Eating Animals and The Last Turkey Sandwich

Eating_AnimalsWe get to Powells early and mostly out of boredom. There was nothing on television and we had already taken the elevator up to The Portland Grill to walk through the restaurant and get a good look at the nighttime view. It was as beautiful, lit up, as you might imagine it to be. These urban landscapes never fail to awe me when their lights go on and block out the stars, cars like little twinkly ants in a line.

We go to the bookstore to hear a famous author speak some words. I know he’s famous because I recognize the covers of his books even though I haven’t read them yet. Everything is Illuminated sits on a shelf at home gathering dust and I feel guilty just looking at it. I know he’s famous but I didn’t recognize his name until it was there in print: Jonathan Safran Foer. The Rare Books room gets crowded quickly and we are one of the lucky who end up with chairs. Of course, there is a tall moving shifting adjusting man in front of me blocking my view, as there always seems to be. They find me in theatres, at concerts and in lectures. Probably there would be one in front of me blocking the flight attendant as she showed us how to adjust our face masks on that one plane that ended up crashing. I am a magnet for these men.

Still, I get glimpses of him, Jonathan Safran Foer, when the man leans left and I shift my body quickly to the right. He’s shorter than I thought he would be. He has a closely trimmed beard and glasses that he pushes up his nose once or twice through the talk. He cracks jokes and I laugh along with the crowd. I think about how he looks like a guy I had a crush on in High School but never talked to. I think about how he sounds like a guy I have a crush on now but won’t act on. I think about how I’d been writing articles about factory farming back in first year university and how long it takes the world to take a cause mainstream. I think about how easy it is to forget how much you care about something if you don’t make yourself look at it dead in the face. I think about how much I love cheeseburgers and then feel guilty for it.

He’s so articulate. He thinks carefully before answering each question and he doesn’t shy away from the subject at all. A few angry vegans pipe up as the angry vegans sometimes do and he pats their heads with his words and makes omnivores like me feel better for trying. It’s unrealistic to expect us all to change over night but it is something to be proud of, dammit, to take baby steps in the right direction. I don’t even like red meat, much. It won’t be hard to give up. The chicken will be harder but I could probably do it if I made myself. Not even fish is safe anymore. The law is changing to veil us from how our food comes to us, neatly packaged in the supermarket. Shit, it’s all a giant lying machine like it always is. Doesn’t help to buy organic or free-range or cage-free because what does it mean really? It’s unregulated and basically functioning on the honour system, taking advantage of all of us do-good consumers.

He’s careful to list the exceptions. The farmers who take seriously their line of work, who take pride in what they do. The farmers who would gladly take you to their farms and show you the way they make a living. The farmers who don’t keep consumers out with barbed wire and guard dogs and shady legislation. It all comes down to knowing where the food you put in your body comes from. If it is meat from an animal fit to graze the food it likes, able to reproduce, able to touch the ground and see the sky, able to move or turn around… or if it is meat from an animal that has its limbs cut off and beak filed down, an animal in a cage so small it can’t move, an animal stuffed full of antibiotics on every day it exists, an animal that never knows the land or the sky but only bars and machinery. If you don’t see where it comes from then odds are it doesn’t come from the happy times farm.

Hell, if that doesn’t make you think twice about gobbling down the food that we do there is always the environment to consider. Factory farming being the biggest source of pollution. Or, if you don’t give two shits about the environment which let’s face it some people don’t, you probably at least don’t want to get swine flu right? Guess where that came from? Yeah, good ol’ factory farms; the petri dish of America.

I’m not an angry vegan, yet. I am a meat-eating enthusiast. I’ll BBQ with the best of them, so long as a fire extinguisher is nearby. But, I can’t continue to live like I don’t care because I do. I’ve cared for years, Foer just reminded me of all the things I already knew. I left the bookstore ashamed at myself for becoming one of those people who forgot their actions mattered. Who lived with eyes shaded thinking my actions are so small, so insignificant that they can’t possible register on any real scale. Foer didn’t point fingers but he sure as hell shamed me and I’m better for it. I hope he shamed every other person in that room, too.

