A friend alerted me to her friend’s new book, That’s Why We Don’t Eat Animals, because she knows that I was vegetarian for many years, my husband was vegan for many years and is now a vegetarian, and my kids, for the large part, are vegetarian, too.
While I was much more militant about my vegetarianism b.c. (before children), I softened my stance because I found that pregnancy and post-pregnancy hormones gave me a lot of food aversions, like tofu. Also, I found myself in a lot more situations where there weren’t meat-free options, like kid birthday parties and school events.
But still, I never learned to cook meat so I never make it at home — and I cook almost every day. My husband rather starve than eat meat — he is still quite militant about it — but the kids and I occasionally indulge at a birthday party or a restaurant.
That’s not to say that I disagree with the content of writer Ruby Roth’s book That’s Why We Don’t Eat Animals. I read enough books and seen enough documentaries to know that the factory farm industry is despicable and downright cruel to both animals and workers. But like religion, I am incapable of being pure, which leads me to my main reaction to this book.
I can’t help but wonder if it would actually convert non-vegetarians or non-vegans. The tone is a bit judgmental and guilt-inducing — very much like the bible. Let me give you an example:
Just like we do, many baby animals stay close to their parents long after they’re born. Our families warm, protect, and comfort us, preparing us for the great, big world.
On factory farms, there are no animal families. With no mama in sight, these babies live without a sense of family or safety. Animals belong in families, packs, herds, and flocks.
I do read the bible to my children so the judgmental tone doesn’t bother me. Plus, my children have already received an earful from their father about eating meat. So it isn’t outside the realm of possibility for a household like ours to own this book and read it to our children. But I wonder if a non-vegan or non-vegetarian family would read it to their children. What do you think?
At least one group of non-vegetarians have read the book: the factory farm industry. Roth struck such a nerve that Utah’s largest farming organization, the Utah Farm Bureau, is placing its own book on the bookshelves of schools. From the Salt Lake Tribune:
Utah Farm Bureau CEO Randy Parker said his organization of about 27,000 members is purchasing books to correct “eco-propaganda” messages aimed at children that assert agriculture is ravaging the environment.
“Our children are flooded with a variety of ‘go-green’ messages,” Parker wrote in the Farm Bureau’s Winter newsletter. “Children are being traumatized for not recycling an empty yogurt container or forgetting to turn off the lights.”
Parker singled out the children’s book That’s Why We Don’t Eat Animals: A Book About Vegans, Vegetarians and All Living Things, as an example of “political-activist messages” his group hopes to counteract.
Roth responded with a letter of her own:
There is a fine line between education and advertising, and the cheerful schoolbooks about meat and dairy that Utah Farm Bureau CEO Randy Parker plans to place in Utah classrooms fall into the latter category (“Utah Farm Bureau launches counterattack on ‘eco-propaganda,'” Tribune , Jan. 9). Parker can criticize my children’s book on vegetarians and try to positively spin the meat and dairy industries, but his industry is being exposed, and people are going vegan.
Contrary to Parker’s belief that children are “traumatized” by “go-green” messages like recycling, as an elementary school teacher I never experienced a child who was overwhelmed by learning about the destructive nature of factory farming, let alone energy conservation. Children are not only curious about serious topics like climate change, animal rights, endangered species and veganism, but when they find that they can help solve a problem, be it animal mistreatment or pollution, simply through their choices, then action is not a question but a conclusion.
Even happy books about where meat and dairy come from expose children to the fact that the chicken on their plate is actually a chicken. When my students realized that, most wanted to go vegan.
I agree with Roth that the “traumatized” meme is over-the-top and certainly not something I have witnessed in the “eco-propagandist” enclave of Berkeley, California. If anything, my children love the outdoors and are horrified to discover there are people in the country who do not recycle. I know someday they will be horrified to learn how factory farm animals actually live.