03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

What's Eating Us?

I grew up eating animals, as did the vast majority of us living in the U.S. today. But, I never really made a conscious choice to eat animals. I just picked up the habit without thinking about it. Everybody around me was engaged in the practice and we assumed it to be normal. As Jonathan Safran Foer points out in his timely and compelling book, Eating Animals, we "have a strong impulse to do what others around us are doing especially when it comes to food."

Unfortunately, bad has become normal in terms of how we eat and how we produce food. Our health, our planet, and other animals suffer by our harmful and illogical habit of consuming meat, milk and eggs. Despite agribusiness asserting that an animal-based food system is scientifically sound, our food choices are more about feelings and custom than about reason.

In fact, a growing bed of scientific evidence is making it clear that animal agriculture makes no sense. Why do we eat foods that make us sick? And why do we buy into an agricultural system that is responsible for the most significant environmental threats of our time, including global warming? Science can show us how to produce meat, milk and eggs in vast quantities, but that doesn't mean we should.

Most consumers don't like thinking about how farm animals are treated, and they are quick to turn away when gruesome pictures show the reality of factory farming. It is the rare miscreant who openly celebrates cruelty and slaughter, but ironically, most citizens unwittingly support it. So for factory farms to survive, consumers must be kept in the dark and live in denial. But people are finally beginning to learn about the abuses of industrial animal farming. As the reality comes to light, Foer concludes, "We can't plead ignorance, only indifference."

Massive animal exploitation and meat consumption has flourished largely because of the stories we tell and the assumptions they bolster. For example, we've convinced ourselves that animals were put on earth for humans to use, and that eating animal foods is healthy and necessary. But these are false notions. We can live and thrive by eating plants alone. In fact, it's healthier and more environmentally sustainable to eat plants instead of animals. And when our food is vegan, we can see how it is produced without feeling bad or looking the other way.

Changing habits involves more than new economic and production systems. It requires us to develop new traditions and stories. One annual tradition that could stand a refresher is Thanksgiving. When you think about it, a dead bird as the centerpiece of the tradition is really quite morbid. Foer says that if his entire book was "decanted into a single question," it might be "should we serve turkey at Thanksgiving?"

Farm Sanctuary has been raising that question for 23 years through its Adopt-A-Turkey Project (, which encourages people to join a new Thanksgiving tradition and save a turkey instead of eating one. Through gross genetic manipulation, factory bred turkeys today can't even reproduce naturally - all are products of artificial insemination. They are crowded by the thousands in factory farm warehouses and live in their own feces. Parts of their toes and beaks are cut off to prevent them from injuring each other in these stressful overcrowded conditions. And, the birds that we've rescued through the years arrive at our sanctuaries with increasingly compounded health issues. Isn't it time to adopt a new Thanksgiving tradition?