Chef, writer and farmer Matthew Evans tackles the thorniest of ethical issues concerning our food choices.
On Eating Meat investigates every aspect of meat production – ethical, economic, practical and environmental. In essence, argues Matthew Evans, Australians eat too much meat (three times the global average). Not only that, Australians want to eat cheap meat. And therein lies the problem. Cheap meat is ruinous to the environment, of questionable value to human health, especially when consumed in large quantities, and lastly, is terrible for animal welfare. The sections describing attempts to inspect intensive farming operations – piggeries and chicken factories, most notably – are worrying. Evans was blocked and frustrated at every step. Big corporate producers are secretive and defensive, not wanting the general public to see how they operate.
What is the solution to this problem? More consumer activism for a start, whether it be at the checkout or simply demanding better welfare standards. Evans believes the debate has been set solely by animal welfare activists, especially vegans, whereas meat eaters should be taking a leading role. Ideally, he would like to see vegans and carnivores come together to advocate for better animal welfare standards. While this seems unlikely, there are good arguments made in its favour. Evans shows that whether your diet is vegetarian or vegan, animals still die as a consequence. Orchards cull animals to protect their fruit, seasonal crops kill small animals, such as rodents, egg production involves feeding unwanted male chicks into mulchers and the dairy industry produces unwanted male calves, either killed on site or sent to market.
This is a book that always strives for honesty and balance, in what is often an ethical minefield. Matthew Evans leaves no stone unturned as he looks at food production and its impacts from all possible angles. Every reader will find some new fact to surprise and shock: commercial bees employed to pollinate food crops, the amount of bugs that end up in food, the rampant use of antibiotics to promote animal growth, the impact of feral cats on Australia's native wildlife, etc.
A book perhaps as important as Peter Singer's Animal Liberation for its thoughtfulness and intellectual rigour.
On Eating Meat: The Truth About Its Production and the Ethics of Eating It, by Matthew Evans. Published by Murdoch Books. $32.99
Review by Chris Saliba
Chloe Hooper, author of the acclaimed The Tall Man, returns with a fascinating and compelling chronicle of the Black Saturday fires.
Victoria experienced some of its worst bush fires in 2009. The so-called Black Saturday fires in the Latrobe Valley town of Churchill killed 173 people. The conflagration, a court found, was started deliberately by Brendan Sokaluk, a Churchill local.
Chloe Hooper’s chronicle of the fire, the detective work to find the culprit and the ensuing court case reads like a crime thriller. At the centre of the mystery is the child-like Brendan Sokaluk who never admits to intentionally lighting the fire. He maintains that he may have started it, by throwing a cigarette out a window. Sokaluk has very poor cognitive and social skills (although he is a skilled map drawer and has a superb memory for locations). During the trial, he appears totally unaware of what is happening around him, doodling with pen and paper during the proceedings and making childish jokes.
The Latrobe Valley backdrop to this terrible crime – its decomissioned Hazelwood power station, the poverty and lack of opportunity the area provides – makes for a fascination socio-economic portrait. When towns lose their main source of jobs and income, a brooding sense of hopelessness pervades everything, even the environment.
With its mix of detective mystery, social history and environmental science,The Arsonist is a story of Australia today.
Rivetting, fascinating and full of brilliant research.
The Arsonist: A Mind on Fire, by Chloe Hooper. Hamish Hamilton $34.99
Review by Chris Saliba