself (if I can possibly find a way to give up cheese, that is!) What I AM advocating is becoming conscious of how I vote with my fork (and with my wallet); to become consciously aware of every choice that I make. Then I think that I can allow myself some grace, some time to find alternatives to the food and other animal products I currently depend upon.

A commitment to being consciously aware and to continuously improve is what I have come up with for myself. I find that I can live with this... for now.

And so the journey continues…

Next: Moving on


Anonymous said...

Our neighbours in Langhorne Creek have extremely happy truly free range chickens (they love our grass cuttings which our neighbours have requested we tip over the fence) and they sell the eggs. Some other neighbours let their goats graze in the church yard. I think if you have the luxury of living in the country, you can eat ethically without being a vegan. Have you thought of keeping your own goats and chickens? That is my ultimate dream for my beloved egg and cheese protein.

Anonymous said...

PS: The reason why I suggest ethically keeping your own animals is that vegan food such as rice and wheat can actually be more harmful to the environment in dry countries like Australia nd SOuth Africa where water is wasted on these water hungry crops. Also growing your own mielies and potatoes is another good suggestion. The people living in squatter camps in SOuth Africa with their own chickens and veggie gardens are probably the most environmentally friendly...

Lisa said...

Yes,there is definitely a world of difference between the family farm and the factory farm and I feel fine about eating TRUE free-range eggs. The shells of such eggs are far harder than those of store-bought free-range eggs, reflecting the healthier lifestyle of the chicken! Our neighbour has more eggs than he can cope with, so we will be well supplied. I would agree that mono-culture of grains can be very environmentally damaging. We will be attempting to grow as much of our own food as possible. It should be quite an adventure!

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