To meat or not to meat
Bestselling author Jonathan Safran Foer explores why we eat meat and what our dependence on factory farms means for the environment, the independent farmer and even our health.
Tue, Nov 17, 2009 at 09:56 AM
WHAT'S FOR DINNER?: Why is it OK to love animals in childrens' books, but it's also OK to eat them? (Photo: arekmalang/iStockPhoto)
Jonathan Safran Foer’s new book, Eating Animals (Little, Brown and Company, $25.99), isn’t your typical case for vegetarianism.
But that’s a good thing, because really, who reads those books besides people who have already made up their minds to relinquish meat?
Instead, this book is mostly for everyone else: everyday meat eaters, conscientious meat eaters and especially those who waver between meat eating and vegetarianism on a regular basis.
Foer (who made his fiction debut with the bestseller Everything is Illuminated) doesn’t so much as make a typical case for vegetarianism as he does explore the reasons behind why we eat meat and what our dependence on factory farms means in terms of effects on the environment, the independent farmer and even our health, among other things.
By expertly combining philosophy, literature, memoir and loads of sound scientific research, he makes the strongest case of all for giving up meat. And, he’s convincing without being condescending, a major plus for those tired of self-righteous rants about meat eating.
Foer is inspired to come to terms with his own pseudo-vegetarianism after learning that he will be a father and realizing that, as a person who often eats meat, he’ll one day he’ll have to explain to his son just why it’s OK to love animals in children’s books, but it’s also OK to eat them.
To do this, Foer makes a commitment right from the start to use only the most conservative statistics available on factory farming and animal welfare today, so that you can be assured that the information he gives has no slant, but is merely the cold, hard truth.
He also enlists the help of just about everyone involved in the factory farm debate from an animal activist who agrees to write her story in the book because “the truth is so powerful in [the case of factory farming] it doesn’t even matter what your angle is,” to a factory farmer, an independent slaughterhouse owner, a poultry farmer and hundreds of others involved in the meat industry.
Most importantly, Foer asks the hard questions about why we eat meat, questions that will make you think about your own eating habits, regardless of your views. Aside from the shocking statistics and earnest storytelling, it is this reason alone that everyone, meat eater or not, should read this book.
Consider, for example, the following passage from “C,” a poultry plant operator turned activist.
She writes, "This isn’t animal experimentation, where you can imagine some proportionate good at the other end of the suffering. This is what we feel like eating. Tell me something: Why is taste, the crudest of our senses, exempted from the ethical rules that govern our other senses? If you stop and think about it, it’s crazy. Why doesn’t a horny person have as strong a claim to raping an animal as a hungry one does to killing and eating it? It’s easy to dismiss that question but hard to respond to it."
It’s these types of difficult and unsettling questions that make Foer’s first nonfiction book a truly powerful investigative essay that supersedes all other factory farm exposés that have come before his because he doesn’t let you off the hook without really considering what exactly it means to eat meat.
Make no mistake. It’s not that Foer forces his views upon you; he simply forces you to think.
One poultry farmer Foer interviewed sums up the book’s intentions best when he says: “I’m not better than anyone, and I’m not trying to convince people to live by my standards of what’s right. I’m trying to convince them to live by their own.”
For more eco-literature, check out our books section.
Photo: Globe Images
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