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SafranFoer-Thanksgiving - Also by Jonathan Safran Foer...

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Unformatted text preview: Also by Jonathan Safran Foer : Eating A" i m a I 5 Jonathan Safran Foer Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close Everything Is Illuminated @0 Little, Brown and Company NewYork Boston London 07001 7. The Last Thanksgiving of My Childhood THROUGHOUT MY CHILDHOOD, WE CELEBRATED Thanksgiving at my uncle and aunt’s house. My uncle, my mother’s younger brother, was the first person on that side of the family to be born on this side of the Atlantic. My aunt can trace her lineage back to the Mayflower. That unlikely pairing of histories was no small part of what made those Thanksgivings so special, and memorable, and, in the very best sense of the word, American. We would arrive around two o’clock. The cousins would play football on the sloping sliver of a front yard until my little brother got hurt, at which point we would head up to the attic to play foot- ball on the various video game systems. Two floors beneath us, Maverick salivated at the stove’s window, my father talked politics and cholesterol, the Detroit Lions played their hearts out on an unwatched TV, and my grandmother, surrounded by her family, thought in the language of her dead relatives. Two dozen or so mismatched chairs circumscribed four tables of slightly different heights and widths, pushed together and covered in matching cloths. No one was fooled into thinking this setup was perfect, but it was. My aunt placed a small pile of popcorn kernels on each plate, which, in the course of the meal, we were supposed , to transfer to the table as symbols of things we were thankful for. Dishes came out continuously; some went clockwise, some counter, _, role, homemade rolls, green beans with almonds, cranberry con— 1 coctions, yams, buttery mashed potatoes, my grandmother’s wildly EATING ANlMALS kugel, trays of gherkins and olives and marinated d a cartoonishly large turkey that had been put st year’s was taken out. We talked and talked: (1 Redskins, changes in the neighborhood, d the anguish of others (our own anguish e while, my grandmother would go from king sure no one was starving. hat encompasses all others. All of ay to Arbor Day to Christmas nother about being thankful. cular thing we are thank— but what the Pilgrims re of the holiday until American holiday, it-—we aren’t cel- makes it avail« nts beyond incongruous mushrooms, an in the oven when la about the Orioles an our accomplishments, an was off-limits), and all th grandchild to grandchild, ma Thanksgiving is the holiday t them, from Martin Luther King. D to Valentine’s Day, are in one way or 3 But Thanksgiving is freed from any parti ful for. We aren’t celebrating the Pilgrims, celebrated. (The Pilgrims weren’t even a featu the late nineteenth century.) Thanksgiving is an but there’s nothing specifically American about America, but American ideals. Its openness ne who feels like expressing thanks, and poi and the commercialization, ulders of ebrating able to anyo the crimes that made America possible, kitsch, and jingoism that have been heaved onto the sho the holiday. Thanksgiving is t ble. Of course most of u every day, and of course 5 regularity, and how many of u extended families every single ni have to eat with myself.) But it’s 11 deliberate. Of the thousand—or—so m giving dinner is the one that we try m holds the hope of being a good meal, who ting, and consuming are expressions of th other meal, it is about good eating and goo he meal we aspire for other meals to resem— 5 can’t (and wouldn’t want to) cook all day uch food would be fatal if consumed with 5 really want to be surrounded by our ght? (It can be challenge enough to ice to imagine all meals being so eals we eat every year, Thanks- ost earnestly to get right. It 36 ingredients, efforts, set-‘ e best in us. More than any d thinking. 248 Storytelling . And more than any other food, the Thanksgiving turkey embod- ies the paradoxes of eating animals: what we do to living turke s i yust about as bad as anything humans have ever done to an aniym l in the history of the world. Yet what we do with their deal; bod'a can feel so powerfully good and right. The Thanksgivin turke lets the flesh of competing instincts—of remembering and fcfgrgettiny 15 ll’m writing these final words a few days before Thanksgiving- I live in New York now and only rarely—at least accordin to mg. grandmother— get back to DC. No one who was young isg ouny anymore. Some of those who transferred kernels to the talile arg gone. An: there are new family members. (I am now we.) As if th: musrc ' ' ’ of thisaeridfrlg3:31;:2jn:1::thday parties were preparation for all This will be the first year we celebrate in my home the first tim Iwfll