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The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter [Audiobook] [Audio CD]

Peter Singer , James Mason
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 24 2006
More people than ever before are paying attention to the food they buy and eat: where it comes from, how it’s produced, and whether or not it was raised humanely. Singer and Mason examine the diets of three typical families to explore the impact our food choices have on the future of life on earth. They also identify six empowering ethical principles that conscientious consumers should consider when shopping for groceries or eating out. Speaking to the mainstream, their advice reflects this principle: "You can be ethical without being fanatical."

A thought-provoking look at how what we eat profoundly effects all living things and the environment—and how we can make healthful, more humane food choices.


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From Publishers Weekly

Ethicist Singer and co-author Mason (Animal Factories) document corporate deception, widespread waste and desensitization to inhumane practices in this consideration of ethical eating. The authors examine three families' grocery-buying habits and the motivations behind those choices. One woman says she's "absorbed in my life and my family...and I don't think very much about the welfare of the meat I'm eating," while a wealthier husband and wife mull the virtues of "triple certified" coffee, buying local and avoiding chocolate harvested by child slave labor, though "no one seems to be pondering that as they eat." In investigating food production conditions, the authors' first-hand experiences alternate between horror and comedy, from slaughterhouses to artificial turkey-insemination ("the hardest, fastest, dirtiest, most disgusting, worst-paid work"). This sometimes-graphic exposé is not myopic: profitability and animal welfare are given equal consideration, though the reader finishes the book agreeing with the authors' conclusion that "America's food industry seeks to keep Americans in the dark about the ethical components of their food choices." A no-holds-barred treatise on ethical consumption, this is an important read for those concerned with the long, frightening trip between farm and plate.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Less concerned with what people choose to eat per se, Singer and Mason make a case for how people's everyday food choices affect others' lives. They describe in vivid detail how applying industrial processing principles to animal husbandry has led to cheap foods whose cost savings occur at the expense of animals raised for profit and for product. Using Wal-Mart as an example, they lay out how huge retailers wield enormous power over prices and compel those far up the chain of food production and distribution to make unhelpful decisions. They hold up for admiration a Kansas family that has turned vegan so as not to participate in this particular destructive cycle of animal and human exploitation. They also thoughtfully and critically examine the ethical pros and cons of eating meat in any form. Urban dwellers far removed from the source of the foods they eat will find Singer and Mason's descriptions of food production more disturbing and violent than the quiet, attractive, plastic-wrapped displays in the local supermarket's pristine meat case. Mark Knoblauch
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Learn how your supper REALLY got to your table Feb. 24 2007
Format:Hardcover
"The Way We Eat" definitely has a bias. There is no doubt that Singer & Mason think that the factory food industry is unethical. However, they perform such meticulate research and present such a clear picture of the meat industry that it is basically impossible to argue that they are wrong.

An early quote comes from a Professor of Animal Science named Peter Cheeke. He is quoted as writing "for modern animal agriculture, the less the consumer knows about what's happening before the meat hits the plate, the better." If they did know, he thinks that many people would "swear off eating chicken and perhaps all meat."

What Singer & Mason do is actually find out how the meat got to the plate, and the answers are shocking. Rather than a PETA video, which hammers you over the head with animal cruelty, this book just builds and builds and builds the evidence until you finally realize that eating meat basically means condoning animal torture.

Highly recommended. Read this book. Think about what it says. Decide how you feel about it, and ask yourself if the meat industry deserves your money.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shopping with your mind June 4 2007
By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
It's not much fun, sitting down to a meal and having your conscience nagging at you about what you're eating. Anybody on a diet can impart the agonies of decision-making when various foods are on offer. However, as Singer and Mason go to some length to point out, there's even more thinking involved in partaking of the foods offered today. The most important issue they argue is learning where the food originated, and how it was treated before reaching your table. "Ethical eating" has become a major consideration to an increasing number of US consumers. In this exhaustive study, the authors portray a trio of families, using their food buying habits as gateways to examining where the food comes from. The picture is generally grim, but they demonstrate how change is taking place.

