Sunday, November 21, 2010

I Stopped


I just finished reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s book, Eating Animals. I was surprised to learn how damage we do to the earth when we eat animals.

My wife and I have tried to reduce our ecological footprint for decades, particularly our contribution to greenhouse gases, and I thought we were doing well enough. We seldom use the furnace in our small house because our furnace burns natural gas and uses a big electric fan. On cold nights we wear sweaters and leave the thermostat set to off. On really cold days, we sit by our faux gas-fired fireplace in the living room.

We don’t drive much—the connection between driving and CO2 has been clear for a long time.
Years ago my wife moved her office to town so she could walk to work and save about 160 commute kilometers per week.  For many years I commuted to work on a bicycle 28 kilometers round trip. I’ve grown a bit old for bicycle commuting, so I carpool to achieve a similar reduction in greenhouse gases. On vacation we don’t travel nearly as much as we would if our consciences could be untroubled by the damage jet travel does to the climate.



I’ve eaten comparatively little meat or animal products, but I’ve not been strictly vegetarian for the past year or so. Under the influence of books like the Omnivore’s Dilemma and the Vegetarian Myth I’ve relaxed my vegetarian vows and included some sustainably grown organic local meat and dairy in my diet. I have been least troubled when I know the personally the farmer who raised the animals.

But now that I’ve just finished reading Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, I can see the dawning of a new vegetarian era in my life. Foer cites a statistic I didn’t know before: enterprises involved in raising animal-based foods are responsible for putting more—about 40% more—greenhouse gases into our atmosphere than all sectors of transportation combined. (I do wonder: do these statistics count the transportation of animal foods in both columns?)

If these numbers are accurate, then it is clear that by becoming vegetarian I will do more to reduce my personal impact on the climate than I would by eschewing all transportation!

Reducing my toll on the environment would be enough motivation for me. But there’s also my interest in doing something to reduce the suffering of our cousin creatures, the fish, chickens, turkeys, pigs, and cows who—there is no other word for it—are tortured on factory farms. Almost all of these animals are subjected to this new, and meticulously hidden regime.

Foer’s book takes a compassionate but unflinching look at how animals in factory farms are subjected to conditions that turn this eater’s stomach inside out. The author explores the moral implications of the cruel and indefensible treatment of animals in the factory farming system that has sprung up in America’s sadly under-regulated market economy. He takes his readers on several thought experiments, such as contemplating the practice of eating dogs. 

Foer took me on a journey I’m glad to have taken.

In regard to eating animals today, Foer states:


“We can’t plead ignorance, only indifference. Those alive today are the generations that came to know better. We have the burden and the opportunity of living in the moment when the critique of factory farming broke into the popular consciousness. We are the ones of whom it will be fairly asked, What did you do when you learned the truth about eating animals?


I have my answer.

I stopped.

15 comments:

Shaista said...

I have this book too - and yes it makes for powerful reading and a determined change in one's eating habits. I, (like you were), am not strictly vegetarian. Sometimes I think it is because living in India, but not being a Hindu, Jain or Buddhist, I associated non-vegetarianism as simply an aspect of being a Parsi (Zoroastrian). Now that I am older and have had Lupus for so many years, eating has been a struggle with chemotherapy drugs. So I try to enjoy eating everything...
But yes, conscious eating is part of being mindful.

I don't drive, but oh I do need to stay warm!!

Bonnie said...

My husband and I switched to a plant-based diet 15 months ago. There are so many reasons to stop our consumption of animal products and protecting the Earth is primary among them. While we do minimal damage to the Earth as a vegetarian/vegan, we also do minimal damage to our bodies. Neither my husband nor I have had a cold or flu since switching ... I could go on and on about all the benefits. Safran Foer's book is one among many out there offering all the information we need to be responsible tenants on this planet. As you say, we can no longer plead ignorance.

Paul C said...

My wife and I eat very little meat, and load up on vegetables and fruits. Even the latter two can contribute to greenhouse gas extravagance if they are flown in from the other side of the world. Eating local, buying in season makes a lot of sense.

Stream Source said...

Become intellectually aware, then become more mindful of each thought/action, then follow the heart. Whenever I intellectualize and try to make a change influenced primarily by external knowledge, I always fall back to a prior way and then go about picking at myself for my failure. More recently, when I see ways to 'fine tune my instrument', I allow change to gradually occur through ebbs and flows. Now change is more of a gentle evolution than it is a demonstrative shift.

Dan Gurney said...

Shaista, it's a good book. Glad to know another among MH readers have read it. I'm troubled mainly by the savage cruelty of factory farming. If I lived in a part of the world where animals were treated with ordinary animal husbandry techniques, I'd be much less troubled by eating meat.

Dan Gurney said...

Paul, good point about eating from the other side of the globe. I refuse to buy food, especially fresh food, from really far away. It's a deal breaker for me. I'm a locavore as much as I can be.

Dan Gurney said...

Hi, Bonnie. The health benefits were my primary motivation for tilting my diet away from animal foods in the first place. These reasons are still in play for me, but to a lesser extent. Now it's more about the practices of factory farming animals that's the driving force, along with protecting the planet.

Dan Gurney said...

Stream Source that sounds so wise! I agree that intellectually motivated change is ephemeral, at least for me. It's gotta have some emotional impact as well. And gradual change really works. By means of gradual changes we manage to commence and enhance all our bad habits. So by gradual change we can extract ourselves.

Margaret Pangert said...

As an aside--but I think it fits in--the Zapotec Indians are growing pine forests in Mexico (NYT). And another aside,our church is sponsoring Fair Trade products from S.A. Last week was Fair Trade coffee from five different Latin American countries. Maybe we're all chipping away from different angles?

Sabio Lantz said...

I started
Would you be comfortable to raise your own animals, treat them humanely and kill them with mercy? Is your protest against the animal industry? It is hard to keep those separate. Like you, I use to be a rigid vegetarian - pure, safe, righteous. But I have gone back to my thankful role in the circle of life and stayed there. It could be a bad decision -- most of my decisions are uninformed and sloppy! :-) Ah the joy of being human.

Dan Gurney said...

Sabio, I started a while back after seeing Food Inc. I was impressed by Joel Salatin's operation. I have no problem with what you're doing. It's more a boycott of Factory Farm animals that animates my decision. If you served me one of your chickens, I'd eat it with pleasure! It's all about avoid extremes.

Toyin O. said...

Sounds like a great a read, will certainly be more mindful of my animal intake.

Anonymous said...

Dan, Thanks for tipping me off on "Eating Animals". I ran out and got it as soon as I read this post and just finished reading it a few minutes ago. I have tettered back and forth as a vegetarian for many years and reading books like this one helps keep me aware of why i choose not to eat meat.
My husband is a omnivore of the Atkins vain, eating huge amounts of meat. I try to bring to his attention how bad meat is for us with all the drugs, antibiotics and poisons that are passed on to us by eating meat; not to mention the cruelty and filth that the animals are subjected to which we are ALSO ingesting. I am afraid he "can't plead ingnorance, only indifference". But I am chipping away at him. Hopefully he will read the book and at least start eating meat raised humanely.
I wish you peace, love and laughter
Rita

Dan Gurney said...

Toyin great! I hope you get it and read it. And a bunch of animals hope that, too.

Dan Gurney said...

Rita, I'm glad that you enjoyed the book. I'm hoping someone in my family... my wife, my son, or my daughter will be moved to read it. It's quite a good account for what's become of our system of food production with eyes only to reducing costs and maximizing profits. Somehow the welfare of animals got lost in the spreadsheets!!