prepare the food, and the first Thanksgiving fneal at wh' lei myson will be old enough to eat the food the rest of us eat If tlic' entire book could be decanted into a single question—not som IS thing easy, loaded, or asked in bad faith, but a question that full- captured the problem of eating and not eating animals—it ' hy be this: Should we serve turkey at Thanksgiving? mlg t 2. What Do Turkeys Have to Do with ' Thanksgiving? WHAT I s ADDED BY HAVING a turkey on the Thanksgiving tableD , S/laybe it tastes good, but taste isn’t the reason it’s there —most people on t eat very much turkey throughout the year. (Thanksgiving Day 249 EATING ANIMALS mption.) And despite accounts for 18 percent of annual turkey consu Thanksgiving is not the pleasure we take in eating vast amounts, about being gluttonousmit is about the opposite. Perhaps the turkey is there because it is fundamental to the ritual—- it is how we celebrate Thanksgiving. Why? Because Pilgrims might have eaten it at their first Thanksgiving? It’s more likely that they didn’t. We know that they didn’t have corn, apples, potatoes, or cranberries, and the only two written reports from the legendary Thanksgiving at Plymouth mention venison and Wildfowl. Though they ate wild turkey, we know that the turkey wasn’t made part of the l the nineteenth century. And historians have now discov— ered an even earlier Thanksgiving than the 1621 Plymouth celebration historians made famous. Half a century before that English—American Plymouth, early American settlers celebrated Thanksgiving with the Timucua Indians in what is now Flo that the settlers were Catholic rather than Protestant, ish rather than English. They dined on bean soup. But let’s just make believe that the Pilgrims inve were eating turkey. Putting aside the obvious it’s conceivable that ritual unti giving and the Pilgrims did many that we want to do many t about as much in common with have eaten as does the ever—punch our Thanksgiving tables is an animal tha or saw the sky until it was packed away for slau our forks is an animal that was incapable of reproducin our bellies is a ics of our birds ar seen into the future, what our table? Without exaggeration, recognized it as a turkey. 250 rida—the best evidence suggests and spoke Span- things that we wouldn’t want to do now (and- hings they didn’t), the turkeys we eat have- the turkeys the Pilgrims might Flined tofurkey. At the center of- t never breathed fresh air ghter. At the end of n animal with antibiotics in its belly. The very geneté' e radically different. If the Pilgrims could have" would they have thought of the turkey 0 it’s unlikely that they would ha Storytelling And what would happen if there were no turkey? Would the tra- dition be broken, or injured, if instead of a bird we simply had the sweet potato casserole, homemade rolls, green beans with almonds cranberry concoctions, yams, buttery mashed potatoes, pumpkiri and pecan pies? Maybe we could add some Timucuan bean soup It’s not so hard to imagine it. See your loved ones around the table: Hear the sounds, smell the smells. There is no turkey. Is the holiday undermined? Is Thanksgiving no longer Thanksgiving? Or w0uld Thanksgiving be enhanced? Would the choice not to eat turkey be a more active way of celebrating how thankful we feel? Try to imagine the conversation that would take place. This is why aurfizmz'ly celebrates this way. Would such a conversation feel dis-v appointing or inspiring? Would fewer or more values be transmit- ted? Would the joy be lessened by the hunger to eat that particular animal? Imagine your family’s Thanksgivings after you are gone when the question is no longer “Why don’t we eat this?” but the more obvious one: “Why did they ever?” Can the imagined gaze of future generations shame us, in Kafka’s sense of the word into remembering? , The secrecy that has enabled the factory farm is breaking down The three years I spent writing this book, for example, saw the first documentation that livestock contribute more to global warming than anything else; saw the first major research institution (the Pew (Sommission) recommend the total phaseout of multiple dominant intenswe—confinement practices; saw the first state (Colorado) ille~ gallze common factory farm practices (gestation and veal crates) as a result of negotiations with industry (rather than campaigns against industry); saw the first supermarket chain of any kind (Whole . oods) commit to a systematic and extensive program of animal wel- 1' are labeling; and saw the first major national newspaper (the New ”Yer/e limes) editorialize against factory farming as a whole, arguing 251 EATING ANIMALS Storytelling that “animal husbandry has been turned into animal abuse,” and book Slaughterhouse. Researched over a ten—year period, it is filled “ nure has been turned into toxic waste.” with