“Eating Animals – Eating Humanely”: A Roundtable Discussion

Submitted by Genevieve Bleidner '13 on March 20, 2011

Not many people think about the food on their plates before they eat it: where it comes from, how it was raised, and the processes that went into it before it ends up in the grocery store.

According to a panel of Fairfield University faculty who discussed the Jonathan Safran Foer book, Eating Animals – Eating Humanely on the evening of March 14, it is due to people’s grossly inadequate education about the food industry.

Dr. Dina Franceschi, Associate Professor of Economics, and Dr. Brian Walker, Associate Professor of Biology, gave their personal insight on how Fairfield’s Public Library “One Book One Town” book-of-the-year has affected their eating choices. Dr. Walker, a self-proclaimed carnivore, seemed to have been more affected by the tales of mistreated animals and unclean conditions featured in the book than Dr. Franceschi, a long-time vegetarian whose eating beliefs were strengthened with this new knowledge.

As Dr. Walker put it, “What I took home from Jonathan’s book is it’s about how these animals are raised…of course killing is killing, there’s nothing good about killing, but I’m not anti-meat, I’m anti- factory farming.”

Factory farming allows the most products to be produced in the cheapest way possible, whether it is meat, dairy, or fish. Unfortunately, this mass production goes hand in hand with mistreatment of animals and low quality, often nutritionally deficient food products.

For such a large part of daily life that affects not only the health of an individual but also the health of the world around us, it came as a surprise to learn that the average American spends less than 10 percent of their disposable income on food.

According to both Drs. Franceschi and Walker, saving time and money are the culprits. However, it is becoming clear that people are interested in finding quality, locally grown and sustainably raised sources of food, especially when it comes to meat.

As each panelist said, it is cheaper economically to spend as little as possible on food that is mass produced and readily available, but it is costly in terms of the subsequent pollution of our environment and health issues created through this “cheap” food alternative.

The biggest problem is how to move away from the comfort of factory farming and dismantle mass agriculture. Part of this problem is how to get people to make conscious efforts to buy sustainably in an affordable way.

Dr. Franceschi offered a solution. She said “Creating local markets that can continue to grow and expand and getting consumers to make decisions that can lead us in a trend towards better eating habits will eventually give producers signals, cutting down the mass production and promoting sustainable, local sources,” she said.

Change can happen, but it doesn’t have to happen overnight. Baby steps such as cutting out meat once a week, or making the effort to visit farmer’s markets, are ways in which individuals can start this change towards a better future for food production, better treatment of livestock, and greater awareness about what exactly happens to the food we put on our dinner plates.

As audience member Beth McTigue of Fairfield put it, “As long as conversations like this are happening in which people are voicing their concerns, we’re heading in the right direction. We each have a vote – in shopping, who are legislators are – and if we speak up we’ll move in the right direction, because chickens and cows don’t have a voice but we do.”

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