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The Face on Your Plate: The Truth about Foodby Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson
Saturday, March 15, 2014 04:00 PM
Powell's City of Books on Burnside, Portland, OR
Jeffrey Masson's Beasts (Bloomsbury) is an eye-opening book about the animals at the top of the food chain and what they can teach us about the origins of good and evil in ourselves. Masson demonstrates that the violence we perceive in the "wild" is mostly a matter of projection, stripping away our misconceptions of the creatures we fear and offering a compelling look at our uniquely human propensity toward aggression. This event is sponsored by the Oregon Humane Society.
"The far reaching problems caused by industrial farming are staggering and upsetting, but as Masson points out, none of it is controversial. He argues, then, that the reason these unhealthy and unethical systems persist is that the majority of people are in denial. He actually includes an entire chapter on the subject, which shows his two-pronged expertise in human psychology and animal advocacy." Sheila Ashdown, Powells.com (read the entire Powells.com review)
Synopses & Reviews
The best-selling author of When Elephants Weep explores our relationship with the animals we call food.
In this revelatory work, Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson shows how food affects our moral selves, our health, and the environment. It raises questions to make us conscious of the decisions behind every bite we take: What effect does eating animals have on our land, waters, even global warming? What are the results of farming practices — debeaking chickens and separating calves from their mothers — on animals and humans? How does the health of animals affect the health of our planet and our bodies? And uniquely, as a psychoanalyst, Masson investigates how denial keeps us from recognizing the animal at the end of our fork — think pig, not bacon — and each food and those that are forbidden. The Face on Your Plate brings together Masson's intellectual, psychological, and emotional expertise over the last twenty years into the pivotal book of the food revolution.
"'Each bite of meat involves the killing of an animal that did not need to die,' Masson (When Elephants Weep) reminds readers, and if the advocacy of a completely vegan diet (neither milk nor eggs, in addition to giving up meat and fish) is not particularly new — even Masson acknowledges that he is following the path laid out by authors like Temple Grandin and Michael Pollan — the passion with which the argument is made is immediately apparent. Masson explains the scientific background in simple, effective prose, pointing to the vast environmental damage caused by the modern agriculture-industrial complex, then slams the emotional point home by underscoring the plaintive cries of a calf separated from a mother cow or the psychological stress that hens endure when thrust into small cages. Masson argues that a vegan diet is sufficient to provide us with all the nutrients we need to thrive, using his own daily menus as an example, but his most powerful argument calls upon the power of empathy and a refusal to put animals through suffering. It probably won't convert many confirmed meat eaters, but it should provoke serious deliberation about how our food choices reflect our values." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
A friend of mine who waited tables at a French restaurant had a faux menu he liked to recite. It began like this: "Pate de foie gras — made from the liver of a small goose who's had its foot nailed to the floor and food stuffed down its throat through a tube until its organs explode." That is not a precisely accurate description of gavage — the ancient art, if we can call it that,... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) of force-feeding geese and ducks to enlarge their livers for our delectation — but it sums up the general feeling, on this side of the Atlantic, that foie gras crosses the line between delicious and decadent. People who will happily tuck into a rare steak, never giving a thought to the killing floor of the slaughterhouse, dislike the idea of torturing waterfowl to turn their organs into super-fatty treats for dining elites. A local foodie fight got Mark Caro, an entertainment reporter for the Chicago Tribune, interested in whether foie gras lives down to its reputation. In 2002, Charlie Trotter, one of the Windy City's celebrity chefs, quit plating the stuff at his eponymous eatery. This is a man who "serves up just about anything that once drew breath," Caro writes in "The Foie Gras Wars," his entertaining if overcooked and overlong look at the foie-gras follies. What put Trotter off his fancy foie? "It's done in a mass-produced farming style where literally there's tubes being jammed down their throats," the chef told the reporter. "We have cases of ripped esophaguses, chipped and broken beaks and ripped feet." Another chef, Rick Tramonto, took Trotter to task for hypocrisy: "Either you eat animals or you don't eat animals." Then Trotter got out the steak knives: "Oh, OK. Maybe we ought to have Rick's liver for a little treat. It's certainly fat enough." That salvo sent Caro off on a foie gras fact-finding mission. If there is a culinary equivalent of shoe-leather reporting, our enterprising reporter has done it for this book. He toured the handful of U.S. farms that produce the stuff. He hung out with animal-rights activists who see foie gras as an easier target than, say, hamburger. He traveled to France to see gavage as it has been practiced on small farms for generations. While there, he took part in a "foie gras weekend" where guests eviscerated and dismembered birds and boiled the fatty, fleshy bits into potted treats. He ate foie gras mi-cuit, sliced on toast, whipped up with a dash of pig's blood, potted in creme brulees, even, in one chef's misguided attempt at creativity, put