March 17, 2013 by Wayne.
Nothing screams pretentious, self-absorbed, patronizing yuppie quite like the narrator in Eating Animals. I’m assuming that Foer adapted this naive hack personality for the novel – I mean, surely a philosophy grad wouldn’t insist on creating a compendium of logical fallacies. At certain points, I started to wonder if it was some sort of meta-satire and he’d reveal the clever parody with a second half flourish: boom tish muhfugger that was a ‘typical’ factory farm hater and you ate it all up, but now to the real story.
But yeah, that didn’t happen.
Instead, I get the most bizarre thing I’ve ever read in a book: after 95 pages of arguments that’d make a 12 year old chortle and more appeals to emotion than a soap opera, Foer releases a statement from a factory farmer. The argument is concise and the logic is cutting – in stark, stark, stark contrast with everything that preceded it. Read as a stand-alone, it’s something that makes you nod and say: yeah, sounds about right. But when it comes after 95 damn pages of the most biased, pandering non-fiction ever written, it’s like a fucking lightning bolt. It sent shivers down my spine and I thought, this is it. The turning point. Finally, he’s going to start addressing the other side of the issue.
Nah, didn’t happen. But here’s (most) of the statement anyway. Enjoy.
Factory farming…I don’t care for that term.
It’s a different world from the one I grew up in. The price of food hasn’t increased in the past thirty years. In relation to all other expenses, the price of protein stayed put. In order to survive – I don’t mean get rich, I mean put food on your table, send your kids to school – the farmer had to produce more and more. My daddy had fifty cows. The model now for a viable dairy is twelve hundred cows. That’s the smallest that can stay in business.
Well, a family can’t milk twelve hundred cows, so you gotta get four or five employees, and each of them will have a specialized job…it’s efficient but a lot of people became farmers because of the diversity of farm life. And that’s been lost.
Another part of what’s happened in response to the economic squeeze is that you gotta make an animal that produces more of the product at a lower cost. So you breed for faster growth and improved feed conversion. As long as food continues to get cheaper relative to everything else, the farmer has no choice but to produce food at a lower production cost, and genetically he’s going to move towards an animal that accomplishes that task, which can be counterproductive to its welfare. The loss is built into the system. It’s assumed that if you have fifty thousand broilers in a shed, thousands are going to die in the first weeks. My daddy couldn’t afford to lose the bat. Now you begin by assuming you’ll lose 4% off the bat.
I’ve told you the drawbacks because I’m trying to be up-front with you. But in fact, we’ve got a tremendous system. Is it perfect? No. But if you find someone who tells you he has a perfect way to feed billions and billions of people, well, you should take a careful look. You hear about free-range and grass-fed, and all that’s good. I think it’s a good direction. But it ain’t gonna feed the world. You simply can’t feed billions of people free-range eggs.
High-yield farming has allowed everyone to eat. Think about that. If we go away from it, it may improve the welfare of the animal, it may even be better for the environment, but I’m talking about starving people.
You can be like PETA and pretend the world is gong to wake up tomorrow and realize they love animals and don’t want to eat them tomorrow, but history has shown that people are perfectly capable of loving animals and eating them. It’s childish and immoral to fantasize about a vegetarian world when we’re having such a hard time making this one work.
My animals are protected from the elements, get all the food they need, and grow well. Animals get sick. Animals die. But what do you think happens to animals in nature? You think they die of natural causes? You think they’re stunned before they’re killed?
Animals in nature starve to death or are ripped apart by other animals. That’s how they die.
People have no idea where food comes from anymore. It’s not synthetic, it’s not created in a lab, it actually has to be grown. What I hate is when consumers act as if farmers want these things, when it’s consumers who tell farmers what to grow. They’ve wanted cheap food. We’ve grown it. If they want cage-free eggs, they have to pay a lot more money for them. It’s cheaper to produce an egg in a massive laying barn with caged hens. It’s more efficient and that means it’s more sustainable. Yes, I’m saying that factory farming can be more sustainable. From China to India to Brazil, the demand for animal products is growing – and fast. Do you think family farms are going to sustain a world of ten billion?
This business isn’t always pretty, but it’s a bad mistake to confuse something unpleasant with something wrong. Every kid with a video camera thinks he’s a veterinary scientist, thinks he was born knowing what takes years and years to learn. I know there’s a necessity to sensationalize stuff in order to motivate people, but I prefer the truth.
In the eighties, the industry tried to communicate with animal groups, and we got burned real bad. So the turkey community decided there would be no more of it. We put up a wall, and that was the end. We don’t talk, don’t let people onto the farms. Standard operating procedure.
PETA doesn’t want to talk about farming. They want to end farming. They have absolutely no idea how the world actually works.
But I believe in what I’m telling you. And it’s an important story to tell, a story that’s getting drowned out by the hollering of the extremists. Can I make a suggestion to you? Before you rush off, trying to see everything you can, educate yourself. Don’t trust your eyes. Trust your head. Learn about animals, learn about farming and the economics of food, learn the history. Start at the beginning.