interviews with workers who, Combine d, represent more than ma ... When Celia Steele raised that first flock of confined chicks, sh could not have foreseen the effects of her actions. When Charles two million hours of slaughterhouse experience; no work of investi- gative journalism on the topic is as comprehensive. Vantress crossed a red—feathered Cornish and a New Hampshire to produce the 1946 “Chicken of Tomorrow,” the ancestor of today s factory broilers, he could not have comprehended what he was con- tributing to. . We can’t plead ignorance, only indifference. Those alive today are the generations that came to know better. We have the burden :: and the opportunity of living in the moment when the critique of factory farming broke into the popular consciousness. We are the :' ones of whom it will be fairly asked, What did you do when you learned the truth about eating animals? 3. The Truth About Eating Animals SINCE 2000 — AFTER TEMPLE GRANDIN reported improvement. in. slaughterhouse conditions—workers have been documented usm‘gv. poles like baseball bats to hit baby turkeys, stomping on chickens to: watch them “pop,” beating lame pigs with metal pipes, and know " ingly dismembering fully conscious cattle. One needn’t rely' on: undercover videos by animal rights organizations to know of these atrocities—although they are plentiful and sufficient. I could‘hav filled several books—an encyclopedia of cruelty—with worke testimonials. . . hp Gail Eisnitz comes close to creating such an encyclopedia in 252 One time the knocking gun was broke all day, they were taking a knife and cutting the back of the cow’s neck open while he’s still standing up. They would just fall down and be ashaking. And they stab cows in the butt to make ’em move. Break their tails. They beat them so bad. .. .And the cow be crying with its tongue stuck out. This is hard to talk about. You’re under all this stress, all this pressure. And it really sounds mean, but I’ve taken [electric] prods and stuck them in their eyes. And held them there. Down in the blood pit they say that the smell of blood makes you aggressive. And it does. You get an attitude that if that hog kicks at me, I’m going to get even. You’re already going to kill the hog, but that’s not enough. It has to suffer....You go in hard, push hard, blow the windpipe, make it drown in its own blood. Split its nose. A live hog would be running around the pit. It would just be looking up at me and I’d be sticking, and I would just take my knife and—eerk—cut its eye out while it was just sitting there. And this hog would just scream. One time I took my knife—it’s sharp enough—and I sliced off the end of a hog’s nose, just like a piece of bologna. The hog went crazy for a few seconds. Then it just sat there looking kind of stupid. So I took a handful of salt brine and ground it into his nose. Now that hog really went nuts, pushing its nose all over the place. I still had a bunch of salt left on my hand—I was wearing a rubber glove—and I stuck the salt right up the hog’s ass. The poor hog didn’t know whether to shit or go blind. ...I wasn’t 253 EATING ANIMALS Storytelling the only guy doing this kind of stuff. One guy I work with actu— ally chases hogs into the scalding tank. And everybody—hog drivers, shacklers, utility mend-uses lead pipes on hogs. Every~ body knows it, all of it. Just how common do such savageries have to be for a decent per- son to be unable to overlook them? If you knew that one in one thousand food animals suffered actions like those described above, would you continue to eat animals? One in one hundred? One in . ten? Toward the end of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan . writes, “I have to say there is a part of me that envies the moral clarity of the vegetarian. . . .Yet part of me pities him, too. Dreams of innocence are just that; they usually depend on a denial of real- ity that can be its own form of hubris.” He’s right that emotional These statements are disturbingly representative of what Eisnitz discovered in interviews. The events described are not sanctioned by industry, but they should not be regarded as uncommon. Undercover investigations have consistently revealed that farm: workers, laboring under what Human Rights Watch describes as “systematic human rights violations,” have often let their frustra—Q tions loose on farmed animals or simply suCCumbed to the demand I of supervisors to keep slaughter lines moving at all costs and with“ out second thoughts. Some workers clearly are sadistic in the literal. sense of that term. But I never met such a person. The several ddzen; workers I met were good people, smart and honest people doing their best in an impossible situation. The responsibility lies with th , mentality of the meat industry that treats both animals and “huma , ' capital” like machines. One worker put it this way: ‘ The worst thing, worse than the physical danger, is the emotional - ‘ toll. If you work in the stick pit for any period of time, you develop- an attitude that lets you kill things but doesn’t let you care. You . may look a hog in the eye that’s walking around down in the blood pit with you and think, God, that really isn’t a bad-looking ’ ‘OW much? Reviewing the most recent audit 0f chicken slaughter animal. You may want to pet it. Pigs down on the kill floor have. Onducted by the National Chicken Council, Grandin found that come up and nuzzled me like a puPpy- Two minutes later I had . 