The three families represent a troika of ethical choices. One follows the Standard American Diet [SAD], of high levels of meat consumption and fast food. Their primary consideration is availability and cost. The second, although aware of the ethical options behind food production, are constrained by available time and family demands. The third, a "vegan" family has managed to shun all animal foods. Their greatest problem is acquiring foods that meet their standards. They are fully aware of the ethical questions arising from modern farming methods.

Farming in North America has undergone immense changes in only a few years. Where the "family farm" was once considered an optimum lifestyle, "agribusiness" has concentrated land, and coalesced the production methods. Now, "barrage" animal housing has usurped the open paddock and "free ranging" livestock. Chickens, whether as egg producers or meat, are crammed in ranks of cages, unable to move.
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Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  37 reviews
86 of 87 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting on both a philosophical & a practical level Dec 27 2006
By H. Cunningham - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Philosophy has rarely considered the ethics of what we eat, because until very recently, we largely ate food grown on family farms and two generations ago most people were still pretty well acquainted with where their food came from. (Most grandparents or at least great grandparents have churned butter, pluicked a chicken, etc.) In today's world everything is pre-packaged and because we no longer have to think about it, we don't. The truth is we probably don't like or want to think about how the food gets to the supermarket. After all, it's tough enough to try and plan and shop for meals and then throw together something after a long day at the office. Add in trying to think about health concerns, trying to manage on a budget and hey, we have enough to worry about, right?

But it bothered me that I knew full well that if I had to kill my own food I would be a vegetarian...yet I love meat and just didn't want to give it up. So the last few years I bought organic and grass fed and cage free...and yet, I wondered, given all the articles about the meaninglessness of labels and the lack of real standards, am I paying more just to feel like maybe the animals are treated better, when in fact there is no difference? How bad have things gotten? Basically, bad enough that I feel I have to invest energy in changing my habits, or ok enough I can continue trying to focus on organics and grass fed/cage free meat and dairy, and that's enough for me?

I was hoping this book would help me answer that question. The truth is, I didn't look forward to reading it - I didn't want something preaching or someone trying throughout to get me to go vegan (great goal, don't know that I'm up for the task though). I am pleased to report that I didn't find it preachy and actually, it was quite an interesting read. There are some things I wish were covered that aren't, but I think the approach of selecting three families and looking at what they buy, then going behind the scenes and discussing the impacts of their choices, was well done.

If you enjoy philosophy and have any leanings, as I did, to consider more carefully the issue of today's diet and what you eat, I recommend this book. It can be hard to read in places. You don't want to believe how bad conditions really are in some factory animal farming - you kind of don't want to know - bit that doesn't mean you shouldn't know.

Ignorance is bliss. Reading this is not. But I would rather make informed choices and know the truth than continue to not think about the choices I make in the supermarket. If you decide to make changes, it's not that hard, as this book let's you know what to look for and questions to ask. For example, I was aware that beef needs to be not only grass fed, but ideally grass finished, but I never asked my organic beef grower about slaughter procedures used. And, I didn't know that when considering eggs I should look into not only free range free, but at are the chickens debeaked? I have a lot more information that I can use as a consumer to make smart choices after reading this book, both about vegetable and meat products. I have not had a problem going to local growers or producers and getting my questions answered, and if you want to be informed this book will help you make choices in your everyday food selections that benefit the environment and prevent creulty to animals. How far you go with it is entirely your choice. Topics covered include environmental impacts, third world country economics, worker conditions, fair trade, and animal living conditions as well as animal creulty.

It would be great if this topic were introduced in modern college ethics courses and if we all had time to learn about why our food choices do matter. This book offers something others don't along those lines and if you are an analytical or thoughtful person, or just want to know more about how what you buy in your weekly shopping trip affects the planet and the animals on it, it's worth your time.
216 of 240 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Superb Book on the Ethics of Eating May 3 2006
By Erik Marcus - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Disclosure: Peter Singer and I corresponded extensively during his writing of _The Way We Eat_, and his new book favorably references both of my books.

Right now, Michael Pollan's _The Omnivore's Dilemma_ is already well on its way to becoming the top-selling book on food politics released this decade. Peter Singer and Jim Mason's new book, _The Way We Eat_ has the profound misfortune of being released just three weeks later, and this new title finds itself the grape to Pollan's steamroller.

