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August 2018

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Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Five Stars

Best for: Anyone looking for both a philosophical and a reality-based discussion about the decision to consume meat.

In a nutshell: When he realizes he is going to be a father, Mr. Foer decides to examine the food he eats and the morality of it.

Worth quoting:
I underlined and starred so many lines that I could put here, but I think this one sums the entire question up for me:

“Whether we’re talking about fish species, pigs, or some other eaten animal, is such suffering the most important thing in the world? Obviously not. But that’s not the question. Is it more important than sushi, bacon, or chicken nuggets? That’s the question.”

Why I chose it:
I’ve been vegetarian (and even vegan) at a few points in my life. I pretty much never cook meat at home. Lately I’ve been wondering if I can justify my decision to even intermittently eat meat, so when I saw this book at Shakespeare and Co in Paris, I decided it was time to jump in again.

Review:
What does it mean to choose to consume meat in the US (or UK) these days? What has it meant for the last 50 years? Realistically, unless you are raising your own meat or purchasing it from one of an infinitesimally small number of family farmers, your meat is coming from a factory farm. And even if you do purchase it from a ‘humane’ farmer, that animal is still being killed in an unimaginably cruel slaughterhouse. We know this, and yet we (unless the person reading this is vegetarian or vegan) still consume meat. And eggs. And dairy.

Why? This book explores the reasons we give, in beautifully written prose. Seriously, I’ve read many a book in my day about vegetarianism and veganism, but none have affected me in this way. They all have some variation on the same statistics, the same horror stories. The same glimpses into slaughterhouses, the same reminder that the workers in these facilities are often paid poorly and treated horribly. They tell us how pigs are much more like dogs than we’d probably feel comfortable knowing as we bite into our BLTs. How fish are much more intelligent than we’d probably imagined, and how both farmed and wild-caught seafood are just utterly horrible for the environment. How ALL of this factory farming — on land and sea — is destroy our world.

The book doesn’t provide an easy out, and I love that. Mr. Foer opens and closes his book with anecdotes about family meals. He describes the best (and only) meal his grandmother — a holocaust survivor — makes: chicken with carrots. He recognizes, and explores deeply, how food matters to us all culturally. How so many of our memories involve meals. And he asks if that is enough to justify consuming meat? What about if we are 100% certain that the meat was raised humanely (which is nearly impossibly to do)?

I’ve gone back and forth on this. I’ve read many an article about how pushing a vegetarian — or vegan — life on everyone can be culturally and economically insensitive. When vegetarians and vegans point out how poorly factory farm (e.g. all farm) animals are treated, they’re often responded to with the fact that people who pick our fruits and vegetables are treated poorly, so why don’t we care about them. Which is a completely insincere comment, given the shit labor standards that cover slaughterhouse workers.

Here’s where I’ve landed, once again, and after reading this book: I cannot justify consuming meat. Me. A woman with no medical issues, who has access to sufficient money and time to prepare an all-vegetarian diet. I do care about the welfare of animals. And I do care about their rights. I care about the environment. I care about public health (side note: Mr. Foer’s section on antibiotics and flu pandemics is one area that other similar books don’t cover nearly enough). And by choosing to not eat meat, I can be closer to living my values. I just had become complacent, and this book helped push me back on the right path.

As I write this review, my cat Tigger keeps jumping in my lap. My partner and I adopted him and his brother Jameson 6 1/2 years ago. They’re our buddies, our friends. We love them dearly, and even brought them with us when we moved to London. I can’t imagine life without them, and I certainly can’t imagine eating them. So how can I justify eating their animal friends? And why do I keep trying to? Because burgers are tasty? Sure. But, as Mr. Foer asks, is that taste more important than the life of another animal? Of course, this raises the question of how to feed them humanely. Cats are obligate carnivores, so chances are that the meat I need to feed them was procured in an inhumane fashion. I don’t know how to square that circle, but I’m going to try.

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