I’ve never been an animal person. As a child, I was afraid of even cats and dogs (and to a certain extent, I still am). I grew up on a farm, and to me, this meant that animals were smelly and dirty creatures that stared at me out of blank-eyes and behaved in an aggressive and unpredictable manner. I didn’t hate animals, but I was scared of them.
It may be surprising to some then to hear that I am a vegan. Even if I don’t have any desire to cuddle a kitten (*shudder*), or have a dog sleep at the foot of my bed, I do feel that animals are important and worthy of our protection. As stewards of the earth, it is our job to care for all of God’s creatures. I do believe that humans are superior to animals, but I think this gives us an even greater responsibility to care for them—the vulnerable. I believe in treating animals as animals. Not as humans. Not as clothes. Not as food. As animals—worthy of our respect and protection.
I picked up this book because I wanted to better understand the reality of animals and factory farming today. But after reading it, I also appreciate and understand—and yes, maybe even love—animals a little more. I’m still scared of them. I still find them dirty and unpredictable. But I do believe, now more than ever, that they are deserving of a life and death free of suffering and abuse.
Before I begin sharing my thoughts on the book and some quotes, I want to make it clear that I don’t dislike anyone for not being a vegetarian. It wouldn’t make much sense to be compassionate to animals and mean to humans! :)
I greatly appreciated that this book is entirely fact based. The author actually hired professional fact-checkers to go over the book before it was published.
The one aspect of the book that I disliked was some rather coarse language (particularly the prevalence of a four letter word for excrement). I realize that not everyone is as sensitive to language as I am, but I would’ve appreciated a bit more delicacy in the matter. It’s one of the few things that would keep me from recommending this book to friends and family, as I know for some it would be an automatic turn-off.
It was extremely interesting to learn how intelligent some animals (that I had previously thought of as 'stupid’) really are. For example, did you know that fish have “significant long-term memories, are skilled in passing knowledge to one another through social networks, and can also pass on information generationally” (p. 65)? Likewise, chickens “‘have cognitive capacities equivalent to those of mammals, even primates” and “they also deceive one another and can delay satisfaction for larger rewards” (p. 66).
I do like the way the book is presented. It is not yelling and preaching. Although there are some points made that the author obviously feels strongly about, the tone as a whole is one of exploration and education, not indoctrination. Interspersed with the facts and figures are stories about his family and musings on food in general. Though they do help to humanize the story and make the author relatable, sometimes the order and placement of these anecdotes confused me. As a whole, though, I liked this personal aspect. (Though I’m still wondering why his female dog is named George!)
I could quote just about every page. There is so much information in this book. Things that will have you thinking “why didn’t I know this?”, “why does this continue?”, and “why don’t more people care about this?” It is so clear and it makes so much makes sense, yet most of us have just never given thought to it before.
Here are some quotes from the book. I know this seems like a lot, but there is just so much worth noting! I broke the excerpts down by subject with titles so it would be easier to follow or to glance through.
“More than a set of practices, factory farming is a mind-set: reduce production coasts to the absolute minimum and systematically ignore or ‘externalize’ such costs as environmental degradation human disease, and animal suffering. For thousands of years, farmers took their cues from natural processes. Factory farming considers nature an obstacle to be overcome.” p. 34
“In the world of factory farming, expectations are turned upside down. Veterinarians don’t work toward optimal health, but optimal profitability. Drugs are not for curing diseases, but substitutes for destroyed immune systems. Farmers do no aim to produce healthy animals.” p. 188
“For every ten tuna, sharks, and other large predatory fish that were in our oceans fifty to a hundred years ago, only one is left. Many scientists predict the total collapse of all fished species in less than fifty years—and intense efforts are underway to catch, kill, and eat even more sea animals. Our situation is so extreme that research scientists at the Fisheries Centre of the University of British Columbia argue that ‘our interactions with fisheries resources [also knows as fish] have come to resemble … wars of extermination.” p. 33
“…bycatch refers to sea creatures caught by accident—except not really ‘by accident,’ since bycatch has been consciously built into contemporary fishing methods. Modern fishing tends to involve much technology and fewer fishers. This combination leads to massive catches with massive amounts of bycatch. Take shrimp, for example. The average shrimp trawling operation throws 80 to 90 percent of the sea animals it captures overboard, dead or dying, as bycatch. (Endangered species amount to much of this bycatch.)” p. 49
“Trawling, almost always for shrimp, is the marine equivalent of clear-cutting rain forest.” p.191
