I finished reading Eating Animals last night. I don’t want to post a true review and I also don’t want to re-hash what’s already been said here or elsewhere, particularly since this book is already getting so much good press, so I’m going to write about one small thing I learned from reading the book. Something that made me cry.
But first, I want to feature a few quotes from the book about so-called “humane” meat, because there seems to be some confusion about whether or not the author, Jonathan Safran Foer, supports so-called “humane” meat. This is probably because the issue is a complicated one:
Page 168: “Anyone who suggests that there is a perfect symbiosis between the farmers’ interest and the animals’ is probably trying to sell you something (and it’s not made of tofu).”
Page 196: “to say that something is less offensive than a pig or chicken factory farm is to say as little as is possible.”
Page 244: “If animal agriculture has become a joke, perhaps this is the punch line: even Bill Niman has said he would no longer eat Niman Ranch beef.”
Page 256: “We shouldn’t kid ourselves about the number of ethical eating options available to most of us. There isn’t enough nonfactory chicken produced in America to feed the population of Staten Island and not enough nonfactory pork to serve New York City, let alone the country. Ethical meat is a promissory note, not a reality. Any ethical-meat advocate who is serious is going to be eating a lot of vegetarian fare.”
Page 243: “Just how destructive does a culinary preference have to be before we decide to eat something else? If contributing to the suffering of billions of animals that live miserable lives and (quite often) die in horrific ways isn’t motivating, what would be? If being the number on contributor to the most serious threat facing the planet (global warming) isn’t enough, what is? And if you are tempted to put off these questions of conscience, to say not now, then when?”
I bolded the lines that stood out to me, only the italics were original. And it should be noted, that in my interpretation of the book, when Foer says “vegetarian” he means a diet without animal products. He’s a precise enough writer that I think if he meant lacto-ovo vegetarian, he would have written that. I think he chose the word “vegetarian” rather than “vegan” because vegan is more than diet and his book is only about dietary choices, not about clothing or other choices. Though, as a vegan, I was disappointed.
Now, onto the thing that I learned from the book.
There were lots of statistics I was only vaguely aware of before and many common animal agricultural practices I was more aware of, but this one thing was completely new to me. And it only appears once in the book, in somewhat of an afterthought.
It’s boar taint. According to Wikipedia,
Boar taint is the offensive odour or taste that is often evident during the cooking or eating of pork or pork products derived from non-castrated male pigs once they reach puberty. Studies show that many consumers are sensitive to boar taint so it is necessary for pork producers to control it.
By “many consumers are sensitive to” it they mean that consumers demand dead pig flesh sans boar taint, that is, they have a taste preference for dead female or feminized-male pig flesh.
By “necessary” they mean not at all.
By “control it” they mean castrate piglets so they never sexually mature and thus never produce the hormones and other chemical compounds responsible for “boar taint.”
This castration – cutting off the piglets’ testicles – is usually done without anesthesia. These kinds of mutilations on factory farms are de riguer. Very regularly animals’ tails, ears, teeth, beaks, or claws are chopped off mercilessly so that more animals can be crowded into small spaces, increasing the production and thus the profit. (Learn more here, here, here)
But this particular mutilation isn’t done so that more pigs can be crammed into a small space. This is done regularly at all kinds of farms, factory and non. Piglet castration is done simply because consumers have a taste preference.
This isn’t a cultural myth like the myth that dog slaughter ought to involve cruelty because of another myth that adrenaline makes dog meat taste better (info here). No, the reasoning behind castration cruelty is a scientifically studied true taste preference. A significant portion of people prefer the taste of dead female pigs to dead male pigs. A significant portion of people literally like the taste of castration cruelty. Just like a significant portion of people believe that animal suffering is not important.
When we put the issue of animal exploitation into this context – where we can see that the problem isn’t just the general public’s ignorance about animal agriculture, but where we can see even the informed are often apathetic and some are even sadistic – the burden on animal advocates is tremendous. It’s obvious that blogs and books and potlucks and leafleting isn’t enough. It’s barely even a beginning.
It wasn’t the information in Eating Animals that made me cry, it was this realization of how powerless I am. I don’t want to end on that sad note. With Vegan Soapbox, I aim to inspire, provoke, and educate. But I have to be honest here. I am really, very sad right now.