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Ciao, I'm Julia.

Eating Animals summary

Ah man, I wish everyone would read this book just to get better informed on modern day farming and the agricultural industry. Really informative mixed with personal stories. Highly recommended.

Highlights

  • Americans choose to eat less than .25% of the known edible food on the planet.
  • Modern industrial fishing lines can be as long as 75 miles—the same distance as from sea level to space.
  • In America, millions of dogs and cats euthanized in animal shelters every year become the food for our food. (Almost twice as many dogs and cats are euthanized as are adopted.)
  • [The meat industry] raises significant philosophical questions and is a $140 billion–plus a year industry that occupies nearly a third of the land on the planet, shapes ocean ecosystems, and may well determine the future of earth’s climate. And yet we seem able to think only about the edges of the arguments—the logical extremes rather than the practical realities.
  • FOR EVERY TEN TUNA, SHARKS, and other large predatory fish that were in our oceans fifty to a hundred years ago, only one is left. Many scientists predict the total collapse of all fished species in less than fifty years —and intense efforts are under way to catch, kill, and eat even more sea animals.
  • Globally, roughly 50 billion land animals are now factory farmed every year . (There is no tally of fish.) Ninety-nine percent of all land animals eaten or used to produce milk and eggs in the United States are factory farmed. So although there are important exceptions, to speak about eating animals today is to speak about factory farming.
  • [The US is a] nation of unprecedented prosperity—a nation that spends a smaller percentage of income on food than any other civilization has in human history—but in the name of affordability treats the animals it eats with cruelty so extreme it would be illegal if inflicted on a dog.
  • Animal agriculture makes a 40% greater contribution to global warming than all transportation in the world combined; it is the number one cause of climate change.
  • ANTHROPOCENTRISM: The conviction that humans are the pinnacle of evolution, the appropriate yardstick by which to measure the lives of other animals, and the rightful owners of everything that lives.
  • ANTHROPODENIAL: The refusal to concede significant experiential likeness between humans and the other animals, as when my son asks if George will be lonely when we leave the house without her, and I say, “George doesn’t get lonely.”
  • ANTHROPOMORPHISM: The urge to project human experience onto the other animals, as when my son asks if George will be lonely.
  • The typical cage for egg-laying hens allows each sixty-seven square inches of floor space—somewhere between the size of [a small book] page and a sheet of printer paper. Such cages are stacked between three and nine tiers high—Japan has the world’s highest battery cage unit, with cages stacked eighteen tiers high—in windowless sheds.
  • What happens to all of the male offspring of [chicken] layers? If man hasn’t designed them for meat, and nature clearly hasn’t designed them to lay eggs, what function do they serve? They serve no function. Which is why all male layers—half of all the layer chickens born in the United States, more than 250 million chicks a year—are destroyed.
  • The average shrimp-trawling operation throws 80 to 90 percent of the sea animals it captures overboard, dead or dying, as bycatch . (Endangered species amount to much of this bycatch.) Shrimp account for only 2 percent of global seafood by weight, but shrimp trawling accounts for 33 percent of global bycatch.
  • Common Farming Exemptions make legal any method of raising farmed animals so long as it is commonly practiced within the industry.
  • Cruelty depends on an understanding of cruelty, and the ability to choose against it. Or to choose to ignore it.
  • How much do I value creating a socially comfortable situation, and how much do I value acting socially responsible? The relative importance of ethical eating and table fellowship will be different in different situations (declining my grandmother’s chicken with carrots is different from passing on microwaved buffalo wings). More important, though, and what [Michael] Pollan curiously doesn’t emphasize, is that attempting to be a selective omnivore is a much heavier blow to table fellowship than vegetarianism.
  • In most of America’s fifty states it is perfectly legal (and perfectly common) to simply let downers die of exposure over days or toss them, live, into dumpsters. A downer is an animal that collapses from poor health and is unable to stand back up.
  • According to the UN, the livestock sector is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, around 40 percent more than the entire transport sector—cars, trucks, planes, trains, and ships—combined. Animal agriculture is responsible for 37 percent of anthropogenic methane, which offers twenty-three times the global warming potential (GWP) of CO2, as well as 65 percent of anthropogenic nitrous oxide, which provides a staggering 296 times the GWP of CO2.
  • Omnivores contribute seven times the volume of greenhouse gases that vegans do.
