I don't know how Eating Animals got on my holiday reading list. An expose of factory farming in the US sounds a bit dry for the beach. I think Mr Minted had shoved it in his Amazon basket without really looking because he likes the other books by the author, Jonathan Safran Foer (as pictured, somewhat fuzzily). As I'd finished the twistathon of Into the Water by Paula Hawkins, I gave it a go. It was, no exaggeration, life-changing.
Strangely for such a powerful book, most of the information is old hat. Everyone knows the horror stories about battery hens, caged pigs and malpractice at the slaughterhouse: all those animal activist videos in the 1990s revealed it. What is new, however, is the scale of factory farming now. If you believe Mr Foer's statistics, 99% of meat consumed in America is 'industrially produced'. The idea of chickens clucking around a happy farm yard has become a myth. The reality is more likely to be tens of thousands of Frankenbirds stacked up in tiny cages, fed hormones and antibiotics, barely unable to stand under the weight of their grossly deformed bodies and dispatched (I won't say how) after an unnaturally short and painful life.
If that wasn't reason enough, there's more detail in the book about the downsides of these farming methods (just dealing with the poop our food produces is pretty significant). But interestingly, Eating Animals isn't an argument for everyone turning vegetarian. It merely suggests that factory farming produces sick animals which aren't good for us to eat, although we do, in ever-increasing amounts.
It's not so easy to write this off as an American problem. Mr Foer, in so many words, says the UK and Europe aren't quite so bad as the US, but they aren't far behind. Besides, don't you just know that £4 for a whole chicken at the supermarket can't be right?
So I've decided I must take action. But what should I do?
Team Benton cannot turn vegetarian. We are all unabashed carnivores, firstly. Also, I would like the children to be brought up to be able to eat a wide range of foods. I believe it's rude when travelling (especially for business) or visiting other people's houses to turn down the meal offered. Lastly there's the convenience factor. Decent vegetarian food requires more imagination, time, spices and so on than shoving a cut in the oven. I don't want to sign up to a more arduous catering schedule than I have now because I won't be able to sustain it.
But I don't want to support factory farming.
The answer presumably is to buy free range and preferably organically reared meat. And, my goodness, how expensive it is! I bought a responsible chicken for Sunday lunch for six people and it was £15 for 2.3 kgs. The equivalent online at Tesco is £5.50. This is indeed the true test of my principles - am I prepared to pay three times the price?
It helps if you're Minted, I suppose, but then you could just eat less meat. That chicken actually stretched into two family meals, the roast and the Monday curry, padded out with chick peas. Which per meal makes its extraordinary price slightly easier to swallow. And obviously eating less meat and more veggies is good for us - and may even become (more) fashionable. Actor Natalie Portman yesterday released a documentary based on Eating Animals which sprinkles a little stardust on the cause. And I see Jeremy Corbyn today is reported to be considering an exclusively plant-based diet, which adds a certain flavour to the mix, depending on your political tastes. So my advice is to get Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's new book Much More Veg (out in a fortnight) on your Christmas list. Veganism, my dear, is the new black.