Saturday, December 26, 2009

Book Review - Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

Eating Animals is kind of a 'tough love' sort of a book. It's not a lecture and it's not a rant. It's different than most books about vegetarianism. Foer wants to put the facts out there and let you make the decision. He writes this book under the assumption that once people have all of the information, they'll make the choice that's right for them. And I agree. There are people out there who will never care about animal cruelty, or will care, but still tell themselves there is nothing they can do. Those people are a lost cause and the book wasn't written for them. It was written for people who do have enough will power to make changes in their lives. This book is for people who know that the choices they make affect everyone around them.

Foer started to think about vegetarianism (and this book) when he started to think about being a father. Like so many people he had wanted to be a vegetarian for years and had struggled with it his whole life. He knew it was the right thing to do, but still couldn't manage to do it. He cared about animals, but he also cared about eating whatever tasted good to him. When he realized he was to become a father, his food choices suddenly started to matter. He was to set an example for his son. He was going to be a role model and he wanted to be a good one.

Foer tries very hard to get all angles of the argument. He gets letters from activists of all kinds, factory farmers, family farmers, a vegan who designs slaughter houses, a vegetarian who raises beef cattle. Of course these contradictions annoy me, but they also make me really think about what the goal is. Is the goal to stop animal cruelty, or stop animal slavery? Is the goal to cause less suffering, or no suffering? At the end of the day do these people feel good about the choices they have made? Do they think they are making a difference? Do they really feel happy about the lives they are leading? If they do, maybe they are doing more good than harm. Maybe they are on the best path they can be on. Of course to me, and to Foer, any harm at all is enough reason not to eat meat (most of these family farmers still brand their cattle, and all of them send their animals to slaughter houses. None of these animals ever grow to full adulthood).

My favorite part of this book was the chapter of definitions. Several pages with common animal farming terms put into plain (and sometimes hilarious) English. Even though I read heavily on the subject of food, there are so many things in this book I had never heard before, so many good points that had yet to be made. Are you aware that cattle are often fed ground up cats and dogs that are euthanized at shelters? That pigs become so distressed in their living conditions that even a tractor driving by outside (they are kept inside for their whole lives) can cause them to fall over and die of fright?

He ends the book with Thanksgiving. To have a turkey, or not to have a turkey? He talks about tradition, culture, family history, values. He talks about the origins of thanksgiving and the history of the turkey as a center piece. He points out that the turkey doesn't make Thanksgiving. It's the coming together, the family, the thankfulness. The truth is, having a dead, mutated, genetically altered, abused carcass as the center to a holiday about charity is a gross contradiction and he sees that. The turkey doesn't make his holiday table.

My only criticism of this book is this: like Micheal Pollan (who he chastises for doing just this), Foer doesn't address his own contradictions. Not once does he mention the dairy industry. Not once. He talks a bit about laying hens, but not enough to actually point out that eating chicken eggs is just as bad as eating chicken meat (if not worse because at least boiler hens are not kept in battery cages). He lets himself completely off the hook. The entire book is dedicated to the problems with factory farming, but that's where more of our dairy comes from, and almost all of our eggs. If he finds issues even with the family farms in his book (which he does), than how does he explain his consumption of dairy and eggs? I kept waiting for him to address this, but it never comes up.

So yes, I loved this book. I think it's a wonderful starting point. A well written starting point. But it is just a start. I wanted it to go further.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Ice House - Dorset, VT

Waking up is hard. It takes all night to make the bed into a warm, cozy cocoon and the idea of leaving it in the morning seems impossible. Even the thought of a shower isn't appealing. Going out in the morning with wet hair could lead to icicles, and having ice growing from my head isn't my idea of a good time.

Every morning I roll over and click on the mini heater, then immediately roll back to the heat of The Logger. I wait for the air in the room to get a little warmer before I even consider leaving the safety of the covers and the warm person I'm curled up around.

I stumble into the bathroom and turn on the shower. I brush my teeth as the hot water comes up and I slip out of my many layers of pajamas. The tub floor is freezing cold where the water doesn't hit it, so I jump forward to the spray of heat issuing from the shower head. I curl my hands under my chin and pray to the steamy jet of water. make me warm. If I'm patient, it works. The steam has to fill the bathroom before I'll let an inch of my body creep out from under the water so I can reach for the soap.

Getting out of the shower isn't as hard as getting out of bed. The bathroom is warm and if I've planned it right the clothes sitting in front of my bedroom heater are warm too. I scamper back into my bedroom and huddle in front of the heater to dress. The Logger is slowly waking and I huddle down next to him to soak in the last bits of sleepy heat coming from him and our warm bed, before heading downstairs to dry my hair in front of the woodstove.

As I brush my hair drops of water hit the woodstove and sputter, immediately turning to tiny steam vapors. I suppress the urge to hug the giant beast of warm iron. I'm so cold, all I want to do is wrap my body around it before I have to brave the chilly world outside. I throw my head forward and let the woodstove dry the underside of my hair. The heater in my car will take care of the rest. At least I won't need to worry about icicles this morning.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Ice House - Dorset, VT

I try not to swear too much in this blog and everything but:

Holy shit it's fucking cold in this house.