  • Most simply put, someone who regularly eats factory-farmed animal products cannot call himself an environmentalist without divorcing that word from its meaning.
  • Factory farms commonly manipulate food and light to increase productivity, often at the expense of the animals’ welfare. Egg farmers do this to reboot birds’ internal clocks so they start laying valuable eggs faster and, crucially, at the same time.
  • Scientists have documented a pig language of sorts, and pigs will come when called (to humans or one another), will play with toys (and have favorites), and have been observed coming to the aid of other pigs in distress. Dr. Stanley Curtis, an animal scientist friendly to the industry, empirically evaluated the cognitive abilities of pigs by training them to play a video game with a joystick modified for snouts. They not only learned the games, but did so as fast as chimpanzees, demonstrating a surprising capacity for abstract representation.
  • Fish build complex nests, form monogamous relationships, hunt cooperatively with other species, and use tools. They recognize one another as individuals (and keep track of who is to be trusted and who is not). They make decisions individually, and monitor social prestige and vie for better positions (to quote from the peer review journal Fish and Fisheries: they use “Machiavellian strategies of manipulation, punishment and reconciliation”).
  • Birds have cognitive capacities equivalent to those of mammals, even primates .” She argues they have sophisticated memories that are “written down according to some sort of chronological sequence that becomes a unique autobiography.” Like fish, chickens can pass information generationally. They also deceive one another and can delay satisfaction for larger rewards.
  • KFC buys nearly a billion chickens a year—if you packed those chickens body to body, they would blanket Manhattan from river to river and spill from the windows of the higher floors of office buildings.
  • The controversy around PETA may have less to do with the organization than with those of us who stand in judgment of it—that is, with the unpleasant realization that “those PETA people” have stood up for the values we have been too cowardly or forgetful to defend ourselves.
  • In the typical cage for egg-laying hens, each bird has 67 square inches of space. Nearly all cage-free birds have approximately the same amount of space.
  • When we walk around thinking we have a greater right to eat an animal than the animal has a right to live without suffering, it’s corrupting.
  • Domestication is an evolutionary, rather than a political development. It is certainly not a regime humans somehow imposed on animals some ten thousand years ago. Rather, domestication took place when a handful of especially opportunistic species discovered, through Darwinian trial and error, that they were more likely to survive and prosper in an alliance with humans than on their own.
  • In the past fifty years, as factory farming spread from poultry to beef, dairy, and pork producers, the average cost of a new house increased nearly 1,500 percent; new cars climbed more than 1,400 percent; but the price of milk is up only 350 percent, and eggs and chicken meat haven’t even doubled. Taking inflation into account, animal protein costs less today than at any time in history . (That is, unless one also takes into account the externalized costs—farm subsidies, environmental impact, human disease, and so on—which make the price historically high.)
  • Isn’t it strange how upset people get about a few dozen baseball players taking growth hormones, when we’re doing what we’re doing to our food animals and feeding them to our children?
  • On average, Americans eat the equivalent of 21,000 entire animals in a lifetime.
  • THE 1918 PANDEMIC HAS BEEN remembered as the “Spanish flu” because the Spanish press was the only Western media to adequately cover its massive toll.
  • Virtually all (upwards of 95 percent of) chickens become infected with E. coli (an indicator of fecal contamination) and between 39 and 75 percent of chickens in retail stores are still infected. Around 8 percent of birds become infected with salmonella (down from several years ago, when at least one in four birds was infected, which still occurs on some farms). Seventy to 90 percent are infected with another potentially deadly pathogen, campylobacter.
  • Approximately 30 percent of all live birds arriving at the slaughterhouse have freshly broken bones as a result of their Frankenstein genetics and rough treatment.
  • Fifty billion. Every year fifty billion birds are made to live and die like this [factory-farmed].
  • According to a study published in Consumer Reports, 83 percent of all chicken meat (including organic and antibiotic-free brands) is infected with either campylobacter or salmonella at the time of purchase .
  • Was your friend’s illness one of those “twenty-four-hour flus” that come and go quickly—retch or shit then relief? The diagnosis isn’t quite so simple, but if the answer to this question is yes, your friend probably didn’t have the flu at all—he or she was probably among the 76 million cases of food-borne illness the CDC estimates occur in America each year. Your friend didn’t “catch a bug” so much as eat a bug. And in all likelihood that bug was created by factory farming.
