I can only start by saying that this book rocked my world.
After 3-4 years of extensive research, travel and investigation, Jonathan Safran Foer collected his findings and analysis into this very readable, very engaging litany of the horrors of the factory farm, through which over 95% of US meat is processed. These “farms” are really not farms at all, but rather enormous, hugely overcrowded storage facilities for live animals (chickens, turkeys, hogs, and slightly less often, cows). The animals are fed antibiotic-laced, genetically modified corn, given no fresh air, and crowded into either tiny cages or if they are “cage-free” they are still rarely given more than a few square inches in which to live. The drainage of sewage is poor and most live in their own feces. The animals are sickly and prone to many diseases, including osteoporosis, which makes them susceptible to frequent broken bones. The killing is generally horrific and not at all the painless, quick way we’d like to think.
In addition to causing animal suffering, the factory farms wreak havoc on the environment. The sewage alone is enough to pollute the air with toxic gases and nearby water supplies because of run-off. People living near these facilities have higher incidences of respiratory illness, nausea and other symptoms because of the toxins.
I did not read this because I was a vegetarian. I did not read this because I am an activist and want to convince everyone to think as I now am thinking. In fact, this is not even why the author wrote this book. I have eaten meat all my life – especially poultry. The author wavered in the past between eating animals and not, acknowledging that there is a shared experience of eating food with other people that perhaps can be impacted if one restricts in some way. In addition, Foer describes a few farmers who actually have managed to salvage some of the more humane practices on smaller farms to improve the quality of life for the animals and to keep them healthier. In this way, he presents a more balanced picture, even as these examples comprise a tiny portion of the animals available for food. Moreover, Foer does not try to make up anyone else’s mind about what to eat. He merely presents the facts, gruesome as they are, about the source of our animal foods – and we are free to decide what to do with those facts.
I said it rocked my world and it really did. I think, after reading this, that I cannot eat poultry. I’d already cut out red meat awhile ago, so that isn’t a problem, but not eating chicken is going to be quite the challenge. But I just don’t think I can go back, knowing what I know now, to supporting these practices.
Am I sorry I read this book? Isn’t ignorance bliss? I think I’m just sorry it exists at all. I am not at all sorry that I read this book, though, and I encourage everyone to read it. It still exists even if we don’t know about it. Better, then, to know. And better yet, to act.