Thursday, March 25, 2010

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer pt. 1


I'm half way through this book and already I need to talk about it, write about it, get the images in my mind onto the screen and out of my head. I've never had a book that I hated reading so much, or that I felt was so important to read. It's like reading The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, but it's real and it's everywhere. I read The Jungle in high school AP class, and I can still remember the descriptions of the drain in the floor where everything from the animal leaked and ran out. It's a classic if anyone is interested in the meat packing industry of the 1930's.

I started reading Eating Animals while in bed one night (because I'm the mom of an infant and when the heck else would I have time to read). Anyway, I'm in bed and literally gagging through the first chapter when my husband had to tell me to stop gagging or stop reading. Fair enough. Here I am now half way through and I have hardened myself to it. I'm on the verge of tears and nausea with every page, but I push through. Reading this book you get a sense that what is being said is so important that you have to just plow through and get there... and it's not for a happy ending. The only happy ending for me is when I get up, open my refrigerator, and there aren't animals there. I find myself dreading my next trip to the grocery store because I'm afraid all I will see is "fecal soup" and beakless birds.

I had a similar experience, though not as gruesome, when I taught middle school in the central valley. Many of my students had parents working in the agricultural fields all through the valley. The parents would come to conferences and open house directly from the fields, still in their pesticide-soaked work clothes and hold their babies to their chests, hug their children, and cough. One student had an unexplained seizure in my class. She just fell out of her chair and started convulsing. I don't know the source of that seizure, but the doctors also couldn't figure it out. The worst thing was the coughing though. There always seemed to be coughing. Usually, the kids who lived in the workers' housing right next to the fields coughed the most. I had one student who had a persistent cough that shook my heart each time I heard it. It was the cough of an old man, and it just wouldn't go away. For months he coughed. I asked him what his parents did, and he said they worked in the fields. They both drove the sprayers. I thought of the stories we read about Caesar Chavez. I hear that cough when I see that conventional produce is cheaper and more readily available. I hear that cough and see the face of one of my 8th graders who had been held back a year, so he was 15 in 8th grade. He was so excited to go to work with his dad on the weekends. In 8th grade he began working in those fields. He said he liked working on the organic farms best, and brought me a bag of organic onions one Monday.

It's hard sometimes to put a face to the food on our plates. Things are so different from the idea of a farm like I grew up on, or like you see in the movies. Reading this book has taken me back to that place, made me long for the snow outside to melt so I can plant my garden, made me grateful for the CSA farm I am able to get fresh produce from each week, and made me sick. I have never felt a desire to push vegetarianism on others until I started reading this book. It's our country, our children, our future. I still don't want to push people or make anyone suffer, but I do want people to think about what they feed their families.

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