EATING ANIMALS by Jonathan Safran Foer

Book Quote:

“Every farm, like every everything, has flaws, is subject to accidents, sometimes doesn’t work as it should. Life overflows with imperfections, but some imperfections matter more than others. How imperfect must animal farming and slaughter be before they are too imperfect.”

Book Review:

Review by Poornima Apte (NOV 18, 2009)

Full disclosure: I am a vegetarian. It’s not a label I really think much about because it was never a conscious choice. I was brought up in a Hindu vegetarian home and eating meat was totally out of the question. Over the years it has become a matter of habit and taste.

Jonathan Safran Foer’s path to veganism started when he became a new father. He wanted to research the foods he would soon be feeding his infant son and in no time came upon the juggernaut—the factory farm. “My personal quest didn’t stay that way for long. Through my efforts as a parent, I came face-to-face with realities that as a citizen I couldn’t ignore, and as a writer I couldn’t keep to myself,” he says as the impetus for writing his first work of non-fiction, Eating Animals.

During his research and reporting, Foer confirms what others have chronicled: The totally out-of-control factory farms that handle animal husbandry today have lead to multiple astounding problems—animals mistreated on a massive scale, people’s health endangered and the environment trashed to its breaking point.

In chapter after horrific chapter, Foer systematically outlines the problems with every kind of animal we raise and slaughter in the country: chickens, pork, beef and even fish. He directly equates the “modern landscape of disease” with the way animal husbandry is carried about these days.

Veteran writers in the field like Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser have argued persuasively about the very same topics. The absolutely searing documentary “Food Inc.” also visits these very same points. So in a sense what Foer describes has been said before. Nevertheless the style of writing is uniquely his. Eating Animals also includes a whole chorus of voices from the industry who paint a complete picture of a monster run amuck.

While Foer doesn’t dwell much on the environmental impact of factory farming, he does visit some basic statistics. “According to the UN, the livestock sector is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, around 40 percent more than the entire transport sector—cars, trucks, planes, trains, and ships—combined,” he writes. On a side note, although the scale is a lot smaller, vegetable farming is not entirely blameless either. Readers interested in learning more about the environmental and societal impact of growing all our food (including the veggies) could take a look at Raj Patel’s brilliant Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World’s Food System.

Despite all the reporting, Eating Animals will probably be remembered and talked about because of Foer’s moral arguments that underlie one’s eating choices. Even though Foer says the book is not a case for vegetarianism—he says it is possible to be a conscientious omnivore—his arguments sure point toward only one way out.

When faced with the egregious practices of factory farms, Foer argues, you cannot (or ought not) to turn a blind eye. One could seek out farmers who choose not to go this route. But, Foer points out, such farmers are so few in number that really, the consumer doesn’t have a choice for now—he should consider converting to vegetarianism. Incidentally, in one good section, Foer presents research that debunks the popular myth that one needs to eat meat to get enough protein. “Despite some persistent confusion, it is clear that vegetarians and vegans tend to have a more optimal protein consumption than omnivores,” Foer writes.

Foer’s recommendations to skip the meat altogether sound defeatist and sadly, his moral arguments can sound like an upstart proselytizing for the sake of a grander cause. Which is too bad. Because Eating Animals makes a great case against the factory farming of animals and is worth reading for this reason alone.

Conscientious eating will need a shift in resources, attitude and cost. Its primary driver will be education—toward that end, books like Eating Animals help enormously. It’s a worthy addition to the literature that already exists in the field.

In the end, Foer seems to take the safe way out (probably because the subject is so polarizing) and says that his book is “an argument for vegetarianism, but it’s also an argument for another, wiser animal agriculture and more honorable omnivory.”

It’s probably the safest stance. After all, ours is the society where the term “veggie hamburger” still assumes that the hamburger is the prize—the one whose taste must be reproduced. What Foer leaves unsaid is that the kind of cultural shift he really wants to stoke requires consumers not just to rethink their meat but, equally important, how they view their vegetables. But, for now, he’ll take what positive change he can get—even if it comes in small portions.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-5from 320 readers
PUBLISHER: Little, Brown and Company (November 2, 2009)
REVIEWER: Poornima Apte
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Jonathan Safran Foer
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and ExcerptLA Times interview on Eating Animals
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read our review of:Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close and

Everything is Illuminated

And more on this subject:

Making a Killing: The Political Economy of Animal Rights by Bob Torres





Movies from books:

November 18, 2009 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: ,  · Posted in: Non-fiction

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