Meat Market: Animals, Ethics, and Money, by Erik Marcus, is an interesting, if brief, read, and a good answer to the question “What are these hippie freaks whining about, anyway?” It’s not a perfect introduction — I’m still looking for the best way to suggest to, say, my parents that they not eat factory-farmed animal products — but it’s a good explanation of where one is coming from which doesn’t involve showing one’s audience graphic video of a slaughter plant.
The book begins with a glimpse of how and why small-farm practices become factory farm practices, follows up with an excellent, reasonably impartial, description of common factory farming practices for chickens, pigs, and cattle, and describes some options for what could be done to alter the status quo, along with what is currently being done. It examines the three facets of the current what-the-hell-is-going-on-here movement (animal welfarists, animal rightists, and vegetarians), describes their goals, actions, and methods, looks at what is working and what isn’t, and suggests an alternative option (complete dismantlement of the system).
The book ends in a flurry of interesting essays and appendices, with subjects ranging from Starting a Local Vegetarian Society to The Ethics of Hunting. It’s a lot of different viewpoints (although, toward the end, the vegan viewpoint grabs center stage and holds it), and, more, it’s thought-provoking material.
For example, it thoughtfully compares the relative quality of life — inasmuch as we can measure “quality of life” for another species — of various factory-farmed animals. If you only give up one thing to make farmed animals just a little happier, Marcus says, give up eggs: the hens producing them are confined in ludicrously tiny cages their entire lives, debeaked, crippled, repeatedly force starved, and then slaughtered at the end. The animal with the “best” relative life is the beef calf, which has a pretty good time of it (out at pasture, with mom) until about six months of age (after which it all goes to hell, but briefly compared to the two years’ close imprisonment of the laying hen).
The other thing that hit me was the reminder that, even though I am carefully purchasing milk from “certified pasture-kept” (and, theoretically, happy) cows, by purchasing milk at all I am contributing to the veal industry. I am ashamed it didn’t occur to me before — of course! What are they doing with all the male calves? — but now that I know I am trying to figure out how to get milk out of my diet, or at least minimize it. Alas, soy milk tastes like liquid Lucky Charms, and unsweetened soy milk has the texture of Elmer’s glue — I am working on it. In the meantime, I do my best to minimize consumption of milk and cheese….
If you are just starting to look at vegetarianism or veganism or know someone who is, Meat Market isn’t a bad start. It is not overly preachy and does not use “We can’t kill animals because they are so CUTE!” faux logic — it produces rational, empirical examples which make it difficult not to listen. I kind of wish it hadn’t ruined milk for me, but I can’t honestly blame the messenger.