Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Thanksgiving Sermon

I mentioned in an earlier post that I did not want to preach to friends about the sad state of affairs that has become the norm in the production of the meat that billions of people eat every day. It is universally known as factory farming. I'm not sure if those that do it call it that, but it is an apt description. It is a process in which an animal represents not an individual life, but a quantity of food. A process in which sustainable characteristics (like being able to walk comfortably, maintain an appropriate mass-to-body ratio, and reproduce naturally) are bred out of animals because those characteristics don't taste as good in meat. A process in which the industry controls the access to and standards associated with the gruesome operations such that you can only find out what really goes on by going undercover. A process in which animals are routinely fed a diet that they cannot possibly live on and medicine that they wouldn't need if they hadn't been so poorly "engineered" so that they will get fat at an unnaturally rapid pace so they can be pushed through the factory quickly to make room for the next generation of bio-engineered abominations. A process that is as bad for the environment as it is for the animals and those who eat them. It is a dirty secret that no one wants to think about when they sit down to enjoy their dinner (read this article from Time Magazine for a relatively light introduction to the realities of what factory farming is and why it has to stop).

The problem with not wanting to sound preachy is that this stuff writes itself. It is impossible to talk about what factory farming really is without sounding preachy. Seriously. It's like shooting fish in a barrel (ironically, shooting fish in a barrel is pretty much what factory farming amounts to...if the fish we're talking about are fat, sick, and unhealthy and stuffed into the barrel so tightly that there is minimal water).

Someone told my wife that he felt sorry for her because she did not "get" to eat turkey on Thanksgiving. I know that the sentiment was heartfelt and genuine and was his way of expressing the cultural importance that has been placed on food as family and as comfort. Jonathan Safran Foer speaks to this issue throughout the book Eating Animals. But it did not take reading that book to convince me of the importance of the link between culture and family and food. I've been alive for just about thirty-seven years now.

So I do not take offense to someone feeling sorry for my wife because she is going to miss out on a turkey dinner. I do, however, question that person's awareness and perspective. If he needs something to be concerned about, he could read one book or watch one video describing the process of getting a turkey to his table from the day it was artificially conceived. He would learn that it is not just about cruelty. It is also about an unhealthy, unsustainable and unsavory method of feeding oneself. He might start watching what he ate a little more closely. He might even begin to demand a change in the currently unsatisfactory method of producing meat by changing how he consumed.

By the way, my Thanksgiving was not vegan. So, it is not without some chagrin that I proofread the paragraphs above. Some friends had us over and did a wonderful job of catering to our diets by not using any animal stock in the various side-dishes. We took a vegan chick-pea pot-pie over that served as our main course (see below). But I know that butter was well-represented in the mashed potatoes.

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