Like the school bully who gets in his hardest kicks once you're down on the ground and have essentially given up, this book drives home a message in powerful, painful punches. "For modern animal agriculture, the less the consumer knows about what's happening before the meat hits the plate, the better... one of the best things modern animal agriculture has going for it is that most people in the developed countries are several generations removed from the farm and haven't a clue how animals are raised and processed." (p.11) With this, Peter Singer lobs the ball in the air and then proceeds to light the court on fire.
Some of it is hard to read. "For ten hours we grabbed and wrestled birds, jerking them upside down, facing their pushed-open [$%&@], dodging their spurting [$%&@], while breathing air filled with dust and feathers stirred up by panicked birds." (p.29) I think I threw up in my mouth a little bit.
The dairy cow section was hard to read too, and I admit to my ignorance here. I suppose I thought dairy cows just made milk. I've thought that to be a humane way to farm with cows, and you can imagine a gawky 8-year-old boy straddling a three-legged stool in some ancient barn as the sun rises over the meadow, milking the lone family dairy cow before heading out to school. My quaint image was shattered when Mason informed me otherwise, painting a picture of a cow bellowing for the calf taken from her, and then we're told the calf is dead within a few days, "his body was lying on the farm's compost pile." (p.58) Oh, do I HAVE to keep reading?!
I didn't believe the part about the "drop kicking" of chickens (p.27) so I looked it up on the Internet. Not too hard to find the Pilgrim's Pride video... and in watching it, my husband asked of me, "why are you watching this?!" I told him how disgusting this all was, that I could never buy a Tyson food product again (how many "bad lists" are they on, anyway?). For Pete's sake, where could I find a humanely raised chicken to eat? Then my husband asked if we should add fryers to our egg-laying hens this year.
The gloves came off in the final round of the book. The last 50 pages of The Ethics of What We Eat delved hard into omnivore versus herbivore - with the authors' call to action clearly being for all us to convert to vegans in order to achieve ethical eating bliss. The language was harsh, reminding us that the industrial food model is "systematically abusive" and that "discomfort is the norm, pain is routine, growth is abnormal, and diet is unnatural." (p.242) Even Pope Benedict XVI is brought into the argument, being quoted on hens becoming "caricatures of birds" (which is also lyrically descriptive - Singer is a very good writer).
The pages devoted to freeganism, or dumpster diving, were also interesting, and my mind brought up images of documentary coverage I had seen on TV a while back. While I generally don't have a problem with this - I'm not, say, grossed out by this or repulsed by the idea of eating wrapped food from the garbage... I think most parents have salvaged something incorrectly thrown away at one point or another - but I also posit that it isn't a practical way for a family to eat on a regular basis. I'm not going to pack up my kids late at night (or leave them home alone) to go sort through urban trash bins looking for stuff to pack in tomorrow's lunch boxes - so it's a bit laughable that this passage is essentially included in the call to action on what readers should do to make more ethical choices.
The concrete What Should We Eat chapter tries to lay a clear foundation with simply-stated guidelines like "look for farmers' markets and buy directly from local farmers" (p.275). But the authors loaded too many heavy concepts, which shattered the foundation, and for me, rendered the final section ineffective.
However, I really loved this: "It's this whole American thing about having cheap food. It's a fallacy. That guy thinks his food is cheap, but you and I are subsidizing that cheap food by paying for the social and ecological issues that are occurring in that community." (p.98) That's the real story behind much of this whole food ethics/politics/sustainability issue, and I hadn't seen it articulated so well until this passage.
If you're up for it, this is a fantastic book worth reading. But if you find yourself nauseous, or lacking an appetite while strolling through your local supermarket, or offended by any of the [real] horror stories described in detail throughout the book... I warned you.