Thursday, May 17, 2012

"Eating Animals" excerpts, or: Why I've Gone Vegan

Tomorrow marks one month that I decided to go vegan, and I must say that I am both loving the effects (both mentally and physically) and feeling more justified in my decision by the day. As an endeavor not necessarily (at least not whole-heartedly) tied to my vegan experiment, I also began reading “Eating Animals” by Jonathon Safran Foer, author of “Everything is Illuminated.”

“Eating Animals” is by far the most persuasive, gripping book documenting the author’s research into the animal industry, originally dedicated to his hope of deciding, once and for all, whether to feed his soon-to-be-born son meat or not.  What follows are excerpts that I have found especially enlightening/breathtaking/persuasive, and I hope that more of what he has to say on the matter can be read by more and more people.  I must admit that I had already known a fair amount of the intolerable treatment of most, but not all, of our farm animals as well as some of the negative health effects associated with frequent meat and dairy intake (higher rates of osteoporosis, actually), but this book (and I think it’s primarily due to Foer’s superb writing and the overall organization of the book) took that knowledge and ‘eww’ factor about meat, and the factory farm industry in general, to a whole new level.

Whether you are a hardcore meat eater or a die-hard vegan, I hope that you’ll at least come away with some new information or perhaps a new perspective from reading these excerpts. I know that I have done so, and I’m not even finished with the book yet.  Just waiting to reach the health and climate change sections…!

An excerpt from, taken verbatim from the “Species Barrier” section. (75,76) This story telling solidified Foer in my mind as an excellent writer, and I hope you’ll see along with me just why I feel  that way. This is relatively long (2 pages in a large hardback), but I implore you to read this to the very last sentence.

“The Berlin Zoo (Zoologischer Garten Berlin) houses the largest number of species of any zoo in the world, around 1,400. Opened in 1844, it was the first zoo in German- the original animals were gifts from Frederick William IV’s menagerie—and with 2.6 million visitors a year, it is the most trafficked zoo in Europe. Allied air raids in 1942 destroyed nearly all of the infrastructure, and only ninety-one animals survived. (It’s amazing that in a city in which people were cutting down the public parks for firewood any animals survived at all.) Today there are about fifteen thousand animals. But most people pay attention to only one of them.

Knut, the first polar bear born to the zoo in thirty years, entered the world on December 5, 2006. He was rejected by his mother, the twenty-year-old Tosca, a retired German circus bear, and his twin brother died four days later. It’s a promising beginning for a bad TV movie, but not for a life. Little Knut spent his first fourty-four days in an incubator. His keeper, Thomas Dorflein, slept at the zoo in order to provide twenty-four-hour care. Dorflein bottle-fed Knug every two hours, strummed Elvis’s “Devil in Disguise” on his guitar at Knut’s bedtime, and was covered in cuts and bruises from all the roughhousing. Knut weighed 1.8 pounds at birth, but by the time I saw him, about three months later, he had more than doubled his weight. If all goes well, he will one day be about two hundred times that size.

To say that Berlin loved Knut would be a tragic understatement. Mayor Klaus Wowereit checked the news every morning for fresh pictures of Knut. The city’s hockey team, the Eisbaren, asked the zoo if they could adopt him as a mascot. Numerous blogs—included one by Der Tagesspiegel, Berlin’s most widely read paper—were dedicated to Knut’s hourly doings. He had his own podcast and webcam. He even replaced the topless model in a number of daily newspapers.

Four hundred journalists came to Knut’s public debut, which far overshadowed the EU summit taking place at the same time. There were Knut bow ties, Knut rucksacks (that’s German-English for backpack), Knut commemorative plates, Knut pajamas, Knut figurines, and probably, although I haven’t verified this, Knut panties. Knut has a godfather, Sigmar Gabriel, the German environment minister. Another zoo animal, the panda Yan Yan, was actually killed by Knut’s popularity. Zookeepers speculate that the thirty thousand people crowding into the zoo to see Knut overwhelmed Yan Yan—either overexcited her or depressed her to death (it wasn’t clear to me). And speaking of death, when an animal rights group raised the argument—only hypothetically, they later claimed—that it would be better to euthanize an animal that raise it in such conditions, schoolchildren took to the streets chanting ‘Knut must live.’ Soccer fans chanted for Knut instead of their teams.

