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.