6 percent of slaughterhouses had abuses so severe they should have to kill them—beat them to death with a pipe....When I worked ‘ '1 ed. (The industry itself, disturbingly, found the audit results upstairs taking hogs’ guts out, I could cop an attitude that I was , ‘erfectly acceptable and gave all plants a pass even when live birds working on a production line, helping to feed people. But down , ' in the stick pit I wasn’t feeding people. I was killing things. Storytelling EATING ANIMALS . ethical—meat advocate who is serious is going to be eating a lot of vegetarian fare. of the slaughterhouses had abuses so severe that they automatically ' failed her audit (“hanging a sensible animal on the rail” is given asa paradigmatic example of the kind of abuse that dictates an automatic failure). In recent surveys, Grandin witnessed a worker dismem— bering a fully conscious cow, cows waking up on the-bleed r311, and workers “poking cows in the anus area with an electric prod. What , went on when she was not looking? And what about the vast majority of plants that don’t open their doors to audits in the first‘place? boycott have been if the pmtesters had used the bus When it became Farmers have lost—have had taken from them—a direct, human inconvenient mm to? HOW effective WOUld a Strike be if workers I announced they WOUId go back to Work as soon as it became dif- . ficult to strike? If anyone finds in this book encouragement to buy ._ some meat from alternative sources While buying factory farm meat 'I as well, they have found something that isn’t here. ' ‘ ’ i-. relationship with their work. Increasingly, they don t own the an ' ' ’ 1 their mals, can’t determine their methods, arent a110wed to app y wisdom, and have no alternative to high—speed industrial slaugh- ter. The factory model has estranged them not only from how they labor (hack, chop, saw, stick, lop, cut), but what they produce ((118: gusting, unhealthy food) and how the product is sold (anonymousl and cheaply). Human beings cannot be human (much less humane h h It’s the busers. For some, the decision to eschew factory—farmed products under the conditions Of a factory farm or slang ter ouse. ‘ will be easy. For others, the decision will be a hard one. To those for whom it sounds like a hard decision (I would have counted 'myself in this group), the ultimate question is whether it is worth "the inconvenience. We know, at least, that this decision will help prevent deforestation, curb global warming, ” ' ' ' . Unless most perfect workplace alienation in the world right now you consider what the animals experience. 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? 4. The American Table hical eat? WE SHOULDN’T KID OURSELVES ABOUT the number of et - ' Setting aside the direct material changes initiated by Opting - - ' . There isn’t enou h nonfactor-y _ _ . _ _ mg 0Pt10n5 available to mOSt 0f us g out of the factory farm system, the deCiSion to eat With such delib— erateness would itself be a force with enormous potential. What nd of world would we create if three times a day We activated our chicken produced in America to feed the population of Staten Island“ and not enough nonfactory pork to serve New York City, let alon the country. Ethical meat is a promissory note, not a reality. An 257 EATING ANIMALS compassion and reason as we sat down to eat, if we had the moral imagination and the pragmatic will to change our most fundamenn ‘ tal act of consumption? Tolstoy famously argued that the existence of slaughterhouses and battlefields is linked. Okay, we don’t fight wars because we eat meat, and some wars should be fought—which is not to mention that Hitler was a vegetarian. But compassion is a muscle that gets stronger with use, and the regular exercise of choosing kindness over cruelty would change us. It might sound naive 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 19505 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 if you were told in the early 19705, before César Chavez’s workers’ rights cam— ‘ paigns, that refusing to eat grapes could begin to free farmwork— ers from slave—like c0nditions. 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 f...
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