Posted on Wed, June 30, 2010 by Slow Food USA
3 Comments | Categories: Books, Contaminated Food, Farms and Farming, Meat,
by Patrick Keeler
“You are what you eat.” It’s a trite aphorism amongst us sustainable food advocates, but never so literally has this adage been applied than in the new novel Animals by Don LePan.
We don’t often get the opportunity to digest fiction books about the food system at the SFUSA office, and one of my favorite genres is the utopian* or dystopian story, so with great enthusiasm I leapt at the chance to be among the first to read Animals.
Set in the 22nd century the premise of the novel is this: we’ve so terribly screwed up the food system due to our dependence on factory farming for the source of meats and proteins, that the result is mass extinction of our feedstocks. Pandemic disease and genetic engineering have wiped out all traditional sources of meat (and many vegetable products) in a matter of decades. Panic follows; there’s a deepening gap between the rich who can afford better alternative food and healthcare and those who cannot; there’s economic collapse along the entire supply chain of the meat-processing sector. Not to mention that genetic engineering (amongst other environmental ills) has led to a dramatic increase in the number of birth defects.
Panic about how the human race will survive sans meat in their diets, coupled with a crippled healthcare system now burdened with a 1 in 5 severe birth defect rate, leads to a deterioration of morality. Those with any birth defects or handicaps are classified as “mongrels,” and are kept either as family pets or are sent to “chattel pens.” You guessed it – those who can afford it eat human flesh. And with a new product to market, the former meat industry’s infrastructure is revived by demand for factory farmed human animals.
This is not a review. Rather, I hope to pique your interests, for the book certainly provides, umm, fodder for interesting discussion. One curiosity is that it never discusses any possible ramifications of humans eating their own species, something we know fuels mad cow disease epidemics. I also wondered if perhaps the author was telling us that a vegetarian diet would have saved us from this fate. I detected slight bias here, but the narrator is impartial enough in presenting “historical fact” that fears were allayed this was a vegan diatribe that could alienate many of us in the movement. In the afterward, however, the author does admit his gradual transition to a meat- and fish-free diet. Also, questions about reproductive rights are only natural when reading this work – it seems like they’d have to here, for if you were amongst the minority of humans in the world that refused to eat human, why on earth you would carry to term a so-called mongrel only to have it turned into meat. This is a debate left untouched by the author. I’ve gotta give it to LePan: this is a very carefully laid out story. It’s full of fictional footnotes sometimes serving as a means to appease any readers who might find some of the content rather incendiary or partisan.
One clear takeaway here is the need for the ethical treatment of animals which I don’t think any of us could argue against. Really, truly, put a human face on your meal and you’ve taken this book’s message to heart.
* If you’ve never read it, try and track down a copy of Ernest Callenbach’s Ecotopia (1975) – it’s a really intriguing book sparking some really interesting questions about how we structure our society and value our environment.