Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this book review are deeply personal and self-reflective, and, as such, are not intended to evoke or provoke offense. I honor libertarianism in most circumstances. I just have to get this out.
Disclaimer: I still eat meat and poultry, albeit very rarely these days. Trying to eliminate meat from my diet – or at least severely restrict it – has made me even more grateful for it.
Disclaimer: I am entirely in the Bourdain camp of Using and Eating All The Animal Parts. I can’t personally attest to the flavor of some delicacies with any authority because I have yet to sample them, but if an animal must be killed for consumption, it only seems like common sense not to waste any of it, for goodness sake.
Disclaimer: I would also consider eating alternative proteins, such as insects or invasive species. A recent Atlantic article featured a Netherlands company called Bugs Originals that is perfecting the culinary science of bug cuisine with notably flavorful success.
Disclaimer: Sometimes I make myself physically and existentially ill worrying about the world. Global meat-consumption is skyrocketing and its effects on the environment are evident. What’s it going to take for the world to rethink and revise the ‘traditional’ Western diet? America created it – can’t America re-create it? Who do I contact to start seriously lobbying?
Disclaimer: Jonathan Safran Foer wrote one of my very favorite books, Everything is Illuminated. His non-fiction prose is as engaging as his fiction. He is, coincidentally, married to Nicole Krauss, who wrote one of my other very favorite books, The History of Love.
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“The eat with care ethic didn’t become obsolete over time, but died suddenly. It was killed, actually.” – Jonathan Safran Foer
Jonathan Safran Foer’s scalding treatise against factory farms, Eating Animals, is worthy of attention even if it fails to convert readers to vegetarianism. Eating Animals contains interviews with a wide variety of farmers, ranchers, butchers, and animal rights activists, and it documents in graphic, unrelenting detail the “farming” of agriculture today. Foer’s compelling research lends gravitas to the proposal that adopting a vegetarian diet is ultimately a more sustainable and ecologically ethical alternative to the Western diet. I earnestly wish that I could share a copy of Foer’s book with everyone in the world, because maybe that would promote change to current practices. But I recognize, as does Foer, that readers have to want to change and effect change. I could in theory buy copies of Eating Animals for everyone I know, but I can’t make them read it, though I wish with all my heart that they would. As a poultry farmer named Frank Reese confided to Foer: “People care about animals. I believe that. They just don’t want to know or to pay… It’s wrong, and people know it’s wrong. They don’t have to be convinced. They just have to eat differently.” I get that.
Eating Animals is not an enjoyable book. It is a train wreck from which this reader could not break her compulsion. Foer’s book explicitly details some of the least palatable, most depressing, and most diabolically concealed realities of modern meat and poultry factory farming. Pages 175-180 are ecologically terrifying. I forced myself to finish the book, however, because the author did his research well and because I write about food, so I’d better know my stuff. Barbara Kingsolver had nudged me, Michael Pollan pushed me several feet towards the edge, and Eric Schlosser brought me directly to the mouth of the abyss. But it was Foer who finally and successfully thrust me into radical dietary change. Foer convinced me to rethink my diet and adopt a new, almost exclusively vegetarian stance. Not an easy decision for an enthusiastic omnivore.
“So the question is not whether we forget but what, or whom, we forget – not whether our diets change, but how… I love sushi, I love fried chicken, I love a good steak,” writes Foer, who is now an ardent vegetarian. “But there is a limit to my love.” The essential kernel of insight I took from his book, along with a colossal hell bummer of an education, is that it is possible and, indeed, necessary to choose to change my diet as a statement of concern for the environment as well as the ethical treatment of the animals we eat. “Ranchers can be vegetarians, vegans can build slaughterhouses, and I can be a vegetarian who supports the best of animal agriculture,” he writes. I would add that his book gave me the notion that I can be an omnivore who supports the best of animal agriculture and who makes the conscious choice to spread information in order to educate others. Though our proposed diets are fundamentally different, I profoundly appreciate the influence of Foer’s research on my own worldview. I’m a masochist like that.
Foer’s work should be recognized for its skillful scrutiny of the worst cankers of the factory farming industry. “Just how destructive does a culinary preference have to be before we decide to eat something else?” writes Foer. “If being the number one contributor to the most serious threat facing the planet (global warming) isn’t enough, what is? And if you are tempted to put off these questions of conscience, to say not now, then when?” Central to his (very direct) entreaty is the fact that diet is a decision – something to be made and, moreover, something that can change. People adopt dietary change all the time for their own health, as in the case of diabetes, high cholesterol, or heart disease. After reading Eating Animals, I decided to change my diet for the health of an entity whose health is so very much more important: the planet.
I elect to eat with care. I can’t un-know what I learned from Foer. But I believe that openly and objectively addressing the uncomfortable has the potential to promote positive change. And that is why I wholly recommend his book to anyone brave enough to read it.