The Face on Your Plate
By Debra Ginsberg
Shelf Awareness for Monday, March 9, 2009
Vegetarians, “the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit,” as Anthony Bourdain famously said, have long been derided as crunchy, cause-loving extremists; not to mention vegans (whom Bourdain likens to Hezbollah), whose dietary choice is often regarded with open-mouthed expressions of dismay. But in these carcinogenic days of globally warmed all-you-can-E. coli obesity, even the most stalwart carnivores are wondering if perhaps we should try eating a little lower on the food chain. It is precisely this notion–eschewing meat for the health of the body, spirit and planet–that Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson tackles in his clear, concise and deeply thoughtful new book.
A long-time vegetarian, Masson wisely avoids lapsing into the kind of hysterical screed that prompts knee-jerk anti-vegetarian reactions, opting instead to present his case with logical, scientifically-backed arguments. To begin, he challenges the notions that humans a) were designed to eat meat, b) need meat to be healthy and c) can’t evolve out of eating meat. Next he addresses the very real (and well documented) danger that intensive animal agriculture and aquaculture pose to the environment. Just a few examples: livestock produce more greenhouse gasses than the entire transportation sector, antibiotic-laden manure run-off is poisoning our waterways, aquifers are becoming depleted and countless acres of rainforest are leveled to make room for single-crop feed. Perhaps even more alarming (since it is so much more immediate for most of us) is the toxicity of the meat we eat. That meat and dairy are loaded with hormones and antibiotics is perhaps not new information. That farmed salmon are dyed with toxic chemicals to achieve the pink color that wild salmon get from eating shrimp or that farmed fish are exposed to known carcinogens to rid them of sea lice may, however, come as an unwelcome surprise to the many who consider fish a “health” food.