Vegan Hobbit / Mentor
Joined: 06 Dec 2002
Location: San Mateo coastside
|Posted: Sun Jun 04, 2006 11:48 am Post subject: 8/20 The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter
|We will be reading the newest Singer/Mason book for the August book selection, The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter.
It's available most likely in your bookstore or at Amazon -
Here is an interesting email all about it from DawnWatch.
Peter Singer, author of Animal Liberation, and Jim Mason, who co-authored with Singer the 1980 book "Animal Factories," have a new co-written book out on food, titled "The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter." (In Australia it is titled "The Ethics of What we Eat.")
It is aimed not at animal rights activists, but at the general public, and gives an entertaining and highly informative overview of what is behind dinner. You'll find information about it, and some reviews, at http://tinyurl.com/qdmds where you can also purchase it (for $16.35).
You can hear an Air America interview with Peter Singer about the book, as part of Mother Jones magazine radio, on line at http://www.motherjones.com/radio/2006/05/singer_bio.html. It includes some fascinating information.
Peter Singer's portion of the show starts at 18:15.
And Mother Jones has a web interview with Peter Singer at http://www.motherjones.com/interview/2006/04/peter_singer.html
The online magazine "Salon" also has an interview with Singer. It is on line at http://www.salon.com/books/int/2006/05/08/singer/index_np.html
At the bottom of the page is a place where you can post a letter about the article, and you can read the other letters that have been posted.
Melbourne's daily newspaper, The Age, published an except from the book last week (May 1 -- a particularly fun section about freeganism, or dumpster diving for food. It is headed, "Food for Nought." You can read it on line at http://tinyurl.com/ethhp
And this weekend, Australia's national paper, The Weekend Australian, published a favorable review of the book. The review is informative and insightful, and I will paste it below. Aussies might wish to respond with a letter, about what we eat, to the Australian at http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/files/aus_letters.htm
May 20, 2006 Saturday
REVIEW; Books; Pg. 14
Chew on this
Peter Singer's new book is a cerebral Super Size Me, writes Stephen Romei
The Ethics of What We Eat
By Peter Singer and Jim Mason
Text Publishing, 303pp, $32.95
LET'S start with some good news: the consumption of veal -- calves separated from their mothers a few days after birth and slaughtered about three months later -- has fallen to about a quarter of what it was 30 years ago.
While this remains extremely bad news for the calves concerned, it's good news in a broader sense because it shows attitudes to what we eat can change dramatically. Many carnivores refuse to eat veal, drawing the line at the suffering involved in rendering a baby cow into a wiener schnitzel.
Another example: in several European countries, free-range eggs outsell eggs from caged hens, and two British supermarket chains, Marks & Spencer and Waitrose, stock only the free-range variety. It may take another 50 years but the end of the battery hen industry, which accounts for 85 per cent of eggs produced in Australia, is a real possibility.
And it's not just about animals. Sales of fair-trade coffee and chocolate are booming as increasing numbers of consumers decide it's worth paying more to ensure their simple pleasures are not produced by slave labour.
Consumer education is at the heart of such shifts -- it's said that if abattoirs were made of glass, not even Sam Neill could save the meat industry -- and Australian philosopher Peter Singer has been at the forefront of that effort since his 1975 book Animal Liberation.
The Ethics of What We Eat is a less harrowing read than that landmark tract. Singer and his co-author Jim Mason, a lawyer, animal rights advocate and vegan who grew up on a farm in the US, do not judge or preach; they accept that for many people, for many reasons, ethical considerations do not loom large when deciding how to feed their families.
Although there are some descriptions of the extreme animal cruelty that is the hourly reality of factory farming, Singer and Mason by and large holster the stun gun. That ground has been well covered, including by the authors in their 1980 book Animal Factories, and more recently by George W. Bush's former speechwriter Matthew Scully in the superb Dominion (St Martin's Press, 2002). Perhaps Singer and Mason believe public opinion slowly is turning against factory farming and that gentle persuasion -- in the form of information -- is what is most needed.
Even so, I must contest their use of the word ''humane'' when discussing ways of raising and slaughtering animals. It's not more humane to decapitate a chicken rather than scald it to death (as happens all too often in factory farming); it's just less cruel.
That complaint aside, this is an accessible and well-researched book, with extensive footnotes for readers who want to check the authors' sources for themselves or learn more about the topics discussed.
''Food choices are only one aspect of what people do and not a sufficient basis for judging their moral character,'' Singer and Mason write. ''Indeed, since food ethics has been such a neglected topic in our culture, it is quite likely that otherwise good people are making bad choices in this area simply because they have not really focused on it, or do not have access to information they need to make good choices.''
They also emphasise that there is not one right way and that compromises are understandable, that ''you can be ethical without being fanatical''. This approach is sensible -- animal rights extremists turn people off -- and an acknowledgment of the complexity of the terrain.
Take free-range eggs, which have such a feel-good factor, yet male chicks suffer the same fate on free-range farms as on battery operations: they are killed immediately.
Singer, who moved to the US in 1999 to become professor of bioethics at Princeton University, and Mason cleverly humanise their story by looking at food ethics through the shopping and eating habits of three American families.
The options available to them and the choices they make will be familiar to Australian readers. For good measure, most chapters also contain specific discussion of the comparable situation in Australia.
Here the news is mixed: Australian standards on animal welfare and environmental protection are better in many respects but there is vast room for improvement. And we have some peculiarly home-grown problems, such as the joeys left to die of thirst and hunger when their mothers are shot to become trendy steaks and cat food. Singer and Mason estimate three million joeys have suffered this fate in the past decade.
This is a more obvious example of the hidden costs of food production that can complicate our choices. Many people consider eating roo an ethical decision -- the animals are plentiful, live in their natural habitat and are killed quickly -- but will learning about the little Skippies change their minds?
Similarly, say you like chicken and are indifferent to the welfare of the birds. Might you nevertheless reconsider buying factory-farmed drumsticks if you knew the waste discharged by the plant means people living nearby ''can't enjoy being in their yard because of the flies and have to keep their windows shut because of the stench ... [that] kids can't swim in the local streams [and] their drinking water is polluted''?
Even more taxing, say you have $1 to spend on coffee beans and the choice is between a local producer who will receive the whole dollar and a Kenyan grower who will receive 2c in the dollar. Singer and Mason have a surprising suggestion.
There is no doubt that consumer attitudes towards food are shifting, not least for health reasons. In the US, the Whole Foods Market chain, which specialises in organic produce, is a Fortune 500 company, with 180 stores and an annual turnover of $US5billion.
Founder John Mackey, who started with one store in Texas in 1978, predicts factory farming will be illegal in the US within 20 years.
In Australia, Pierce Cody, who made his fortune in outdoor advertising, has big expansion plans for his Macro Wholefoods supermarket business.
The publicity guff compares this book with Morgan Spurlock's anti-McDonald's documentary Super Size Me. But Singer and Mason operate on a higher plane, and don't resort to vomiting on their pages to make a point.
Irrespective of where you stand on ethical eating -- and, as Singer and Mason point out, most people don't stand anywhere because they have not thought about it -- this book will provide, yes, here it comes, serious food for thought.
Peter Singer will be a guest of the Sydney Writers Festival, which starts on Monday.
(END OF WEEKEND AUSTRALIAN REVIEW)
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