[Welcome authors Moby and Miyun Park, and Host Jill Richardson, author of Recipe for America]

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book.  Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

Gristle: From Factory to Food Safety

The cover of Gristle: From Factory Farms to Food Safety says it all. It shows a picture of a cow, separated into its various cuts – except each cut lists a different issue to consider when choosing to eat meat or not: health, environment, workers, taxpayer cost, animals, children’s health, global hunger, zoonotic diseases, communities, and climate change. The book, edited by Moby with Miyun Park, includes a series of essays, one on each of those topics. And by addressing each of those issues, this book takes the debate about what role food animals should play in our society and how they should be treated to a new level.

The philosophical and ethical question of whether or not animals should be killed for food is both complex and personal. But the evils of factory farming are much more cut and dry. To that point, this book brought together a group ranging from a vegan shoe store owner to pig farmers, all in agreement that factory farming and industrial animal production is not the way to go. The inclusion of an essay by pig farmers (Paul and Phyllis Willis of Niman Ranch), in fact, shows that this book is not intended to preach at the choir of people who already eschew meat. It’s aimed at a far wider audience, hoping that one (or more) of the various angles will strike a chord with each reader and make them think twice about the meat they eat (or don’t eat).

The question of how most meat reaches our plates is one that is intentionally hidden from us. Thus, most people will be surprised by at least one of the chapters in the book. One of the biggest eye openers for me when I first learned of it was the impact factory farms have on the surrounding community, a topic that Gristle covers very well. On a trip to Iowa this past year, I learned that Iowans occasionally suffer from a weather condition they call “shitsmog.” It is what it sounds like, and the shit comes from factory farmed hogs. I visited a factory hog farm on a “good” day, when it was nearly freezing outside and the odor was kept to a nauseating minimum. I met Iowan after Iowan who had been forced to turn activist against the factory hog farms, exactly because of the impact it had on their communities. When a factory hog farm moves in next door, the best case scenario is a bad stench and the worst involves your property value tanking so low you can’t afford to move away from the smell, not to mention the health problems you may suffer as a result of the massive amounts of hog waste.

Another issue the book raises – one that has been thankfully covered in the news in recent years (Google “Agriprocessors”) – are the human rights violations common in the meat industry. Again, the stories in the book are echoed by my own experiences. A man I spoke to who worked in a Tyson hog plant told me that nearly everyone in the plant suffered from tendinitis, but received nearly no treatment for it. In his case, he told his boss he suffered from stress incontinence (a condition that means, as he put it, “when ya gotta go, YA GOTTA GO!”) but his supervisors STILL refused to let him go to the bathroom when he asked. So he wet his pants. Then his supervisors started sniffing around him for evidence that he was drunk or on drugs, which he was not. This happened twice. After the second time, they decided he could actually have bathroom breaks when he requested them. Imagine a job where you aren’t even allowed to go to the bathroom! (And that’s not to mention the instances of worker deaths or mutilations caused on the job.)

Those essays, as well as the one on industrial animal production’s link to global warming, were the ones that most resonated with me. My hunch is that each reader of Gristle will come away with a different, very personal experience. Some chapters will speak to you; others may not. However, it’s well worth reading, and I urge you to approach it with an open mind, and perhaps a little bit like a buffet: look for the subjects that most interest you, and make sure you read them. If you give each essay in the book a chance, you’ll come away with something new you’ve learned and perhaps a new perspective on your dinner.

[Gristle - website / resources]