BOOK REVIEW: The Face on Your Plate

The Face on Your Plate: The Truth About Food

Dear Jeff: Please get a better editor. You have some good stuff in here, but you gallop off on so many unrelated tangents as to bury some of your most informative material, and not all readers are as patient or forgiving as I am.

Masson makes some decent observations of agribusiness throughout his book, such as:

[W]hen I talk to farmers about how they treat the animals on their farms, I come up against a strange fact: while the general public and most research scientists all acknowledge that farm animals suffer, the farmers responsible for them have a tendency to deny it.

He also cites scientific studies that contradict the meat industry’s claims that animals don’t experience pain when, for example, chickens are debeaked with a searing blade. The Brambell Report on farm animal welfare concluded:

“Between the horn and bone [of the beak] is a thin layer of highly sensitive soft tissue, resembling the quick of the human nail. The hot knife blade used in debeaking cuts through this complex horn, bone and sensitive tissue causing severe pain.”

Despite my already being familiar with many of the facts of factory farming presented within its pages, The Face on Your Plate did have some new information for me. For example, biologists have noted that the sound hens continually make in battery cages is identical to the specific call for help hens make to roosters when they are in distress.

I also appreciated that Masson devoted an entire chapter to the ethical and environmental consequences of the seafood industry. Many a vegetarian and even vegan will lament that one of the first questions we are asked is “Do you eat fish?” More than a few people call themselves “vegetarians” and continue to eat fish, perpetuating the myth that fish aren’t even worth considering as animals.

However, at times Masson gets a little silly. He realizes not everyone is willing to become vegan, but he does encourage them to be more mindful in their food choices. At one point, he suggests:

Asking about how chickens are kept when you buy eggs, or how the dairy cows live when buying milk, is a fine beginning.

Ok, that might have been feasible in the days of the general store, but when one considers that the vast majority of Americans buy their milk and eggs at chain grocery stores—and that the food was most likely trucked hundred or thousands of miles to get there—the thought of asking such queries at point of purchase seems ridiculous. (Imagine grilling the 17-year-old Walmart clerk as to the treatment of the cows who produced the cheese on a Great Value frozen pizza.)

Masson admits that while he is a committed vegetarian who tries his best to be vegan, he is not vegan all of the time. I truly appreciated his honesty. Masson writes:

What is the difference? I have a visceral reaction to meat, but not to butter or cheese or milk chocolate. Perhaps because of the disguise: it is hard to eat a chocolate chip cookie and think “suffering.”

I’m the same way, so I found it very comforting that a well-known animal welfare writer struggles with some of the same problems I do.

(Review originally appeared at

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