This chance situation is a terrible shame, since _The Way We Eat_ is the better researched and more carefully thought-through book. Both of these titles are excellent, but if you're only going to read one I'd urge you to read Singer.

For two books that trace the origins of our food, these titles have surprisingly little overlap. Read both of these books and you'll know more about food than 99 percent of Americans -- and if you grew up eating the standard American diet it's almost inconceivable that you'll continue eating in this fashion.

If you decide to read both books, be sure to read Singer first. As I've noted in my Amazon.com review of _The Omnivore's Dilemma_, Pollan makes some ill-informed arguments in favor of including animal products in the diet. The trouble is that Pollan is such a gifted writer that he ends up being highly persuasive even when he's on very thin ice with his facts. Reading _The Way We Eat_ is a wonderful way to prepare for _The Omnivore's Dilemma_ --- you'll be in a prime position to critically analyze both the strengths and weaknesses of Pollan's flawed but vitally important book.

It's a shame that I can't write a review of _The Way We Eat_ without mentioning Pollan in the same breath, because Singer and Mason's book more than stands on its own. It's marvelously researched, and has a quality of critical thinking that few food writers could even aspire to. What's more, the writing flows beautifully.

If you want to advance your knowledge of where our food comes from, and understand more about the ethical implications of different diets, there's no better place to start than by reading _The Way We Eat._
28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A full-course meal Nov. 10 2006
By Jonathan Balcombe - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Few facets of human existence affect our health and the environment as much as what we eat, and surely none has a greater impact on animals. Thus, the time seems perpetually ripe for good books on human food choices. The authors of this one, both vegetarians and probably vegans, succeed in presenting a well-reasoned and reader-friendly discussion of their subject.

The book is built around the food habits of three American families, one who subscribe to the traditional "meat and potatoes" diet, another who are conscientious semi-vegetarians, and the third who are vegans. Each serves as a base from which to examine food production and its consequences. We travel from factory farms to farmers' markets, from kitchens to ocean trawlers to dumpsters. We hear from people who work in all of these environments. And the authors provide analyses without sermonizing.

Several trends emerge. Large meat corporations talk of educating the public about modern meat production, but fail to return phone calls and flatly deny access to their meat processing facilities. We learn of "the law of gravity of big business"--with big corporations buying up organic brands then cutting corners to maximize profits. We meet farmers who move their animals from intensive indoor confinement to outdoor pasture situations. One such, a pig farmer, describes how many hassles he now avoids by letting his pigs run outside on pasture: no more tail-amputation, no antibiotics, no special weaning feed (his piglets wean naturally at 8 weeks instead of artificially at 2 weeks), and "scouring" (diarrhea) is replaced by "pasture poop" that doesn't stink (I can attest to this, as a regular visitor to a sanctuary with free-roaming pigs). And far from being an economic liability, the ensuing demand for his product has outgrown his supply.

For those who eat fish, there is news to prick the conscience--an excellent summation of recent findings demonstrating pain and cognition in fishes. To that end, I was surprised the authors chose not to include fish flesh as a form of "meat." For those who eat eggs, we learn of deluxe free-range eggs (sold at five times that of conventional battery eggs) being shipped from New Zealand to California with such efficiency that--owing to time zones--an American may be eating an omelet before the hen laid the egg. Little wonder, then, that the ingredients in some dinners have been shipped further than the distance around the Earth's circumference (24,000 miles).

That said, here's to "freegans" who remove themselves from the troubled food supply chain by living entirely off discarded food mined from supermarket dumpsters.

Wherever you are in that chain, you should read this book, and take stock of your food choices.
42 of 48 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Food for Thought June 20 2006
By Karen Davis, PhD - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Book Review

The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter

By Peter Singer & Jim Mason

Rodale, 2006

Review by Karen Davis, PhD, President of United Poultry Concerns

In The Way We Eat, attorney Jim Mason and philosopher Peter Singer team up to show how we can, and why we should, act "to reduce the harm" that our food choices inflict on animals, the environment, and other people.

