Sabeen Ahmed reviews PROJECT ANIMAL FARM by Sonia Faruqi

February 15, 2016 Book Review 1771 Views

Cover Image

Photo from publisher website.

Sonia Faruqi. Project Animal Farm: An Accidental Journey into the Secret World of Farming and the Truth About Our Food. Pegasus Books LLC: New York, 2015. 336 pp. ISBN 1605987980. $27.95.

Review by Sabeen Ahmed

Harrowing, insightful, and critical…Sonia Faruqi unveils the “Truth About Our Food”

“My story began as a volunteer vacation at an organic farm, and became, without my knowing it, a global expedition into the deepest, darkest recesses of the international animal agriculture industry” (pp. 347).

In recent years, factory farming and animal agriculture have found their place among academics, scholars, and concerned consumers as issues that merit political, ethical, and economic discussion, thanks largely to such writers as Michael Pollan and Jonathan Safran Foer. Sonia Faruqi’s book, Project Animal Farm, is not merely an addition to this growing scholarship, but a pioneer for examining the future of animal farming and agribusiness. Part memoir, part (accidental) investigative journalism, Project Animal Farm follows close to two years of visits around the world to cow, pig, and poultry farms, and conversations with the individuals and families behind them.

The book is divided into two parts, the first of which chronicles Faruqi’s experiences visiting farms in Canada and her first forays into the world of factory farming. The reader follows Faruqi’s journey through her eyes, starting as a graduate of Dartmouth College and veteran of Wall Street to the physical and psychological trials of life on a factory farm, witnessing the horrors of slaughterhouse kill floors and the profit-driven, automated reality of the animal farming industry.

“The question of agriculture today isn’t whether there should be scale of economy – there should be scale of economy – but whether that scale should be supplied by a natural outdoor farm or a factory farm” (pp. 132).

Through her encounters with families and farm workers, she sheds light on the psychological disconnect not only between farm animals and consumers, but farm animals and factory farmers. “Cats fall under societal norms and turkeys under agricultural, two realms that, as I was finding, have nothing in common” (pp. 98). Nonetheless, Faruqi manages to humanize the face of the factory farming industry (even if not the corporate dimension of agribusiness) by allowing the reader a glimpse into the lives of the people behind factory farm doors.

Part two narrates Faruqi’s visits to farms in Malaysia, Indonesia, Belize, Mexico, and the United States, and the surprising (and not-so-surprising) similarities and disparities in farming practices around the world. Through Faruqi’s writing, the reader witnesses everything from the immaculately clean offices of the Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (MARDI) to a women-led Mennonite pastoral farm in Belize, all the while learning about the globalization of agribusiness. She discusses the importing of Western farming practices and technology at the expense of local farmers and small pastoral farming in developing nations, as well as factory farming’s effects on global health.

“It is the economic desire to cut costs and make profits that determines animal living conditions. It is politicians who choose to side with agribusiness, subsidizing factory farms and feedlots and passing ag-gag laws instead of regulations to protect farm animals, consumers, and the environment” (pp. 294).

Throughout her book, Faruqi relates eye-opening, harrowing, and sometimes humorous encounters with farm animals and people alike, all while narrating her own observations and criticisms about the nature of factory farming. Faruqi’s insights are comprehensive, spanning the health costs of factory farming, the environmental harms and moral dimensions of factory farming practices, the harmful uses of antibiotics on both animals and the humans that consume them, the detrimental psychological effects of factory farming on farm and slaughterhouse workers, and the intricacies of capitalism’s influence on farming over the last several decades. She discusses the myths and realities of food labeling, from the “scam” of “free range” and “vegetarian-fed” to the need for more nuanced adherence to “organic” farming methods. She reviews the inconsistencies of practices and government inspection at slaughter farms, the ethical dilemmas of veal slaughter, and the global health risks of farming practices and meat consumption.

“For every one pound of weight that a sheep, goat, or cow gains, she has eaten several pounds of corn or hay. The land used to grow the corn and hay would be put to exponentially better use – economically, environmentally, and ethically – if it were growing vegetables for people to eat directly. The problem of world hunger can largely be solved by agreeing to eat lower on the food chain” (pp. 168).

Project Animal Farm is extensive, but never dense. It is ambitious, but never cavalier. It is newly informative for those well read on the topic, but accessible enough for anyone interested in food and where it comes from. Far from dispassionate, Faruqi is nevertheless able to offer the reader a nuanced and objective examination of the ways in which factory farming is damaging to humans, animals, and the environment, while offering solutions for a more ethical, cost-effective, and environmentally sustainable future.

Ultimately, Project Animal Farm is a relevant, poignant, and remarkable account of a young woman’s journey through the world of factory farming and agribusiness, and is a must-read for anyone interested in animal ethics, environmental sustainability, and food politics. As Faruqi puts it so succinctly, “each of us is endowed with the power of choice; we just have to decide to make the right choice” (pp. 135).


 

author photo

Photo from author’s website.

Author Bio

Sonia Faruqi graduated cum laude from Dartmouth College. After working as an M&A analyst on Wall Street, she relinquished money, family, community, even safety for Project Animal Farm, and has since devoted herself to improving animal welfare and reforming our current system of food production. She lives in Ontario, Canada, and is a frequent speaker on animal agriculture throughout North America.

 

 


 

Reviewer photo.

Photo by author.

Reviewer Bio

Sabeen Ahmed is a PhD student of philosophy at Vanderbilt University, where she focuses on political philosophy, epistemology, and critical theory. She has long been interested in issues of distributive justice and metaethics, particularly in the realms of animal ethics, environmental ethics, and human rights. Sabeen currently resides in Nashville, Tennessee, where she plans to continue her studies and more closely examine contemporary political and ethical dilemmas.

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