Tuesday, June 9, 2009


Consumers of foie gras should be force-fed this Bob Herbert column from today's New York Times--in part about the force-feeding of ducks "to produce the enormously swollen livers from which the foie gras is made." I actually thought it was geese, but it makes no difference. The creatures are force-fed three times a day in this manner: "The feeder holds a duck between his or her knees, inserts a tube down the duck's throat, and uses a motorized funnel to force feed into the bird." Aside from that, the hideously crowded conditions and the genetic breeding to deprive the birds of the ability to quack add to the horror of these lives sacrificed to the human appetite.

I admit that I'm a meat-eater, and though I have not eaten foie gras in recent memory, it has not been out of principle. From now on it will be. I have been made increasingly aware, however, that ducks are not alone in the treatment they receive at human hands, and Ellie and I have not been careful enough about the meat we buy. In fact, we have been thinking more frequently about changing our diet. It disturbs the conscience to know about the source of much of what we eat, not only for the treatment of the animals but for the cost to the environment of their breeding and readying for market. Bob Herbert's article has simply added to the burden of responsibility I accept with each bite of pork or steak.

But then there's the "meat" of Herbert's article--the human toll. His piece is about the rank abuse of workers in the industry, the long hours, poor pay, and lack of legislative protection that reduces them to almost slave-labor conditions. As he points out, it's a disgraceful exploitation of the human need for work and sustenance--a subject on which he speaks more knowledgeably and more eloquently than I could myself.

What Herbert does not address in his column is the hidden, unknowable damage inflicted on the human psyche by our addiction to the flesh of our fellow-beings on this planet. I cannot but imagine the dehumanization that follows on employment in an industry that, first, horribly mistreats animals and then slaughters them for our consumption. Equally imponderable is the damage done to the psyche of those of us who do the consuming, willfully unaware of what it is we do. Can our spiritual lives go unscathed when our bodies take in not just the meat, but the history of what brought it to our table? For how long can we remain in denial about the consequences of our consumption on the planet that we communally inhabit?

These are deeply troubling questions for one who has been a life-long carnivore. I have to confess that the solution--to give up eating meat--does not come easily to me. Even though I know what I "should" do, I have more inner work to be done before I reach that "obvious" conclusion.


They call him James Ure said...

I commend you for asking these questions of yourself and of society as a whole. The force feeding of geese is something I've been disturbed over for a long time--along with any animal abuse and being used for food.

The other big one that I really abhor is eating veal. It's baby cows kept in a small cage where they can't even turn around to keep them from walking. Thus keeping their muscles from working too much and making their meat more tender.

For Bob Veal the calf is killed days after birth. I'm not a militant vegetarian but when I am asked about it or read a post like yours I talk more about it. I sometimes ask meat eaters, "If you had to kill the animal your meat came from would you still eat meat?" I know that when I was a meat eater I didn't even think about where my meat came from. Either that or I tried to block it out.

We use to live in a world back in the stone age, etc. where we couldn't get by without meat. Now, however, there are many, many options and you still can get the protein you need.

Plus, there are many products that taste pretty much exactly like meat but are made of soy. Such as soy burgers (I especially like the flame grilled version from Boca Burger), soy hot dogs (the best ones are from Morning Star.

And I like the soy Buffalo Wing nuggets, regular soy nuggets and soy chicken patties also from Morning Star. Not only can you still get the meat taste from these products but you ingest MUCH less fat and cholesterol.

Not many of us could butcher our own meat and so how can we ask someone else to endure that blood spilling, gory practice as their job? Just so we can fulfill our greed for the taste of flesh? How can we justify killing another being just because we like the taste so much? Is taste really more important than a being's life?

I don't think, however, that people should become vegetarians/vegans before they are ready. That simply causes resentment and is a recipe for failure to stick with it.

I do think it's easier to stick with it when it's largely done to save lives of other beings. Especially when thinking that the steak you are eating could be the flesh of your mother or child from a past life.

robin andrea said...

I saw Michael Pollan interviewed the other day about his new book Food, Inc. It is unbelievable how animals are treated for human consumption. I personally gave up red meat nearly 40 years ago. Life is perfectly fine without it. But, if I were going to eat beef, I would look for organic, grass-fed, free range. On the other hand, this interview with Jeffrey Masson argues quite compellingly against doing even that. Highly recommended reading.

khengsiong said...

I suppose KFC also uses force-fed chicken. But seriously, if we do it the 'organic way', the food price will increase, and I'm afraid more people will starve.

roger said...

check out the by-products (calves) of the dairy section as well. cows and other milk animals don't give milk unless "freshened" by pregnancy (that's humans too). industrial level dairy operations aren't so pretty either. i think those contented cows we see on tv are actors.

mandt said...

Industrial husbandry is absolutely appalling---particularly in America. Poultry, cattle, pigs and other creatures are raised in conditions that are little more than torture. Such practices are of a piece with animals for experimentation. Be aware of pet food companies that use such practices to create their commercial products.Fallenmonk often has excellent articles on 'food.' http://fallenmonk.com peace MandT

PeterAtLarge said...

Thanks, all, for these responses. "Food" for thought...

PeterAtLarge said...

Thanks, all, for these responses. "Food" for thought...