On the Existence of Bookstores & Animals

Long live the tiny neighborhood bookstore. In many places outside of major cities, small bookstores are a thing of the past. Remember You’ve Got Mail? Meg Ryan closes up her mother’s family bookstore, no longer being able to compete with megastores like those owned by Tom Hanks. Meg finds love but not all small business owners are that lucky. Big box stores, Amazon and the rise of e-books have pushed increased volume and cut prices to successfully diminish the hand-to-hand book selling business. 

In Hoboken, among the fast food windows and college-style bars, there are not one but TWO bookstores. Symposia, a bookstore and community center, is located right on main Washington Street. Rows of books are lined up on the sidewalk displays and I’m guilty of having stopped a number of times to run my fingers over worn titles as if recounting names of old friends. Only after doing a quick Google search, I realized that Symposia is also a “public benefit nonprofit corporation organized and operated exclusively for educational and charitable purposes.” What’s not to love? And it was in this bookstore where my mother found a gently used copy of Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals.

I had successfully avoided reading Eating Animals since its release in 2009 while I was a sophomore in college. The title itself seemed aggressive, like a vegan was screaming at me from a megaphone, “Do you see that girl Katelyn? She’s EATING ANIMALS!” With all my sustainability classes focuses in biology, ethics, and philosophy, I couldn’t stomach yet another example of how humanity was royally screwing up the planet.

And then, last month, my mom harmlessly slid the green cover across the lunch table and said, “I just walked into that little bookstore right across the street and HAD to get you this. Have you read it?”

 

So here I am, halfway through the book, completely immersed. Jonathan Safran Foer is a fiction writer who set out to answer a personal question, “What should I feed my kid?” His question is so simple and so without an agenda that the reader cannot help but grab his extended hand and follow along. I won’t go through his quest or quote his many gasp-inducing statistics about the process of eating animals except to say that he seemed to wrestle with the same questions that were rolling around inside my own head.

As I read Eating Animals (on the subway, in the lunch room), I can’t help but think about the path that led us from a hunting and gathering society to one of mass produced factory farms. We have grown exponentially in population and our appetite for all types of delicious beef, pork, chicken and turkey have grown beyond comprehension. We want cheap meat all the time and have found a solution to satisfy our needs (wants). Today, we would be physically unable to eat the quantity of meat we do if animals were raised and killed in the methods from a century ago. Small barns to factory lots. Store front to big box stores.

Like the meat industry, I wonder if we have subconsciously chosen “factory farmed literature” over small independent booksellers. Internet giants like Amazon have indeed cut into profits from the likes of Barnes and Noble and Borders (RIP). To my immense surprise, it seems these smaller bookstores are making a vibrant and profitable comeback. Once again, the reader is seeking a community they can see and books they can feel with their own hands. 

“The independent stores will never be more than a niche business of modest sales and very modest profitability. But the same is true for many small businesses, which makes them no less vital…” Zarchary Karabell, Slate

Customers are consciously choosing to walk into a small bookstore and buy a new find, before devouring each physical page with a hunger and need for the written word. I fear this connection and active voting with both our minds and our wallets will not translate over to another industry that has grown much beyond proportion and comprehension. The average American eats 21,000 entire animals in her lifetime. Our insatiable American appetite is fueled by two day shipping, cheap books and cheaper meat.

But at what cost. 

 

 

Advertisements
Quote

Less Meat and More Questions

It’s been just over 5 months since I’ve embarked on my vegetarian quest. While this may not be particularly impressive to many, it is my personal record regarding non-meat eating and this record gets longer with each passing day. Frustration, not cravings, remind me of my new diet plan when everything appetizing on a dinner menu contains beef pieces or chicken broth. And I find this thought interesting. If a vegetarian eats meat, does he or she have to start from scratch? Do “true” vegetarians frown upon those who sneak the occasional spare rib or chicken wing?

Jonathan Safran Foer’s book Eating Animals attempts to wrestle with these issues on a larger scale. The book idea originated with the author’s desire to know what meat really was, a question not dissimilar from my own. Foer does not lecture or preach the benefits of vegetarianism, mostly because he is still unsure of exactly what it means to be part of the meat producing/selling/buying/cooking/eating industry.

[Eating animals] is a slippery, frustrating, and resonant subject. Each question prompts another, and it’s easy to find yourself defending a position far more extreme than you actually believe or could live by. Or worse, finding no position worth defending or living by (pg 13-14).”

