Mazola1's Reviews > The Face on Your Plate: The Truth About Food

The Face on Your Plate by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson
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Sep 27, 2009

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Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson is a thinker of considerable originality, a writer of rather modest talent, and a man of strong opinions who does not suffer from a lack of self confidence in the correctness of those opinions. Masson, a complex and fascinating character, is an accomplished Sanskrit scholar who trained as a psychoanalyst and worked with Anna Freud in London compiling her father's writings. Masson edited the definitive version of Freud's letters to Wilhelm Fliess, a work of considerable scholarly importance. He also had a messy falling out with Anna Freud, in part over the issue of whether Freud "sold out" on the issue of childhood sexual abuse.

Given that background, it's hardly surprising that when Masson decided to write "the truth about food," the resulting book would be serious, copiously footnoted, and boldly, if somewhat sloppily written. Although Masson comes across as a bit of a fanatic on veganism, nonetheless, The Face on Your Plate is still a good and disturbing, basic book on the subject.

In The Face on Your Plate, Masson explains why he is a vegan, and urges the reader to consider becoming a vegan or a vegetarian, or at the very least, eating less meat. Although Masson writes with a touch of self-righteousness that ranges from mildly off-putting to infuriating, he makes a powerful and even convincing argument for the proposition that eating meat is not good for humans, the animals they eat, or the environment. Masson's argument that these animals are sentient beings who suffer from the way they are treated is hard to take issue with, and the details of the way cows, chickens, pigs and fish are cruelly treated before being killed are graphic and disturbing. Masson also explains how raising animals for food uses a wasteful amount of resources, and why a vegetarian diet is more health that one which includes meat and animal products. In a chapter on denial, Masson draws on his background as a psychoanalyst to try to explain how we use denial that meat comes from once living animals in order to be able to keep on eating them. It's an interesting chapter, but its ideas seem somewhat underdeveloped and pretentious. Masson also includes a description of his diet, which was not interesting.

Really, Masson's book is best when it leaves aside such things as denial and diets, and turns to its central thesis: that "we like our meat disguised," because the more natural it looks, i.e., the more it looks like what it is -- a dead animal that was killed to make food -- "the more likely it is to cause disgust and physical aversion." Masson's chapters on the short, pain filled and sad lives of the cows, chickens, pigs and fish we eat certainly flesh out that thesis.

I've always been of a divided mind about Masson. I hated his book The Assault on Truth, but greatly admired his edition of the Freud letters to Fliess. Some of Masson's worst faults are on display in The Face on Your Plate, but so are some of his greatest strengths. Among those strengths are the ability to write boldly and persuasively. The bottom line is that even though I still find Masson to be irritating and smug, The Face on Your Plate has convinced me to do some hard thinking about what I eat, and to try meatless Mondays. If the definition of a good book is one that gets you to think, and maybe even to change your mind, then this is a good book.
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message 1: by LizG (new)

LizG Love your first sentence, the description of the author -- you couldn't have said it better, or more accurately captured my own sentiment.

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