The CAFO Reader: The Tragedy of Industrial Animal Factories

By Clare Leschin-Hoar, 15 July 2010

The CAFO Reader is meaty. Maybe it's the fact that I read it while on vacation in Iowa, smack dab in the very heart of hog and egg laying hen confinement operations. These industrial "farms" have been here for years. Pass them on the highway, and the smell can be eye-watering, even if you can't see the operation itself from the road. Locals are fond of saying, "That's the smell of money." And it is, but too often that cash doesn't make it back into the very communities where these operations live.

That's just one of the points editor Daniel Imhoff makes as he sets out on a myth-busting mission in this book. Chapters are voiced by some of the most notable thinkers in our country's sustainable food movement -- Michael Pollan, Wendell Berry Fred Kirschenmann, Dan Barber, Tom Philpott, and Eric Schlosser among them.

From intensively farmed beef, pork, chicken, fish, dairy and eggs -- the curtain of "Big Agriculture" is pulled back with fact-driven arguments on the true costs of pollution, animal cruelty, overuse of antibiotics, immigrant labor and more, which many feel has mired our food system. Republican speech writer Matthew Scully says "instead of redesigning the factory farm to suit the animals, they are redesigning the animals to suit the factory farm."

The book ends with a chapter on healing our food system, and a call to action for consumers and policy makers alike. Sure, it may not be a laid-back, easy beach-read, but The CAFO Reader is a compelling call to eaters (that's all of us) to think deeply about the real cost of what's on our grills this summer.

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