Maybe eating or not eating meat is not so black and white. Foer himself cycled through periods of vegetarianism throughout his life, trying to find the meaning to life’s simple dinner plate. One of my geology professors, while munching on an egg salad sandwich, openly admitted that he was entering into yet another period of meat-free eating. His vegetarian lifestyle ebbs and flows as a ocean tide as opposed to a concrete and unyielding definite. The woman who interviewed me for the Bucknell magazine had been a vegetarian for six years as a young adult when on September 11th, 2001 she ate a large cheeseburger as a statement of patriotism. “I must have drank a gallon of peppermint tea afterward, I was so afraid I would be sick,” she commented. And while she does eat meat, this woman continues to be a very conscious consumer of healthy options, lamenting the lack of vegetarian options at restaurants in central Pennsylvania.

Some of my vegetarian friends are truly pescatarian or those who eat fish or any other living thing that lives in the sea. No tuna or mackerel I’ve talked to relishes in the idea that they are not included in the “meat” category. I myself eat tuna fish sandwiches now and then, wondering if I’m breaking some kind of unwritten vegetarian code. It’s much easier to pass judgement on those who devour meat constantly if you yourself are a 100% vegetarian 100% of the time. But should judgement be a factor in our decision to abstain from animal flesh entirely? I’m only left with questions.

I think we should embrace those who eat differently than we do. I have never tried to force my Muslim friend to chow down on a hunk of bacon and don’t frown upon my roommate for refusing dairy products due unfortunate bowel reactions. There is nothing wrong with my neighbor’s younger brother eating potato bread due to an extreme gluten allergy. And so there is also nothing wrong with a person who abstains from or indulges in meat consumption as long as he or she is making a conscious decision to eat in that way. Humanity is defined in terms outside of right and wrong and so, it seems, are our food choices.

Happy Vegetarian Month!!

It’s October and you know what that means… Vegetarian month! So put down your pork chop and bite into a huge juicy black bean burger (made by Morning Star).

Vegetarians get a bad rap. They are often perceived as self-righteous animal lovers, pale undernourished hipsters, or hairy peace-loving hippies. Luke McGee, a blogger for the Huffington Post UK, wrote, “At our worst [vegetarians] are self righteous, self satisfied, judgemental and often extremely rude.” Meat eaters find themselves uncomfortable eating a juicy burger or thick steak after someone at the table has announced they don’t eat meat. Knowledge that a vegetarian has RSVP-ed to a dinner party puts added stress on the host. “Will there be enough vegetarian options?” and  “What is a vegetarian options?” or “Who invited her anyway?” are common questions.

I will admit that I didn’t want to be labeled as one of the aforementioned groups. I had no desire of forcing my friends and family to question the meat on their plate or feel nervous when asking me out to dinner. I had eaten meat my whole life and wasn’t sure I could give up my favorite dishes and flavors for tofu and lettuce. I would try, for days at a time, to eat meatless options before resorting back to a turkey club or roasted chicken. I simultaneously judged and envied my friends who had made the veggie switch. I was impressed with their determination but was skeptical of their reasoning behind the change.

Getting back from the Philippines was the turning point. I had eaten pork dish after pork dish and something inside of me just said, I’m over it. And so my vegetarian life began. Instead of climbing to the tallest mountain top and declaring my rejection of animal flesh, I started off my vegetarian switch without much conscious effort. I didn’t stress myself out about the possibility of failing or setting up a strict diet plan. I just stopped eating meat and days quickly turned into weeks. As an avid foodie, I believed the change would be much more difficult than it’s turned out to be. Sure I eat PB&J more often and learned the hard way how not to refrigerate tofu, but the transition has been surprisingly satisfying. 

Now for the million dollar question:

“Why?”

Sometimes this question is asked with genuine curiosity and other times it’s a judgement, thinly veiled by feigned interest. For me, it’s not about intrinsic animal rights. I think humans are built for eating animals. Animal rights on an individual level is a different story. I got sick of hearing about the diseases, living conditions, and necessary chemicals used in the food industry  (Remember Sinclair’s The Jungle?) without questioning modern-day food production. By buying chicken, beef or pork at the grocery store I was supporting a wasteful and environmentally unsustainable process the world cannot afford. And neither could I. (Below: vegetarian ravioli from vegalicious.org)

My mom has recently become a vegetarian and my dad eats substantially less meat than he used to. My house drinks only soy milk and eats cage free eggs. I’ve started to notice more of my friends who are vegetarians and we find a closer bond through our mutually exclusive diet. Will I be a vegetarian forever? I don’t know. Nor do I suggest everyone should put the breast meat down in exchange for some tempah or beans. I just think everyone should take a second to look at the food on their plate and think about its origin. Where it came from. What it came from. When it was produced. How sustainable the process was. For me, these questions led me to a meatless option so next time I cook a meal I can say beyond reasonable doubt that

no animals were harmed in the making of this dish.