Stories from Afar & Up Close

The ultimate question

A friend gave me the book ‘Eating Animals’, written by Jonathan Safran Foer. It is not a plea for becoming vegetarian, as you may think based on the title. However, I am sharing these quotes with you because, like he writes, when I tell people I’m vegetarian, they often respond by ‘pointing out an inconsistency in my lifestyle or try to find a flaw in an argument I never made’. Being vegetarian is not an argument. Jonathan Safran Foer's book is an argument. Below is a passage from the conclusion. I suggest you read the whole book and decide for yourself.

“If we are serious about ending factory farming, then the absolute least we can do is stop sending checks to the absolute worst abusers. For some, the decision to eschew factory-farmed products will be easy. For others, the decision will be a hard one. To those for whom it sounds like a hard decision (…), the ultimate question is whether it is worth the inconvenience. We know, at least, that this decision will help prevent deforestation, curb global warming, reduce pollution, save oil reserves, lessen the burden on rural America, decrease human rights abuses, improve public health, and help eliminate the most systematic animal abuse in world history. What we don’t know, though, may be just as important. How would making such a decision change us? Setting aside the direct material changes initiated by opting out of the factory farm system, the decision to eat with such deliberateness would itself be a force with enormous potential. What kind of world would we create if three times a day we activated our compassion and reason as we sat down to eat, if we had the moral imagination and the pragmatic will to change our most fundamental act of consumption? … It might sound naïve to suggest that whether you order a chicken patty or a veggie burger is a profoundly important decision. Then again, it certainly would have sounded fantastic if in the 1950s you were told that where you sat in a restaurant or on a bus could begin to uproot racism. It would have sounded equally fantastic of you were told in the early 1970s, before César Chávez’s workers’ rights campaigns, that refusing to eat grapes could begin to free farmworkers from slave-like conditions. It might sound fantastic, but 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 of the greatest opportunities to live our values – or betray them – lies in the food we put on our plates. And we will live or betray our values not only as individuals, but as nations. We have grander legacies than the quest for cheap products.”

(Jonathan Safran Foer, ‘Eating Animals’, p. 257-258).