If you go to see Knut and get hungry, just a few feet from his enclosure is a stand selling ‘Wurst de Knut,’ made from the flesh of factory farmed pigs, which are at least as intelligent and deserving of our regard as Knut. This is the species barrier.”

While speaking with Mario, a kill-man in the slaughterhouse:

“Apropos of nothing or everything, Mario starts talking about his dog, ‘a bird dog, a small dog. A shih tzu’”… “He tells me, with obvious pleasure, about the birthday party he recently held for his shih tzu, to which he and his family invited the other local dogs- “all small dogs.” He took a photo of all the dogs on the laps of their owners. He didn’t used to like small dogs. Thought they weren’t real dogs. Then he got a small dog. Now he loves small dogs. The knocker [the man tasked with killing the pig] comes out, waving his bloody arms, and takes another pig.”

Speaking about the apparent mental states of pigs awaiting slaughter as he watches them:

“There’s no obvious terror, no wailing or even huddling together. I do notice one pig, however, that is lying on its side, trembling somewhat. And when the knocker comes out, while all of the others jump to their feet and become agitated, this one continues to lie there and tremble. If George[JSF’s dog] were acting that way, we’d take her straight to the vet. And if someone saw that I wasn’t doing anything for her, they would at least think my humanity was somehow deficient. I ask Mario about the pig. ‘That’s just a pig thing,’ he says, chuckling.”

Excerpt from a letter, admittedly from an animal activist (though, it should also be noted, one who is pro-life, conservative on some issues, and certainly not a self-identified liberal), to JSF

“Tell me something: Why is taste, the crudest of our senses, exempt from the ethical rules that govern our other senses? If you stop and think about it, it’s crazy. Why doesn’t a horny person have as strong a claim to raping an animal as a hungry one does to killing and eating it? It’s easy to dismiss that question but hard to respond to it.”

“The animals have paid the price for our desire to have everything available at all times for very little money.” –Frank Reese, from a letter exhibited in Eating Animals

“I’m not better than anyone, and I’m not trying to convince people to live by my standards of what’s right. I’m trying to convince them to live by their own.”  - Frank Reese, from a letter exhibited in Eating Animals.

After detailing the origins of the modern flu and its fatal strains (particularly H5N1 and H1N1) and giving reasons (and not just his own, but from the WHO and the Cal Academy of Science’s Dept. of Medicine) to worry about a new flu which will come about via (likely) swine and avian flu ‘hybridization’, for lack of a better word…

“Somewhere between 1 and 4 percent of the birds will die writhing in convulsions from sudden death syndrome, a condition virtually unknown outside of factory farms. Another … condition in which excess fluids fill the body cavity, ascites, kills even more (5 percent of birds globally). Three out of four will have some degree of walking impairment, and common sense suggests they are in chronic pain. One out of four will have such significant trouble walking that there is no question they are in pain.” – JSF

“Scientific studies and government records suggest that virtually all (upwards of 95 percent of) chickens become infected with E. Coli (an indicator of fecal contamination) and between 39 and 75 percent of chickens in retail stores are still infected. Around 8 percent of birds become infected with salmonella….Seventy to 90 percent are infected with another potentially deadly pathogen, campylobacter. Chlorine baths are commonly used to remove slime, odor, and bacteria.” –JSF

“Once upon a time, USDA inspectors had to condemn any bird with such fecal contamination. But about thirty years ago, the poultry industry convinced the USDA to reclassify feces so that it could continue to use these automatic eviscerators. Once a dangerous contaminant, feces are now classified as a ‘cosmetic blemish.’” 

From a journalist for the Atlanta Journal Constitution, “’Every week,’ he reports, ‘millions of chickens leaking yellow pus, stained by green feces, contaminated by harmful bacteria, or marred by lung and heart infections, cancerous tumors, or skin conditions are shipped for sale to consumers.’”

… It’s up to you, and it’s up to me. As corny as it is, nothing could touch closer to the truth- we each can make a difference and, together, we all can be the difference.

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