Words cannot express my relief at being out of the dark and threatening woods of Symbolic Literature and breathing freely again in the sunny meadow of Clever, Bleeding-Heart Investigative Journalism. This book is a thing of beauty and a joy to read forever.
The essential point of the book is to find out where, exactly, beef comes from. Driving past the big feedlot in Coalinga on I-5, which is how urban dwellers like me see cattle, doesn't explain how animals turn into hamburgers. Where are they born, how, who owns them, why, how are they traded and for how much, how fast do they grow, how are they treated, what are they like, what do they eat, how long do they live, who decides when they're going to be slaughtered, when is that anyway, where do they go then, under whose control, how, and what then? So the author, Peter Lovenheim, bought two calves and followed them "from conception to consumption".
Really. Conception. Slightly further back than that, even: he went to the artificial-insemination company that provided the semen that was used to impregnate the cow that gave birth to the calves, and he watched them collect it from the bull. This is a new, and impressive, definition of thorough. He just went right ahead and bought a pair of barn boots and spent two years driving back and forth between his urban home and the farms where his cattle were kept. If the farmers, milkers, cattle haulers, vets, auctioneers, buyers, inspectors, or absolutely anyone else did absolutely anything, he wrangled a way to see it and ask about it.
Despite that fact, it isn't an exposé. It's just a description. There aren't any tales of sneaking into barns and hiding in the hay to watch cackling farmers feeding rusty nails and chicken droppings to the cattle (moldy bagels, yes, but last I heard it was still legal to give expired bread products to cows). Breaking news: some people are nice to cows, and some people aren't so nice to cows. People with jobs involving manure and getting kicked in the knee by irritable animals three times their own size are essentially the same as people with jobs not involving manure and getting kicked in the knee by irritable animals three times their own size. The indignant meat-eschewer can still find things to be self-righteous about: domestication is by definition an unnatural state for cows, and I wouldn't really want to be fattened up and kept standing in my own shit either. Not an exposé, though; for that you'd want Fast Food Nation.
I read most of the book a few months ago, got distracted, and only recently picked it up again to finish it. Once I did, I remembered that it's a hard book to stop reading, and I went back to the beginning and read the whole damn thing over again. It's that good. I should probably buy my own copy so I can give the one I've got back to my sister, because I'm likely to want to pick it up and read it again. Consider it vehemently recommended.Posted by dianna at September 15, 2005 10:05 AM