I'm sitting about 6 feet from the wood stove, which is cranking. It's so hot the kettle that sits atop it is at a near boil. The heat is just not reaching me, or my freezing toes. I was going to upload some pictures (finally), but damn it I am not leaving this couch or taking my coat off of my legs. If I get up for more than a minute I might have to warm up the spot om sitting in all over again.

Anyway I turned on my camera to see what was on there and I realized I had a TON of old photos that I never bothered to delete, even after upload. I was going through enjoying the old pictures of the plants growing in the greenhouse and the Levis kids looking so much younger than they do now, even though the pictures are not even a year old, when I stumbled upon it. My favorite picture ever! I had it as my desktop for months. I thought I had lost it when I had my hard drive replaced because I hadn't backed up most of my pictures last time I did a back up. I love this picture so much, it's just so freaking cute!

The point is, it made me change my mind. So here are some freaking pictures.

Brussels sprouts are so weird. I think they were a gift from outer space. Crash landing.

Kale forest

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Ice House - Dorset, VT

Yesterday was our first snow storm of the season. I woke up to snow plows driving past our house a few times in the night. When morning finally came it was snowing pretty heavily and the roads looked messy as hell. Of course I insisted on going to work, because I'm crazy. It's not that far away and my boss gets her driveway plowed, so whatever.

I asked The Logger to take me in though, because I don't like driving in bad weather and sliding around in a car that I don't own and don't shift super-well in doesn't sound like fun to me. The Logger is a cautious driver in bad weather, so I knew he would get me to work in one piece. He had a dentist appointment in the afternoon and didn't want to have to drive all the way back out to Sunderland, so I told him I would get a co-worker to drop me off in town where he could get me. It all sounded fine and dandy.

When we finally got to my job we realized the driveway had not been plowed and no one had come in. I went in anyway. My boss was a little shocked to see me.

"Didn't Gordon call you and tell you not to come?"
"Did he call my cell phone?"
"I don't get cell reception in Dorset"
"Oh... oops."

So I worked for about three hours until the power went out. I called The Logger and asked him to come and get me. At this point he was still at the Wilbuton, which is only 5 minutes away. I told him that if he couldn't make it up the driveway I'd just walk down to the road. We saw him pull up to the driveway and stop so I figured he just couldn't make it up. As I was walking down there I noticed why he had stopped. A tree had fallen across the driveway, but since everything was covered in deep snow we couldn't really see it from the office. The Logger had pulled out a chainsaw and started cutting it up. Because that's what loggers do and if he knows whats good for him he'll earn his damn nickname. I called back up to the office and my boss thought it was quite hilarious. She also said we could have the wood. And because he's a pro, he had the whole tree cut up and either stored in the car or piled to the side in less than 20 minutes. Ultra-sexy!

So now I'm sitting in front of the wood stove, keeping warm, all thanks to a ridiculous series of events. And The Logger.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Ice House - Dorset, VT

My computer finally crashed for real. Dead. Do not resuscitate. I took a day off of work to drive myself and my poor little laptop to Albany, an hour and a half (two if you get lost, which you know I did) to the nearest Mac store. Turns out the hard drive had gone completely useless. I failed to ask if this could be because of all those times I dropped it, accidentally tripped over my backpack while it was inside, or jostled it on the subway. But that does seem rather likely. Turns out that even though my warranty was up, there is still a warranty on the hard drive, so I didn't have to pay for it to be replaced. The bad news is, I lost all the stuff on my hard drive. I did back most of it up over the summer, so I didn't lose much. Yay.

You may have noticed that I've taken down the daily-ish photo. I really haven't had time to deal with my camera (read: I'm too lazy to take it out and take pictures), and I've always been terrible at recognizing photo ops. I replaced it with books! Wonderful, wonderful books! Books you should be reading! Now that I work at the bookstore I am constantly reading (except when my computer is working and I'm giving in to internet addiction). Any spare time I thought I might have is devoted to reading (and the internet). But I like it. Anyway you can click on the link to get to a mini (very very mini) review of what I'm reading.

Other goings on include the mice in my kitchen. We caught three over the last few days and I dropped them off int he woods on my way to work, far from my house, and I hope far enough from other people's houses. I gave them a little talk about staying out of the road and other people's food. Just so they can't say they didn't know when they run into trouble. I hate hearing people say that humane traps don't work. Of course they don't work if all your doing is catching them inside and then tossing them into your back yard. They already know how to get back in. You have to take them far away. Or you need to make sure you seal up all of the holes where they are getting in. The Logger and I are going to make a trip to the basement and see if we can find where the little buggers got in. For the meantime we appear to have rid ourselves and our kitchen of daily mouse droppings.

I never really thought snap traps were ok. Even when I ate meat I would never have used a kill trap. For one thing, I'm terrified of them. But that's probably because my parents always told me to be terrified of them. My family used humane traps for a long time and to keep me away from the snap traps they instilled a deep fear in me. Even now when dealing with snap traps I tend t just drop things on them and then leap backwards at the moment of snapping. Yes, I've intentionally set off many of these traps when I find them in my own home. They're not only cruel to mice, they are down right dangerous, and don't try to get me to believe otherwise. Rat traps can break your fingers!!! So basically, live catch traps are the best. Besides getting a cat. And you just try talking the Logger into that.