through a cotton-candy machine. As a vegetarian, I was predisposed to find the subject upsetting, but Caro's descriptions of foie gras production and preparation were less gruesome than I anticipated (though mention of pig's blood did make me wince.) What that says about the cruelty of foie gras I don't know, and Caro doesn't either. He describes himself as a "trying-to-be-ethical meat eater," which means that he has put some thought into how much his food may disenjoy its journey from the farm to the dinner table. That puts him ahead of our culture's prevailing "don't-ask/don't tell policy." "We don't associate chicken with an animal kept in an overcrowded barn; we think of it as a pink slab laying on cellophane-wrapped Styrofoam or as something molded into a 'nugget'" he writes. "Collective denial has been our modus operandi." If you are looking for an animal-rights manifesto, however, or a ducky cri de coeur, Caro is not your man. He doesn't document mass avian distress on the farms he visits (although one is tempted to ask him how he'd like to have a tube shoved down his throat three times a day.) He does see a few "unpleasant sights," i.e., dead or obviously injured birds. Ducks and geese cannot tell you what gavage feels like. Do they suffer? Is it cruel? After 300-plus pages, Caro still isn't sure what he thinks. He may chalk it up to objectivity. It feels more like a cop-out. As Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson points out, the last stop for foie-gras ducks, and for most farmed animals, is slaughter. Masson is not as entertaining a writer as Caro, and he has too heavy a hand with the new-age seasoning. But "The Face on Your Plate" is far more upsetting than Caro's book. Masson, a vegetarian turned vegan (no dairy, no eggs), wants us to call a chicken a chicken, not just chicken. Don't fool yourself into thinking that it's OK to eat because said chicken was raised "humanely." It probably wasn't, as Masson describes in a painful chapter called "The Lives They Lead," which talks about the cramped, unnatural, traumatized, diseased and short lives of broilers and egg-layers, dairy cows, salmon and other factory-farmed animals. And there are billions of them, all sentient creatures, all capable of suffering. In the milk industry, for instance, unwanted male calves born to dairy cows are carted off to slaughter, often before they can walk. "The worst thing you can do is put a bawling baby on a trailer," says Temple Grandin, the well-known autistic researcher who has worked with the meat industry to improve slaughterhouses. "It's just an awful thing to do." I had a hard time pouring myself a glass of milk after I read that section. Masson's message is, Think before you eat. If you believe that eating free-range or organically raised animals and animal products lets you off the ethical hook, think again. My conscience is not clear just because that milk comes in a glass bottle from a local dairy where the cows get to see sunshine and fresh grass. That's a happier lot than dark barns and hormone-laced feed, but I doubt the cows have pensions to look forward to. "We have split something in two that belongs as one: the animal who provides the food," Masson argues. "We rationalize her death by claiming that she had a good life and we are therefore guiltless and entitled to eat her." The average American will eat 22,000 animals over the course of his or her lifetime, according to one of Masson's sources. That's a lot of critters, and a lot of suffering to have a hand in. Because you do have a hand in it. "We put our forks into something or someone three times a day," Masson writes. "We cannot disengage ourselves, even if we wanted to. We are all involved in agriculture on a daily basis. We vote with every meal." Pass the soy milk. Jennifer Howard, a former contributing editor of The Washington Post Book World, is a staff writer for the Chronicle of Higher Education. Reviewed by Jennifer Howard, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
"Eat your way to Eden or Armageddon, Masson writes convincingly, but bystander status no longer applies." Kirkus Reviews
"Masson's newest volume marshals the historic arguments against eating meat and adds to them contemporary concerns about the environment." Booklist
'It"s a challenge to create transformative moments with books, but [Masson] does it."Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times
The best-selling author of When Elephants Weep explores our relationship with the animals we call food.
In this revelatory work, Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson shows how food affects our moral selves, our health, and our planet. Masson investigates how denial keeps us from recognizing the animal at the end of our fork and urges readers to consciously make decisions about food.
In this revelatory work, Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson shows how food affects our moral selves, our health, and the environment. It raises questions to make us conscious of the decisions behind every bite we take: What effect does eating animals have on our land, waters, even global warming? What are the results of farming practices'"debeaking chickens and separating calves from their mothers'"on animals and humans? How does the health of animals affect the health of our planet and our bodies? And uniquely, as a psychoanalyst, Masson investigates how denial keeps us from recognizing the animal at the end of our fork'"think pig, not bacon'"and each food and those that are forbidden. The Face on intellectual, psychological, and emotional expertise over the last twenty years into the pivotal book of the food revolution.
About the Author
Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson is the author of the best-selling When Elephants Weepand Dogs Never Lie About Love, as well as The Pig Who Sang to the Moonand The Assault on Truth. An American, he lives in New Zealand.
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