The book is presented as the authors' journey into the homes of three American families whose food choice habits and dietary ethics range from standard convenient (Tyson, Wal-Mart, fast-food) to semi-conscientious ("humanely-produced" meat, dairy and eggs) to ethical vegan (healthful, compassionate, animal-free food). They chat with pig farmers, egg producers, commercial crabbers, and others in the food industry to give readers a better idea of the origin and true cost of foods in terms of dollars and cents, animal suffering, environmental damage and human health.

They show us a free-range pig farm versus an industrialized pig farm, and visit organic and cage-free egg-laying hen operations where the hens may or may not ("not" if the eggs are labeled "cage-free") spend some time outdoors, and where they are "beak trimmed" to offset the effects of boredom and crowding and are ultimately trucked to slaughter, live markets or elsewhere after a year or two.

Scientific evidence that fish feel pain is importantly presented, and in "Enter the Chicken Shed," the authors powerfully describe the brutality of the chicken industry (which produces the 6-week-old baby chickens consumers know only as "chicken") and the unspeakable pain and suffering these birds endure. In addition to heart attacks, lameness and other manmade miseries, chickens are intentionally kept alive during the slaughter process so their hearts will continue to beat and pump out blood after their throats are cut, which is why hundreds of millions of chickens- one in every three, according to the book - are scalded alive at the slaughter plant. Professor John Webster of the University of Bristol's School of Veterinary Medicine is quoted as saying that, in his opinion, industrialized chicken production is, "in both magnitude and severity, the single most severe, systematic example of man's inhumanity to another sentient animal" (p. 24).

When the book was in draft I was asked to offer suggestions on the chicken and egg chapters, which I gladly did with improved results, for while The Way We Eat conveys much of the cruelty of industrialized chicken and egg production, the authors empathize poorly with birds. They refer to artificially-inseminated turkeys' genitals in crude terms, and demean hens' need to dustbathe by implying that dustbathing is some sort of poorly understood female type of behavior, when in fact dustbathing is well known by scientists and others including the authors (I gave them the information, which they ignored) to be chickens' way of maintaining healthy skin and plumage and is so essential to their welfare and sense of wellbeing that battery-caged hens will attempt to "vacuum" dustbathe on the wire floors of their cages.

The Way We Eat contains valuable information, ideas, and recommendations; however, the authors' characterization of less industrialized, more traditional types of animal farms and farming practices as "humane" and "animal friendly" does not hold up, and one can only wonder if their skuzzy applause would be given if instead of chickens, cows, pigs, turkeys and fish, the animals were companion animals or humans.

This book is thus a long way from the animal liberation and antispeciesist philosophy associated with Peter Singer and from Jim Mason's earlier book An Unnatural Order which criticizes traditional animal farming as the root of social injustice and human domination in the world. Still, the authors make important points, as in arguing for example that "Personal purity isn't really the issue. . . . Giving people the impression that it is virtually impossible to be vegan doesn't help animals at all" (p. 283).

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Karen Davis, PhD is the author of Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs: An Inside Look at the Modern Poultry Industry; More Than a Meal: The Turkey in History, Myth, Ritual, and Reality; and The Holocaust and the Henmaid's Tale: A Case for Comparing Atrocities. She's the President and Founder of United Poultry Concerns, a nonprofit organization that promotes the compassionate and respectful treatment of domestic fowl. [...]
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A pretty informative, balanced book Sept. 24 2006
By EatingBetter - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I got this book to be fair - I knew Peter Singer had a reputation as being on the fringe philosophy-wise, but not much more than that. I was intrigued by the title and had already read Fast Food Nation. So I read the book because I felt it was important to do so even if I disagreed with the writer. Well, I am glad I read the book and I plan to make changes based on the information I received from it. I plan to investigate for myself more. I was always happy with Wal-Mart's low food prices but I can see where much of the true cost is passed on to employees, the community, and the environment. If that sentence doesn't make sense to you - READ THE BOOK. Singer is evidently a vegetarian, but this book does not tell you to become one. Instead, he lays out several different types of consumers and shows you how to decide where YOU fall in the spectrum. The aim is to get you to THINK AND ASK QUESTIONS. And hey, if you want a big ole burger on a bun - he says it's your business. But he wants us to really understand what that burger MEANS.
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