“Most male chicks are destroyed by being sucked through a series of pipes onto an electrified plate. Other later chicks are destroyed in other ways, and it’s impossible to call these animals more or less fortunate. Some are tossed into large plastic containers. The weak are trampled to the bottom, where they suffocate slowly. The strong slowly suffocate slowly at the top. Others are sent fully conscious through macerators (picture a wood chopper filled with chicks). Cruel? Depends on your definition of cruelty.” pp. 48-49
“Pathogen-infested, feces-splattered chicken can technically be fresh, cage-free, and free-range, and sold in the supermarket legally.” p. 61
“According to a study published in Consumer Reports, 83 percent of all chicken meat (including organic and antibiotic-free brands) is infected with either campylobacter or salmonella at the time of purchase.” p. 139
“ ‘Every week…millions of chickens leaking yellow pus, stained by green feces, contaminated by harmful bacteria, or marred by lung and heart infections, cancerous tumors, or skin conditions are shipped for sale to consumers.’” p.134
“…chicken factory farms—well run or poorly run, ‘cage-free’ or not—are basically the same: all birds come from similar Frankenstein-like genetic stock; all are confined; none enjoy the breeze or the warmth of sunlight; none are able to fulfill all (or usually any) or their species-specific behaviors like nesting, perching, exploring their environment, and forming stable social units; illness is always rampant; suffering is always the rule; the animals are always only a unit, a weight; death is invariable cruel.” p. 136
“Today’s factory farm pig breeds, by contrast, have been so genetically altered that more often than not they must be raised in climate-controlled buildings, cut off from sun and seasons. We are breeding creatures incapable of surviving in any place other than the most artificial of settings. We have focused the awesome power of modern genetic knowledge to bring into being animals that suffer more.” p.159
“Piglets that don’t grow fast enough—the runts—are a drain on resources and so have no place on the farm. Picked up by their hind legs, they are swung and then bashed headfirst onto the concrete floor. This common practice is called ‘thumping.’ ‘We’ve thumped as many as 120 in one day,’ said a worker from a Missouri farm.” p. 187
Often, cattle go through the process of slaughtering while improperly stunned, and quite alive. This is just inconceivable that so many animals have their flesh literally ripped off of them and their bodies dismembered while still conscious!
“It isn’t hard to figure out why the beef industry won’t let even an enthusiastic carnivore near its slaughter facilities. Even in abattoirs where most cattle die quickly, it’s hard to imagine that any day passes in which several animals (tens, hundreds?) don’t meet an end of the most horrifying kind.” p. 229
"…excess animal protein intake is linked with osteoporosis, kidney disease, calcium stones in the urinary tract, and some cancers. Despite some persistent confusion, it is clear that vegetarians and vegans tend to have more optimal protein consumption than omnivores." p. 140
“The highest rates of osteoporosis are seen in countries where people consume the most dairy foods.” p. 147
“Scientists at Columbia and Princeton Universities have actually been able to trace six of the genetic segments of the (currently) most feared virus in the world directly to US factory farms.” pp. 142-43
“We care most about what’s close to us, and have a remarkably easy time forgetting everything else. We also have a strong impulse to do what others around us are doing, especially when it comes to food. Food ethics are so complex because food is bound to both taste buds and to taste, to individual biographies and social histories.” pp. 31-32
I found the parts about how food as part of our cultural heritage, and about rewriting that heritage, to be really well done. It’s an aspect of veganism/vegetarianism that is not always considered.
“Of course, something having been done just about everywhere just about always is no kind of justification for doing it now.” p. 26
“How much do I value creating a socially comfortable situation, and how much do I value acting socially responsible?” p. 55
Think one vegan or vegetarian can’t make a difference? …
“On average, Americans eat the equivalent of 21,000 entire animals in their lifetime” (p. 121).
“We know, at least, that this decision will help prevent deforestation, curb global warming, reduce pollution, save oil reserves, lessen the burden on rural America, decrease human rights abuses, improve public health, and help eliminate the most systematic animal abuse in world history.” p. 257
“Whether we’re talking about fish species, pigs, or some other eaten animal, is such suffering the most important thing in the world? Obviously not. But that’s not the question. Is it more important than sushi, bacon, or chicken nuggets? That’s the question.” p. 193
“However we obfuscate or ignore it, we know that the factory farm is inhumane in the deepest sense of the word. And we know that there is something that matters in a deep way about the lives we create for the living beings most within our power. Our response to the factory farm is ultimately a test of how we respond to the powerless, to the most distant, to the voiceless—it is a test of how we act when no one is forcing us to act one way or another.” p. 267
“I’ve restricted myself mostly to discussing how our food choices affect the ecology of our planet and the lives of its animals, but I could have just as easily made the entire book about public health, workers’ rights, decaying rural communities, or global poverty—all of which are profoundly affected by factory farming. Factory farming, of course, does not cause all the world’s problems, but it is remarkable just how many of them intersect there.” p. 260
“Whether we change our lives or do nothing, we have responded. To do nothing is to do something.” p. 38