After all my complaining about it, I still ended up reading a lot of Jonathan Safran Foer's nonfiction manifesto Eating Animals.
It really wasn't for me. First off, Foer explains one of the larger reasons why he decided to investigate America's food supply (and factory farming specifically), as:
"Unexpected impulses struck when I found out I was going to be a father. I began tidying up the house, replacing long-dead lightbulbs, wiping windows, and filing papers. I had my glasses adjusted, bought a dozen pairs of white socks, installed a roof rack on top of the car and a 'dog/cargo divider' in the back, had my first physical in half a decade...and decided to write a book about eating animals..."
And, a few pages later:
"As my son began life and I began this book, it seemed that almost everything he did revolved around eating. He was nursing, or sleeping after nursing, or getting cranky before nursing, or getting rid of the milk he had nursed. As I finish this book, he is able to carry on quite sophisticated conversations, and increasingly the food he eats is digested together with stories we tell. Feeding my chld is not like feeding myself: it matters more." (p. 11.)
Brother. Yes, I know your life changes completely when you have children, blah blah blah, but it's never been my favorite reason for authors to write their books. For one thing it always seems like kind of a prick move to me--maybe you could think about the state of the world before it becomes important to you because you now have children to worry about? Maybe even if you don't have kids you should be thinking about some of these things? Anyway. That's a small, very personal quibble.
It's not that I disagree with Foer, really. I don't think factory farming is right either. I didn't enjoy reading the chapter about how the chicken you buy in the supermarket is "water-cooled" after it is processed, which means it cools in what industry insiders refer to as its own "fecal soup." It's just that most of his arguments fall flat with me. I was particularly annoyed when he talked about taking his son to zoos and thinking about animals--as I think zoos are maybe as cruel to animals as factory farming is (except zoo animals aren't put out of their misery by premature deaths, but are rather kept alive to be gawked at in their tiny little cages).
It's also telling to me that my favorite part of the book was the part not actually written by Foer, but rather by a person who works in the chicken industry (whom Foer quotes):
"It's a different world from the one I grew up in. The price of food hasn't increased in the past thirty years. In relation to all other expenses, the price of protein stayed put...
People have no idea where food comes from anymore. It's not synthetic, it's not created in a lab, it actually has to be grown. What I hate is when consumers act as if farmers want these things, when it's consumers who tell farmers what to grow. They've wanted cheap food. We've grown it. If they want cage-free eggs, they have to pay a lot more money for them. Period." (p. 96.)
I want to read a book written by THAT guy. He seems to have a better grip on reality than Foer.
In all? There's at least two books out there that are MUCH better than this one: Mark Bittman's Food Matters, and Catherine Friend's The Compassionate Carnivore. I would highly suggest reading either one (or both!) of those books instead.