Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Book Review: Meatonomic$

David Robinson Simon. 2013. Meatonomics: How the Rigged Economics of Meat and Dairy Make You Consume Too Much--and How to Eat Better, Live Longer, and Spend Smarter. San Francisco, CA: Conari Press.

This book is well researched and extremely engaging. While I have been studying Nonhuman Animal rights issues for many years, I found a lot of new information in this book as well as some new perspectives. Simon makes the argument that the traditional three-pronged approach to animal consumption (ethics, environment and health) needs to recognize a fourth component: economics. 

So often, vegan advocacy portrays speciesism as a matter of supply and demand, but the elite control over both our food supply and our government makes "voting with your dollar" short-sighted. Even those who abstain from animal use still pay for the system with their tax dollars that subsidize meat and dairy advertising and the health and environmental damage that impacts our society as a whole. 

Advocates are up against a serious challenge: Meat and dairy industries are hugely subsidized and they use their strength to create increasing demands for their products and stifle alternatives to them. But we are not only paying for this out of our pocket, but also through skyrocketing healthcare costs, environmental damage, and inefficient food production. Nonhuman Animals pay the dearest price of all, as their lives are commodified for corporate gain.

I appreciated that the author did not spend time rehashing the same descriptions of CAFOs, but instead dedicated quite a bit of time discussing so-called "green" facilities, "happy" farms," and aquaculture. Indeed, one of the common retorts to vegan arguments is that animal production can be made sustainable or even humane. Simon goes to great detail to debunk these positions as mere fantasy. Producing Nonhuman Animals for food will always be polluting and resource intensive; it can never be truly sustainable.

My main concern with this book is that it does not make a strong enough case for veganism as I would like. On one hand, the author makes it clear that consuming animal products is both detrimental and unnecessary, but on the other, he gives people the option to simply "cut back." Because the author so often compares animal consumption to tobacco use, I found this unfortunate. Just as we would not advise people to cut down on cigarettes (but instead to quit entirely), we would not want to advise them to cut down on animal products. This is because maintaining the habit in any form usually works against people actually quitting. It maintains the notion that these products are something to be consumed, if only in moderation, when in actuality, they are highly dangerous and should be cut out entirely.

That said, I believe the comprehensiveness of the research and the topics covered make this an essential read for nonvegans and vegans alike. Importantly, the author creates conceptualizations of the material. Instead of spouting off statistics, he puts the information in perspective. How crowded is aquaculture? 27 foot long trouts are crammed into a space the size of a bathtub. For that matter, the complexities of elite-state collusion in the capitalist system can be confusing (probably a main reason why these gross injustices are allowed to perpetuate), but Simon does an excellent job at explaining them. For its ease of readability and its conciseness (it's less than 200 pages), I think it would be an excellent assigned reading for college courses. He also has lots of supplementary material hosted on the website, which I intend to incorporate into my lectures.

Finally, I really enjoyed reading his proposed solutions, which were quite sound. It seems that if a meat tax were instilled in tandem with some reconfiguring of governmental duties, some serious change could happen for Nonhuman Animals. We know that major social change does not sustain without the political structures to support it. However, we also know that without the public support for that institutional change, the interests of those in power can overcome any serious attempts to check their power. So, while I would love to see a tax and other restrictions that make animal products just as undesirable as tobacco, I don't see that happening until those powerful persons who stand to lose are challenged. That is, the system that allows a small group of elites and corporations to run our society must be challenged. That would entail some major collective action and a challenge to the capitalist system itself. So, while Simon might be suggesting that we start lobbying for a meat tax, I think we need to build a critical mass of vegans before that is a viable option.