A few years before I became a vegetarian, I had a glimpse into the reality of factory farmed meat that made me pause and rethink my habits. It was an assignment for a class I’ve since forgotten; I was tired and skimming through the photocopied handout when a phrase jumped out at me. At the end of a list of additives to livestock feed, the article mentioned waste from candy factories, including “rotten Snickers".

I have no idea why that particular piece of information was so unsettling to me. I knew, vaguely, that horrible things went on in factory farms, and feeding a cow rotten candy bars was probably the least of it. But for the most part I’d managed to block out the reality of how meat was raised and slaughtered, it was too far away, too strange, too inconvenient, like a horror movie in another language. That “rotten Snickers” comment, however, slipped by the defenses I put up, and lodged in my mind like a splinter.

I was struck, finally, by the utter randomness of what was being fed to the animals I was eating. Do Snickers bars even rot? Who would think to feed them to cows? What nutritional value could they possibly have? Within the next couple of years, Mad Cow disease spread across Europe (and, most probably, the world) and it was impossible to avoid reading about how cows were routinely forced to cannibalize the rendered flesh of other diseased cows. I kept eating meat for years, but I regarded it with increasing suspicion. More and more often, when I bit into a burger, I thought of mad cows, prions and rotten Snickers.

In addition to illustrating my incredible thick-headedness, I think this story demonstrates that even the most thick-headed people will think twice about a habit if the basis for that habit is undermined. I ate meat because I associated it with down-home cooking, health and strength. The suffering of the animals I ate wasn’t even on my radar. However, when I read about the disgusting things that were fed to cows, I couldn’t make those associations anymore. The way I thought and felt about meat gradually changed, and as it did, the way I thought and felt about animals changed too. I started to make the connection. Meat wasn’t just “meat.” It wasn’t even just flesh. It was the flesh of someone.

Often, the case for vegetarianism is made using ethical or logical appeals. However, Jonathan Safran Foer amply demonstrates in his book Eating Animals that the reasons people have for choosing what they eat have little to do with logic or even consciousness. We choose certain foods because of what they represent to us, because of the stories we tell about them and because of the way they make us feel. With his usual narrative brilliance, Foer has launched a crusade to change the stories we tell about the food we eat, to make those stories increasingly reflect what actually goes on. The truth is not pleasant, and it is not palatable and I’m not suggesting it should be forced on anyone who doesn’t want to hear it. Still, I wonder, if the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, could I change his heart by turning his stomach?