I’m vegetarian. When I finished reading “Gristle: From Factory Farms to Food Safety (Thinking Twice About the Meat We Eat),” I wished I was a meat-eater just so that I could quit all over again. This book paints a compelling picture dotted with facts, statistics, charts and personal stories that really highlight the harmful effects of factory farming as it exists today. It is a collection of ten short, sharp essays about some of the major impacts of this industry in the following areas: health, environment, taxpayers, animals, climate change, children’s health, workers, communities, zoonotic diseases and global hunger. The contributors are a diverse set of people ranging from a triathlon competitor to a pig farmer, as well as the granddaughters of Cesar Chavez on the topic of worker impact. Each perspective is well-informed, balanced and passionate. The first thing I learned is that factory “farms” are not farms at all, but essentially factories, and the shift from biodiverse farming to industrialized agriculture has far-reaching and long-lasting impacts, that every person on earth needs to be aware of.
 I spoke with Miyun Park, executive director of the Global Animal Partnership and co-editor of “Gristle” with the musician and animal welfare activist, Moby.

What “Gristle” is…
 “A menu of options in bite-sized chunks for people to learn more about if they want to,” said Park. “So much of any industry is hidden from consumer awareness. And there are those who are interested and willing to take a deeper dive and learn more. That was the whole reason Moby and I wanted to put ‘Gristle’ out, to provide information in a fun and manageable way.”

What “Gristle” is Not…
 “A pitch for veganism or vegetarianism,” said Park. “Although people may choose to eat less or no meat after reading ‘Gristle,’ this book is really to inform consumers about the power their food dollars have, and how they can make informed choices.”
 Park said “Gristle” is also not, “An attack on industrialized agriculture. It’s too easy to say big is bad and small is good. That’s not always true either. What’s so interesting about industrial animal confinement agriculture is that by taking steps to improve animal welfare, it creates a positive impact on all these other pieces.”
 
 What I liked best about the book is that it suggests no single over-simplified solution, though it does clearly identify the core issue: intensive confinement practices for animals in agriculture, also known as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), according to the EPA. Did you know that “confined farm animals produce three times the amount of waste than is produced by all humans in the United States? One of the impacts of that are: manure cesspools overflowing and polluting water, massive deaths of fish from the toxins, health hazards to humans and other animals consuming that water, high costs of water purification, and noxious gases released from manure which contribute to making this industry the leading cause to global warming. Now if that doesn’t make you think twice about the meat you eat, I don’t know what will.
 
What are the most significant policy changes that can make a difference in animal welfare?
 “The greatest policy change we are seeking is a change in intensive confinement practices,” said Park. “If you ask people in any country, 9 out of 10, if not 10 out of 10, would be opposed to those kinds of inhumane practices where animals are so severely restricted in barren cages, crates, or pens, that they cannot engage in nearly any of their natural behavioral repertoire.”

 “We also need measures to level the playing field,” said Park. “There are so many government subsidies that are too often extended to only part of the agricultural community so the true costs of raising animals for meat production aren’t realized across the country or, indeed, around the globe. The book talks about this in more detail.”

Complexity
 “Unfortunately and embarrassingly, I saw the world in black and white for too long,” said Park. “It might have been easier, but I missed out on opportunities to truly make a difference. Living with blinders on is a danger that we see across the continuum, especially the folks at either end because that mindset doesn’t leave any room at all for exchange and dialogue. Bottom line is none of us has the sole answer. It’s only by working collaboratively and openly that we can actually make a difference.”

From a consumer perspective, if you asked people to make one change at an individual, day-to-day level that would have greatest impact, what would that be?

 “Remember that every single choice you make, every time you sit down to eat, whether at home or in a restaurant, you are approving or disapproving of certain practices. Be mindful of that. Use your food dollars wisely, and support practices that promote animal welfare.“

Final Thoughts
 “Every single one of these animals is a sentient being,” said Park. “They can suffer and feel pain and experience joy and desire. If we are going to continue to raise them and eat them, we have an obligation to them. As a producer or retailer, we also have a commitment to our customers. In so many countries, including here, there is a loud voice increasing in power saying there are some animal agriculture practices that are too inhumane to swallow.”

 Park said their goal here is to support the humane treatment of animals.
 “Whether we’re choosing our diet, or going on a diet, or trying to quit smoking, everything is a continuum,” continued Park. “We should be proud of ourselves for the good choices we make and encourage ourselves to do more of that.

 “As a former student of philosophy, I just try to be as consistent as possible in my choices. And, for me, trying to live by a certain life ethic means that I cannot differentiate being human and non-human animals where unnecessary suffering is concerned.”

 This book invokes in the reader a sense of power and responsibility to consume consciously. So go on and read “Gristle” so that you can inform yourself, your neighbors, friends, family, and co-workers.

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