Last year around November, I was trolling through Collins bookstore in search of something decent and enriching to read. I had exhausted the fiction section, and casually wandered over to the non-fiction section, where I spotted a familiar name: Jonathon Safran Foer. The book I picked up was Eating Animals, and I wasn’t to know at this point, that this book would change my lifestyle completely. In short: the book is simply about where meat comes from or more specifically the facts about factory farming. It isn’t harsh, it doesn’t harass the reader nor does it make the reader feel guilty – it’s just the facts. What made me decide to buy this book, was a review on the back from South African author, J. M. Coetzee: “The everyday horrors of factory farming are evoked so vividly…that anyone who, after reading Foer’s book, continues to consume the industry’s products must be without heart, or impervious to reason, or both.”
I saw this as a challenge, so the next day I went to my favourite café, bought an expensive pot chamomile tea, curled up on an old sofa and opened the first page. I cannot begin to describe to you the horrifying imagery that burst from the pages. I found myself at times completely consumed by the book, and at others times I had to put the book down. Foer had managed to gain first-hand experience in a factory farm, and the facts are astonishing. At times the book made me feel physically ill, and it was beginning to very quickly convince me to stop eating meat forever. One particular statement however, changed my mindset entirely: “Let’s describe the reality: that piece of meat came from an animal who, at best – and it’s precious few who get away with only this – was burned, mutilated, and killed for the sake of a few minutes of human pleasure. Does the pleasure justify the means?” Well, does it? For me, absolutely not.
Before I was going to fully commit myself to this lifestyle change, I wanted to research a little about Australian Factory Farming – unfortunately I found out that the conditions where exactly the same as in America: abysmal. One thing that made me so angry was how we can penalise and hate those in society who dare cause physical harm to a domesticated animal, and yet we allow pigs (who are much smarter than dogs) and cows and chickens and sheep to be literally tortured. Foer pointed this out as: “No reader of this book would tolerate someone swinging a pickax at a dog’s face.” Then how is it that we can tolerate the same thing happening to a farm animal? Various other forms of imagery cropped up from this book that will forever be stuck in my mind: workers who torture animals testicles and anus’s with electric prods, a pregnant cow being hung drawn and quartered while still fully conscious, legs lashing wildly as her throat is slit and her eyes still moving while her flesh is torn off. This isn’t an exaggeration; it’s where your dinner comes from. It’s where my dinner came from too.
Fact: animal agriculture is the number one cause of climate change. Fact: that “free-range” chicken or eggs from a chicken you are consuming has no access to the outdoors – the label is bullshit. Fact: the 1918 “Spanish Flu” pandemic killed 24 million people in 24 weeks – a virus from birds. Fact: it is inevitable that such another pandemic will occur. Fact: more than 95 percent of factory farmed chickens are infected with E. coli (faecal contamination) – between 39 and 75 percent of those chickens are on the shelves at your local store. Fact: after slaughter and various other processes, chickens are cooled in a massive refrigerated tank of water commonly known as “faecal soup.” Water-cooling causes a dead bird to soak up this soup. The reason why I have stated these friendly facts is because before reading Eating Animals, I had no idea how bad chicken was for you. And now I do. And now you do. So, who’s up for some KFC?
I didn’t realise when making this lifestyle change that my friends and family would begin to act differently around me. My friends started defending themselves, as if me becoming a vegetarian was an attack on them and their meat-eating lifestyle. My family reacted the same – my mum became somehow angry with me, and even though she went out and bought me vegetarian food, she still grumbled. My dad on the other hand was oddly supportive: on the surface he was calling me such things as “Lesbian” and “Hippie” but at the same time, when I told him about how much cholesterol is in a vegetarian diet (virtually none) he soon changed his tune. It’s been almost three months and my mum is yet to change her mind, the other week I found diced bacon in my “vegetarian” pasta, when I asked mum what she was doing sneaking meat into my meals she just mumbled something into her wine glass. Needless to say I’ve been cooking my own meals since then. I also noticed on the TV a high amount of propaganda for consuming meat: Sam Neill is telling me that I’d “be silly” not to eat read meat, I’m also told; “Get Some Pork and Your Fork.” It’s strange only now I’ve started to notice these ads, and I’m furious that the public is being manipulated with this hogwash (no pun intended.) When I first cut out meat from my diet, I really did crave a good steak – but I wouldn’t be able to bring myself to eat it knowing that I was consuming an individual.
So it’s been 3 months since becoming a vegetarian and it’s not been hard at all. One of the first things people say to me is, “Oh, I really don’t know how you can not eat meat!” Firstly, it’s actually really simple cutting meat out and secondly; I don’t know how they can eat meat! Now that I’m more informed there is no way I could possibly justify going back to eating meat. However, I still feel like I’m not doing enough. Is this fight futile? Why should I even bother to care if what I’m fighting is so huge and corrupt and beyond my control? It’s a simple school-yard scenario: if you see an individual getting beaten up and picked on, and you idly stand by and do nothing, aren’t you as bad as the school bully? I can’t idly stand by and do nothing. As Australian’s, we pride ourselves on being animal lovers, so how can we let this happen to animals that we supposedly care about? How can you allow your children to consume factory farmed meat, knowing where it came from and what’s in it. This evening, when you sit down to dinner, I want you to stop and think about what I’ve said. Stop for a moment, and think, “Where is my meal coming from?” You have the facts and the knowledge at your fingertips; it’s now up to you whether or not you seek that knowledge. I strongly urge you to do so.