Today we finished up the turkey slices that were in the fridge. We made sandwiches, loading them up with tomato slices and lettuce, a sprinkling of cheese. and three different condiments. I ate it propped up in front of the television to see what crazy hijinks those Flash Forward kids would get up to this week. I ate it and washed the dishes and listened to some music and then sat down to write this and I didn’t even realize until this paragraph that it was my last turkey sandwich. But, it was.

And that is the power of one quiet man’s words on an otherwise unremarkable Wednesday night.

Jonathan Safran Foer’s book trailer.

Jonathan Safran Foer on Ellen the same day of the reading I saw! And holy Ellen, I love cheeseburgers, too.

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15 thoughts on “Eating Animals and The Last Turkey Sandwich”

  1. I regret to inform you that, if you ever visit the Philadelphia area and attend a cultural event, I will invariably be the tall, shifting, adjusting guy in front of you.

    Sorry in advance.

  2. I saw him on Ellen yesterday and bought the book last night!
    (another example that we really are one soul in two bodies)

    1. I thought of that when I was writing this. I also wondered how hard it would be to sneak an egg-laying hen or two into my backyard when I get home… me thinks it might be tough.

      1. This is how the whole thing started, you know that, right? Someone was outraged at the food industry and decided to smuggle chickens into their backyard. How did they do it? In boxes. And when they realized how convenient it was to keep chickens in boxes? They kept them there. They made the boxes smaller. They ground down the chicken’s beaks to keep them from pecking each other in their tiny environs. And that brings us to present day. It’s a vicious cycle with good intentions, dating back to the dawn of time. And now it starts again…

        I just watched a Glenn Beck impersonation. Can you tell?

  3. Beautifully written.

    I have “EII” on my shelf, too. Equally unread. I’ve tried it, but never been in the mood so far.

    I don’t know if I have the strength to go veggie, though. I commend the effort, however far it goes.

    1. I always buy books with good intentions but it’s true that you have to have a specific mood to read a specific book and that doesn’t come around very often. Still, I feel guilty when I think about all the books I SHOULD be reading.

      Again with the whole vegetarian thing. I have good intentions. We’ll see how far I can take it. Maybe I’ll be an angry vegan someday… never know.

  4. Ah I’m so jealous! He is one of my all-time favorite authors. You absolutely must read his work. I know you would like it. Also his wife wrote one of my favorite books as well, “The History of Love,” which only makes me love them collectively more. Aren’t accidental nights like this the best!?

    On a related note, I’ve been reading excerpts from his book and have been looking forward to picking it up. A single chapter alone was enough to make me re-think my entire diet. I love cheeseburgers too, but I’m trying hard to phase it all out.

  5. I’m so thrilled to hear that you went and that he made such an impression. I have a friend in Los Angeles who will be seeing him this weekend. She’s a hardcore vegetarian and the two of us have been following Foer’s work for awhile.

    I was vegetarian for almost ten years. Then I started having The Craving and I gave in. I try to eat meat as mindfully as possible. I only buy well treated, grass fed, farm raised, etc. etc. And, in general, I feel okay about it.

    Are you planning on reading the book? I’d love to hear what you think. Great post, as always…

  6. Ok I am really jealous that you got to see this guy talk! Everything is illuminated and Extremely loud and incredibly close are two of my most favorite books ever. You must read them!!! I have really been wanting to read Eating Animals, and now it’s next on my list.

  7. Your food choices do have an impact; but going vegan or veggie doesn’t even touch the problem of synthetic produce that the author complains of. (Ignoring for a moment that we are not a vegetarian species.)

    Google Haber-Bosch. (You’re a synthetic person. 🙂 )

    The real dilemma is that the planet cannot sustain the current population without synthetics. (Mind, I do agree that processed food is hinkey; I just think that the claim that angry vegans are more natural is funny. )

  8. The thing about honor systems if you have to join in and believe in the honor of others or it all falls apart. Some people will, always, cheat. But some won’t. If we assume the worst is dominant, it will become dominant.

    So, I buy cage-free 😉

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