I first picked up Gristle: From Factory Farms to Food Safety (Thinking Twice About the Meat We Eat) because of its bright yellow cover. As a new vegetarian, when I saw it was about the implications of factory farming, I was intrigued. Wanting to learn more about the food I had always eaten and that most of the world still eats, I began reading it. When I finished the book, I felt like my choice to be vegetarian suddenly had dimension and added depth. I didn’t feel like I was doing anything “better” than anyone else by being vegetarian, but simply that the extent to which we are divorced from the knowledge of what factory farming does is a real shame and will end up harming us.
The word “Gristle” perfectly captures the experience of reading this book. When you read it you are left with a nagging feeling. Like gristle in your teeth, the information you read bothers you. Once you’ve read this book, composed of bite-sized essays on different aspects of factory farming and its effects, you’re left with a sort of mental arsenal of facts, figures, and general information about factory farming. This takes time to process, and you will be chewing on the ideas in the book for a while.
The essays are pulled together from a wide array of sources to create a comprehensive guide to the food we eat. Edited by Moby with Miyun Park, each essay touches on one topic in relation to factory farming. These topics include health, climate change, effects on workers, and global hunger. It’s a sort of pocket-sized almanac.
Each essay is short enough and profound enough to be striking, surprising, informative and interesting. Supplemented with charts, graphs, and diagrams the book is an easy read even with its heavy material. Things like a flow chart about what’s included in meat, such as antibiotics, fecal matter, and arsenic-based drugs are easy to understand and hard to forget.
Moby states outright in his intro that as a vegan and an animal rights activist he has an agenda. However, this doesn’t invalidate the opinions and research of the people writing each essay. Further, I’m more inclined to believe in the intentions of somebody who has an agenda based on ethics rather than profit (like big industry).
When it comes to food, we should be informed consumers. The effects of food are ubiquitous as it essentially becomes a part of us, fueling us, guiding our health and our bodies. I really appreciate this book for teaching me something about the way food affects me both inside and out. Food seems like an extremely personal choice, but what I learned from Gristle is that it’s anything but.
The way our food is being produced is different now from how it used to be, and worse, it’s headed in the wrong direction. Gristle’s discussion of factory farms’ effects shows that “thinking twice about the meat we eat” is worthwhile and should affect our choices, because the factories are certainly affecting us. By having information from many different people who are experts in a variety of areas it avoids becoming a manifesto and serves as a solid guide for thinking about factory farmed food.