Review: Eating Animals

Eating Animals Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
What could have been an informative, decent book on animal welfare and the environmental impact of our current factory farming system is marred by the author’s need to be clever and add some unconventional pages to his book. I ended up just glossing past those pages. There’s no doubt that Jonathan Safran Foer has done his research on the USDA, large slaughterhouses, major factory farms, and smaller back-to-old-fashioned-husbandry farmers. All this information is valuable to make an informed decision on whether or not eating animals is worth it.

Anyone who has been even remotely curious about what goes on in factory farms need only look it up on the internet to discover the atrocities that go on inside those large buildings. The passages in this book bring nothing new to that table other than some specific stories and first hand accounts. What it does bring is the fact that animal suffering isn’t an exception in this system, it’s the norm — something that most people don’t realize. But the book isn’t all doom and blood. There are also some more positive stories of small-scale farmers who do things differently and keep animal welfare more in mind than say, the supplier to KFC does.

One thing I really enjoyed in the book were the italicized chapters which I assume were written by the different people Foer talked to about farming. It was nice to have different voices and views of factory farming but one thing all small farmers agreed on (according to this book) was that our current system of factory farming not only is harmful to the environment and the health of people directly involved in it, but it’s just not going to be sustainable. After reading so many pages of animal suffering and cruelty, it was a breath of fresh air to read about farmers who have made it possible for animals to have a relatively stress-free, almost happy life before being sacrificed to slaughter.

The fight against animal cruelty is something that almost anyone can get behind, but Foer also illuminates something that mainly pulls me from becoming vegetarian: tradition and family. He includes anecdotes of his own family, from his childhood and to his adulthood which influenced his choice to become a vegetarian. I’m glad that someone finally made a point that vegetarianism isn’t a decision primarily made because of ethics, but also culture.

While Foer personally has chosen an animal-free diet as opposed to being a selective omnivore, and what he writes contains his bias around it, reading the book did not change my food habits that drastically, so one needn’t be afraid of reading this book. Sure, parts are graphic, and maybe I’m just desensitized, but I read most of this book chowing down on beef noodle soup. Even the most vehement self-proclaimed carnivore should read this book just to understand what kind of industry they’re supporting by choosing to eat meat.

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Pillars of Earth by Ken Follett

The Pillars of the Earth The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I started reading Pillars of Earth with a gross misunderstanding that it was a fantasy novel. I’m typically not a fan of flaming sword, wizards and dragon fantasy so the lack of those elements were perfect for me. I thought it was just one of those more subtle fantasy books. Despite the lack of magic, I still thought Pillars was a fantasy novel — maybe it was all the monks and other clerics in the story.

When I read the back cover of the book, where it mentioned that the novel spanned centuries, I wondered how Follett is going to make us care about all the newer characters later on. Maybe the centuries was a hyperbole, but the novel does span decades, jumping from one generation to the next, yet still making each new character worth caring about. Reading about the birth of characters, their childhood, their adolescence, their first loves, their transformation into an adult life really made me feel a sense of attachment.

Another thing that made the book so engaging and such a page turner toward the later half was that antagonists just keep getting more and more evil. I kept thinking that each chapter would bring some sort of redeeming quality to some of the more malicious characters, but the further I got into the book, the worse and worse they became.

A lot of the story revolves around the building of a cathedral and the greed and pride of men. Considering that a few of the main characters are masons and builders, there’s bound to be some talk about architecture. There’s lots. Some chapters contain page after page of rich descriptions of arches, ribbing, buttresses, and all sorts of architecture-porn. For those not interested in these things, it gets boring. Luckily, I skimmed through those passages without wasting too much time on them and I still felt like I read a coherent story. Readers more interested in the change from Romanesque to Gothic architecture may find those passages worth spending time on, but not me.

Before reading Pillars, I hadn’t given much thought about average life in the Middle Ages. Sure, we’ve all read the history books in school, but there wasn’t much of a story to relate to in those books. Follett, when he’s not getting side-tracked with talking about domes and arches, writes a convincing tale of just what it is to be a peasant working under the thumb of a lord and the economy of that time.

Even considering that the book is almost a thousand pages long, there’s a great deal of events packed into the story. Every time I thought things were finally turning for the better, something comes up and it gets worse. After the first half of the book, I just assumed that for every good that happens, something much worse is just around the corner. It got to the point where as I got closer to the end of the book, I wondered if I should just stop reading once things started working out again so that I wouldn’t risk getting upset about something negative that would happen after.

Despite that, I kept reading till the last page, which was kind of a chore. After the main story reached a conclusion, I was satisfied enough to put the book down, yet there were still about a hundred pages left. Those hundred pages tied up loose ends and what not, but they were definitely the weakest part of the book. Although I’m usually one who gets really upset about vague cliffhangers, things were resolved a little too neatly in this novel. It was just hard to believe in a novel where 90% of the time, something goes horribly wrong.

After I realized that most of Pillars of Earth was centered around a monk, a monastery, and Christianity in the Middle Ages, I feared that I would get fed up with all the religious references and stop reading. That never happened. I guess part of it was that I still erroneously thought of the book as a fantasy novel, and religion in fantasy is a lot easier to take than serious religion. Follett certainly did a wonderful job of showing how religion was intertwined in everyone’s regular life without relying too much on it to push the plot along.

The only complaint I have about the book is something that comes up when I’m reading other books based in this type of setting. Because the people are supposedly living in the Middle Ages, I expect them to speak a certain way. When they curse and use derogatory names for body-parts which we still use now, it’s a bit jarring because it sounds so modern. I’m no scholar about Medieval language, but I wish there were better words to use for those parts which don’t seem like such anachronisms.

If I had known from the beginning that Pillars of Earth was a historical fiction novel, I probably would have yawned and moved on to another book. Luckily for me, I didn’t realize my error until I was halfway through the book and by then, I was already hooked. It’s a long read, and yes the plot is similar to a soap opera drama, but it was definitely enjoyable.

There’s one part in the book, and readers who have gotten to the end will probably remember this, but I believe a character said, “The earl is already in the castle.” When I read that, I wanted to jump up, play some crazy electric guitar solo and shout, “F-yeah!”

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Sandwiches @ Galco’s Soda Pop Stop

Galco’s in Highland Park may be known for their dizzying assortment soda, but what many people might not know is that they also make pretty decent subs at the deli counter at the back of the store.  On a warm afternoon last weekend, the BF and I made a stop at Galco’s just so I could get a sandwich and wash it down with a fizzy beverage.

Coldcut Sandwich at Galcos

I forget the exact name of my sandwich, but I think it was the Italian Combo, which comes with thin slices of various meats like salami, a slice of cheese, and the usual fixin’s such as tomatoes, mayonnaise, lettuce, etc.  My sandwich was a bit light on mayo for my taste, but the meats hit the spot. The bread was also thick and chewy for people who like that type of bread.  My filling was a bit dry with the bread, but next time, I’ll have to ask for the Mafia Mix (marinated tomatoes and onions in olive oil and spices) to be added to my sandwich in order to take advantage of the thick bread.

Although Galco’s doesn’t offer any fake-meat options, the BF asked them to make a veggie sandwich for him with the Mafia Mix and avocado and snuck in some vegan cold cuts from my purse to tuck into the sandwich before eating.

There are a few tables set up inside the store for eating next to the checkout counters, but don’t expect a fine dining experience. A cold sandwich, a cold soda (I suggest Fentimans Curiosity Cola or Burdock Root soda), a table, and a chair make Galco’s a quick and casual lunch spot.

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Galco’s Soda Pop Stop
5702 York Boulevard
Los Angeles, California 90042