Book Review: Project Animal Farm

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For most people, myself included, ignorance is bliss when it comes to meat. We prefer to pick up our vacuum wrapped cuts from the grocery stores with only a cursory thought to its journey there. So it was with some trepidation that I picked up Project Animal Farm by Sonia Faruqi. It’s the story of a Wall Street banker who followed her curiosity into the dark world of animal farming.

It’s a very personal journey and mainly anecdotal, which doesn’t take away from it; in fact it enhances the connection with the reader. But it also means the reader needs to be careful about broad generalizations from her stories. Her statements on Malaysia, for example, are quite different than my experience of that country. Nevertheless, she takes the reader through a large cross-section of the farming industry, across many countries all over the world, providing personal accounts of everything she witnessed.

Of course it comes as no surprise that current farming practices are downright unconscionable regarding animal welfare and it’s a real tragedy if you ask me. The factory farming industry is simply revolting. Unfortunately that’s where most of the food in our grocery stores come from.

One interesting thing to learn was that these farming practices are just as bad for society as they are for the animals. Public health is at risk due to increased communicable diseases and outbreaks, as well as the long-term threat of antibiotic resistance. Workers are at risk due to terrible working environments, being exposed to basically unbreathable air filled with ammonia. And the environment is at risk due to dumping of hormones and refuse, as well as carbon dioxide emissions. So even if you don’t care about animal welfare, you should be concerned about the side effects of this method of farming.

If you read this book, you’ll probably come away convinced that as a society we can, and should, do better. Why do we put up with it?

Wrap it in a nice package, it seems, and the consumer doesn’t care to look any deeper. What can be done? Faruqi has a few ideas.

1) Shop at farmer’s markets.

Right now our food chain is so far removed from the actual producers, that ignorance reigns while profit becomes the driving force. But if you source your food from someone local, whose farm you can visit if you choose to, and who you can ask questions directly.. then there’s a much better chance that farmer will be following good practices on their farm.

For the past few years I have been buying meat and vegetables from a CSA, whose farm I visit every week to collect my food, and let me tell you it’s a wonderful feeling!

2) Read the labels.

The following labels are useless:

Organic is one of the better labels when it comes to dairy and meat. It means the animals are mandated a minimum of 120 days per year outside, which is not much, but still much better than the requirements for non-organic (0 days).

3) Research

When you buy at the grocery store, do some basic research on the companies you usually buy from. Visit their website and email/call with questions:

As Faruqi says,

If you do not receive a reply, you will have your reply. This legwork is easier than it looks, because once you find a company you’re comfortable with, you can stay with them.

I’ll leave you with a final statement from Faruqi:

With every visit to a cash counter, we, consumers, cast votes for certain values over others. In democracies, politicians are beholden to their voters; in free-market economies, companies are beholden to their customers. It’s we who have immeasurable power, if only we choose to wield it. We must have opinions and we must express them loud and clear.