  • A broader study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed an eightfold increase in antimicrobial resistance from 1992 to 1997, and, using molecular subtyping, linked this increase to the use of antimicrobials in farmed chickens.
  • Breeding genetically uniform and sickness-prone birds in the overcrowded, stressful, feces-infested, and artificially lit conditions of factory farms promotes the growth and mutation of pathogens. The “cost of increased efficiency,” the report concludes, is increased global risk for diseases. Our choice is simple: cheap chicken or our health.
  • Elsewhere the paper notes that vegetarians and vegans (including athletes) “meet and exceed requirements” for protein. And, to render the whole we-should-worry-about-getting-enough-protein-and-therefore-eat-meat idea even more useless, other data suggests that excess animal protein intake is linked with osteoporosis, kidney disease, calcium stones in the urinary tract, and some cancers. Despite some persistent confusion, it is clear that vegetarians and vegans tend to have more optimal protein consumption than omnivores.
  • The highest rates of osteoporosis are seen in countries where people consume the most dairy foods .
  • The global implications of the growth of the factory farm, especially given the problems of food-borne illness, antimicrobial resistance, and potential pandemics, are genuinely terrifying. India’s and China’s poultry industries have grown somewhere between 5 and 13 percent annually since the 1980s. If India and China started to eat poultry in the same quantities as Americans (twenty-seven to twenty-eight birds annually), they alone would consume as many chickens as the entire world does today.
  • Nearly one-third of the land surface of the planet is dedicated to livestock.
  • A breed, unlike a species, is not a natural phenomenon. Breeds are maintained by farmers who selectively mate animals with particular features, which is now usually done through artificial insemination about 90 percent of large hog farms use artificial insemination).
  • In 1930, more than 20 percent of the American population was employed in agriculture. Today it’s less than 2 percent. That’s despite the fact that agricultural production doubled between 1820 and 1920, between 1950 and 1965, between 1965 and 1975, and in the next ten years will double again. In 1950, one farmworker supplied every 15.5 consumers. Today it’s one for every 140. American farmers are 4x more likely to commit suicide than the general population.
  • Most people… have given proxies to the corporations to produce and provide all of their food.
  • General Accounting Office (GAO) reports that individual farms “ can generate more raw waste than the populations of some U.S. cities.” All told, farmed animals in the United States produce 130 times as much waste as the human population—roughly 87,000 pounds of shit per second.
  • Smithfield’s earnings look impressive—the company had sales of $12 billion in 2007—until one realizes the scale of the costs they externalize: the pollution from the shit, of course, but also the illnesses caused by that pollution and the associated degradation of property values (to name only the most obvious externalizations). Without passing these and other burdens on to the public, Smithfield would not be able to produce the cheap meat it does without going bankrupt.
  • Many piglets are born with deformities. Common congenital diseases include cleft palate, hermaphroditism, inverted nipples, no anus, splayed legs, tremors, and hernias. Inguinal hernias are common enough that it is routine to surgically correct them at the time of castration.
  • Left alone, piglets tend to wean at around fifteen weeks, but on factory farms they will typically be weaned at fifteen days and increasingly as young as twelve days. At these young ages, the piglets are unable to properly digest solid food, so additional pharmaceuticals are fed to them to prevent diarrhea .
  • Piglets that don’t grow fast enough—the runts—are a drain on resources and so have no place on the farm. Picked up by their hind legs, they are swung and then bashed headfirst onto the concrete floor . This common practice is called “thumping.”
  • Drugs are not for curing diseases, but substitutes for destroyed immune systems. Farmers do not aim to produce healthy animals.
  • Sources of suffering for salmon are: (1) water so fouled that it makes it hard to breathe; (2) crowding so intense that animals begin to cannibalize one another; (3) handling so invasive that physiological measures of stress are evident a day later; (4) disturbance by farmworkers and wild animals; (5) nutritional deficiencies that weaken the immune system; and (6) the inability to form a stable social hierarchy, resulting in more cannibalization. These problems are typical. The handbook calls them “integral components of fish farming.”
  • A major source of suffering for salmon and other farmed fish is the abundant presence of sea lice, which thrive in the filthy water. These lice create open lesions and sometimes eat down to the bones on a fish’s face—a phenomenon common enough that it is known as the “death crown” in the industry.
