Many, many years ago, I read the Jeremy Rifkin’s Beyond Beef while at the beach. A book about the rise and fall of the cattle culture isn’t your typical summer read, but it was the perfect escape for me at the time and filled my appetite for more information on factory farming. There are a lot of good non-fiction books on both farm animal issues and animal activism, and I try to read as many of them as I can fit in my day. Yet summer is also a great season to explore other genres. My summer reading is a bit lighter this year: a dose of fiction with a factory farming backdrop. The main character in Dakota by Martha Grimes discovers the truth behind pork after getting a part-time job at a modern pig operation. The young amnesiac, vegetarian drifter finds it horrifying but wants to know more. I’m still reading…
Using fiction to tell the story of farm animals or to highlight vegan values is a form of activism. While we might not have the time or talent to write such books ourselves, we can read them, talk about them, share them with others, and use them to help rejuvenate our activist-energies. Start a book club with your vegan friends and non-vegan neighbors. Post a review of a novel exposing factory farming on your Facebook page. Or let the characters inspire your own activism. Here are a few books to consider reading this summer:
PopCo by Scarlett Thomas – A must read for any vegan activist. Really. If you haven’t read it yet, put down your fliers and treat yourself to this brainy novel. From code breaking and conspiracy theory to marketing mind control and veganism as activism, this book serves up everything you need for a fun summer read – including a vegan cake recipe and the list of the first 1000 prime numbers. When you need a second helping, reach for The End of Mr. Y. While this one doesn’t have the same connection to farm animal issues and veganism, there are some pretty important mice and a clear animal rights message.
My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki – More truths about factory farming are exposed in this story of a Japanese television show, My American Wife! sponsored by a Texas-based meat lobby. A satirical look at the role meat plays in shaping the stereotypical American family, complete with the fallout of feeding hormones to farm animals. When you need a second helping, plow through All Over Creation, in which eco-activist group Seeds of Resistance team up with a salt-of-the-earth farmer in a struggle against genetically modified potatoes.
The Jungle by Upton Sinclair – This classic isn’t as much fun as my previous suggestions, but it is well worth putting on your to-read pile. Written in 1906 to expose the corrupt meatpacking industry, this book tells the story of an immigrant family struggling to survive by working at the Chicago Stockyards. The book led to the passage of the federal Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act. While the author was attempting to highlight the plight of slaughterhouse workers, the public was more concerned about the cleanliness of their meat than about any suffering. Unfortunately, not much has changed in the last 100 years, particularly for the animals.
The Little Book of Vegan Poems by Benjamin Zephaniah – For when you really don’t want to read too much. “Vegan Steven” is one of my faves. A fun book to read out loud to kids and adults.
I’d love to hear your recommendations for summer fiction with a factory-farming or vegan theme or character. Post you suggestions in the comment box below.