Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Book Review: Farm Sanctuary

Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds About Animals and Food by Gene Baur

Book description: Leading animal rights activist Gene Baur examines the real cost of the meat on our plates -- for both humans and animals alike -- in this provocative and thorough examination of the modern farm industry.

Baur has written a book that is part memoir and part exposé of the factory farm system's treatment of animals. It is short but packs a lot in. Not unexpectedly, the author has frequent forays into "preachiness" which if you are not of a like mind can get tiring. (To be honest, it can get tiring even if you are.) Unfortunately, I doubt that many who are not like-minded will ever read this book.

Full disclosure: I am a vegetarian. I am not a vegan. While this book made me carefully consider veganism, in the end I decided against it but vowed to buy my eggs and dairy carefully to minimize my support of factory farms.

Confined animal feedlot operations (CAFOs) are one of the truly despicable inventions of the industrialized agricultural system. It is absolutely appalling and the fact that the USDA not only subsidizes it but encourages it infuriates me. Animals are sentient beings. They feel pain, fear, loneliness, and anger as well as happiness. Anyone who has ever owned a pet can tell you that. Yet, for some reason, because these animals are used for food they do not deserve the basic dignities that should be their right.

Treat a dog or a horse the way pigs are treated and the Humane Society is called. Yet here are billions of animals who give their lives so that we may eat in the manner we want and we treat them not with respect, but without thinking at all. Humans have become so far removed from the food supply chain that it is very hard to connect what is on our plates to what occurs on the farm. The idyllic picture of the family farm, cows peacefully grazing in the field next to the vegetable garden, is unfortunately no longer the norm. Through careful advertising, though, largescale agriculture tries to perpetuate that image.

It has been said that if slaughterhouses were made of glass most people would stop eating meat. But due to the high security around such places (and other aspects of CAFOs) most will never see how the cows that became that hamburger died. My coworker had the misfortune to wander onto the kill floor of a slaughterhouse. She is now a vegetarian.

Why did I decide to not go vegan? I have known what occurs in CAFOs and in slaughterhouses for a long time. Nothing in this book shocked me, though it did touch me. I did not become vegetarian for moral reasons. I have no problems with killing invasive species that are damaging the environment. I do have a problem with the way we treat animals in this society. If every farm in the country was Polyface Farm, I might even eat meat again, but unfortunately they are not. There were some American Indian tribes that thanked the spirits of animals before they were killed because the animals gave their lives so the people could live. Perhaps we should return to that mentality. The sheer waste that occurs in industrial agriculture should make every environmentalist outraged -- not least, the waste in lives that are thrown away as acceptable losses to the system, and never even make it into the food supply.

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