  • One study found that roughly 4.5 million sea animals are killed as bycatch in longline fishing every year , including roughly 3.3 million sharks, 1 million marlins, 60,000 sea turtles, 75,000 albatross, and 20,000 dolphins and whales.
  • The average trawling operation throws 80 to 90 percent of the sea animals it captures as bycatch overboard. The least efficient operations actually throw more than 98 percent of captured sea animals, dead, back into the ocean .
  • Changing what we eat and letting tastes fade from memory create a kind of cultural loss, a forgetting. But perhaps this kind of forgetfulness is worth accepting—even worth cultivating (forgetting, too, can be cultivated). To remember animals and my concern for their well-being, I may need to lose certain tastes and find other handles for the memories that they once helped me carry.
  • For me, factory farming is wrong not because it produces meat, but because it robs every animal of every shred of happiness. To put it another way, if I stole something, that would weigh on my conscience because it would be inherently wrong. Meat isn’t inherently wrong. And if I ate some, my reaction would probably be limited to a feeling of regret.
  • It takes six to twenty-six calories fed to an animal to produce just one calorie of animal flesh. The vast majority of what we grow in the United States is fed to animals—that is land and food that we could use to feed humans or preserve wilderness —and the same thing is happening all over the world, with devastating consequences.
  • The UN special envoy on food called it a “crime against humanity” to funnel 100 million tons of grain and corn to ethanol while almost a billion people are starving . So what kind of crime is animal agriculture, which uses 756 million tons of grain and corn per year, much more than enough to adequately feed the 1.4 billion humans who are living in dire poverty? And that 756 million tons doesn’t even include the fact that 98 percent of the 225-million-ton global soy crop is also fed to farmed animals. You’re supporting vast inefficiency and pushing up the price of food for the poorest in the world,
  • Eating meat may be “natural,” and most humans may find it acceptable—humans certainly have been doing it for a very long time—but these are not moral arguments. In fact, the entirety of human society and moral progress represents an explicit transcendence of what’s “natural.” And the fact that most in the South supported slavery says nothing about its morality. The law of the jungle is not a moral standard, however much it may make meat eaters feel better about their meat eating.
  • Today’s social conservatives are yesterday’s “extremists” on issues like women’s rights, civil rights, children’s rights, and so on. (Who advocates half measures on the issue of slavery?) Why, when it comes to eating animals, is it suddenly problematic to point out what is scientifically obvious and irrefutable: other animals are more like us than they’re unlike us? They are our “cousins,” as Richard Dawkins puts it. Even saying “You’re eating a corpse,” which is irrefutable, is called hyperbolic. No, it’s just true.
  • In most parts of the world and for most of animal and human history, meat eating has never been simply a matter of pleasure. It’s been the basis for survival.
  • Virtually none of these commercially available birds are capable of reproducing, and serious health problems have been bred into their genes in the process of engineering them (the chickens we eat, like turkeys, are dead-end animals—by design they can’t live long enough to reproduce).
  • What we do know, though, is that if you eat meat today, your typical choice is between animals raised with either more (chicken, turkey, fish, and pork) or less (beef) cruelty. Why do so many of us feel we have to choose between such options? What would render such utilitarian calculations of the least horrible option beside the point? At what moment would the absurd choices readily available today give way to the simplicity of a firmly drawn line: this is unacceptable?
  • Toward the end of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan writes, “I have to say there is a part of me that envies the moral clarity of the vegetarian…. Yet part of me pities him, too. Dreams of innocence are just that; they usually depend on a denial of reality that can be its own form of hubris.” He’s right that emotional responses can lead us to an arrogant disconnect. But is the person who makes an effort to act on the dream of innocence really the one to be pitied? And who, in this case, is denying reality?
  • When we bother to look, it’s hard to deny that our day-to-day choices shape the world. When America’s early settlers decided to throw a tea party in Boston, forces powerful enough to create a nation were released. Deciding what to eat (and what to toss overboard) is the founding act of production and consumption that shapes all others. Choosing leaf or flesh, factory farm or family farm, does not in itself change the world, but teaching ourselves, our children, our local communities, and our nation to choose conscience over ease can.
  • “One must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular.” Sometimes we simply have to make a decision because “one’s conscience tells one that it is right.”
  • We eat as sons and daughters, as families, as communities, as generations, as nations, and increasingly as a globe. We can’t stop our eating from radiating influence even if we want.

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