photo by allison long of the kansas city star

i've been beagle-sitting. in fact, they're snuggled up under my arm right now snoring away. and since mister's nose always trembles when he dreams, his whiskers keep tickling me.

i've been to kansas city--my first time in middle america. novella and i went to bad seed to teach chicken 101 and it was a total success. there are some nice photos in this slideshow, but somehow in the article, i became samin noscrat. oh well.

on the plane, novella lent me eating animals by jonathan safran foer. let me begin by talking about my deep love of this man's novels. do you guys remember when i made everyone read everything is illuminated for our short-lived book club? do you remember the fan letters i wrote to him? do you remember when i trekked out to city arts and lectures to see him speak, standing nervously in line afterward to have him sign my book and ask him about our mutual friend?

this is a person i have long admired and respected.

but now, he's abandoned fiction and entered my sphere. this world is one i take seriously, immersing myself in its issues and doing my best to educate myself so that one day i might be able to improve the state of some of these awful systems. i've been working hard for over ten years to learn as much as i can about what's going on in this country's disjointed food chain, and along the way i've been lucky enough to get to know most of the people jsf features in his book.

i'm already well acquainted with most of the imagery and statistics he uses to shock people into vegetarianism, but where jsf argues that being a compassionate omnivore is pointless because you'll definitely falter from time to time (giving in and eating factory-farmed meat for social reasons or out of convenience), and because the mere presence of meat eaters out in the world (compassionate or not) encourages others to eat meat, others who may not put the energy or care into finding out how their meat animals were raised and killed, i respectfully disagree. i'm going to go ahead and give intelligent people some credit.

i won't eat meat unless i know and respect the person who raised it, pure and simple. i won't eat fish unless i know the fishmonger and respect his techniques. i won't eat eggs or drink milk unless i am well-acquainted with the processes used to produce them. and i know lots of other people who are not only willing to do the same, but to help educate others about why it's so important.

i'm not going to give up on trying to change our ailing food systems. i won't retract my support of people like bill and nicolette hahn niman--who have arguably done more than anyone else to provide an alternative to factory-raised beef and pork in this country--by refusing to buy the exceptional meat from animals they raise. almost all of the ranchers and food-folks featured in eating animals (frank reese, patrick martins, bill and nicolette, michael pollan) have made huge strides in creating and furthering an alternative-meat industry in this country, and to ignore and disparage the work they have done for the past fifty years would be a travesty.

at one point, jsf tries to appeal to raw human emotion, saying that if you can't imagine eating your pet dog for dinner, you shouldn't be eating meat at all. i wish i had the book before me to quote it directly, but he says something to the effect of, "well, it sure would be a lot more sustainable to eat our pets than putting all of that energy and environmental input into raising meat animals. i mean, we're already feeding them all of that food anyway, right?"

uh. no.

what are most americans feeding their pets? i'm pretty sure it's meat by-product--the stuff from the slaughterhouses that humans won't touch. i'm pretty sure it consists mostly of GMO grains, takes plenty of environmental resources to produce and ship, and that its prohibitively expensive price makes it the opposite of sustainable. not to mention that presenting people with a completely irrational choice is a sort of ridiculous way to get them to think about eating sustainably. how about this option: instead of raising dogs at home to eat, what about raising chickens or rabbits?

i'm really riled up. i want everyone i know to read this book so that we can use it as a starting point for an intelligent discussion about food systems. i want people to read the stories about how turkeys, chickens, pigs and cattle are raised, killed and processed in this country. i want them to be disgusted, and be moved to work for change if for no other reason than out of self-interest. i want people to get riled up. i just don't think that becoming vegetarian or vegan is the only way.

i wrote to jsf the other day, and he wrote back--i think we'll agree to disagree respectfully, and engage in a serious discussion about what can be done. i'll let you know what the meantime, i'm gonna snuggle with these beagles as much as i can.