Eating Animals

August 20, 2010 at 10:47 pm 1 comment

This will be the second installment of the new feature where I blather on about books and tell you to read them.

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer.

About 9 months ago I went to go see Jonathan Safran Foer give a talk at the free library of philadelphia (as part of their free author lecture series.) I had read Everything is Illuminated and Extremely loud and Incredibly close before. I knew he had written a book called Eating animals, and that my vegan friends were all starting to read it. I however, had not read it but I wanted to see what he had to say and I went. He spent the beginning of the talk explaining why he wrote the book. Then (here is the important part) he spent an entire hour in an open question-answer style dialogue with the audience. Some of whom were not very happy with what he was saying (though I assume they were there because they didn’t like the idea of the book, and had not in fact read the book itself.) I have never heard anyone talk about animal rights in such a non-confrontational and eloquent way before and I left the lecture feeling ecstatic that someone who was rather well known, and not PETA (my dislike for PETA will be another post) was bringing attention to animal rights and food issues.

Knowing that, and my stance on the actual issue of eating animals (vegan), you should probably just accept my bias  towards liking this book. And since I don’t want to bore you to death raving about it for 80 pages, I will just pick out some things that got my attention and reasons I think you should maybe check it out.

1.) JSF starts Eating Animals with a chapter called “storytelling” where he lays out his own personal experiences with eating and the cultural and social aspects of food and eating. He says right out that he has not been a strict vegetarian since he started thinking about the issue of eating animals and that he has occasionally eaten meat. This is important. This is important because the vast majority of people will automatically  assume you feel superior to them if you restrict your intake of animals for ethical reasons and then write a book about it. But what JSF does is make himself exceptionally human to the reader, he allows them to see things he is maybe not so proud of, and that allows readers to let their guard down. He says that he did the research for the book so he could fully understand what he is feeding his child. A struggle that almost everyone who has children can relate to. He also talks about his grandmother and family dynamics and in this chapter and there is an anecdote from his grandmother talking about her experience in the holocaust that I find fascinating and very important:

“The worst it got was near the end. A lot of people died right at the end, and I didn’t know if I could make it another day. A farmer, a Russian, God bless him, he saw my condition, and he went into his house and came out with a piece of meat for me.”

“He saved your life?”

“I didn’t eat it”

“You didn’t eat it?”

“It was pork, I wouldn’t eat pork.”


“What do you mean why?”

“what because it wasn’t kosher?”

“of course.”

“But even to save your life?”

“If nothing matters, there is nothing to save.”

And with that he simply and eloquently puts a point on how our ethics and actions concerning food are a huge part of what shapes us as a person. So much so for his grandmother that she would rather face starvation than compromise her ethical and religious beliefs. Most importantly it puts a subtle point on how our actions are what determine our character.

2.) I learned while reading this book. I am pretty well educated when it comes to matters of animal welfare and advocacy, and still there was information in this book that I did not know. He also looked at the problem from new perspectives, ones that are shied away from in other more one-sided books about animals. This is not a book that one needs to slog through, repeating information that anyone who has ever thought about the politics of meat already knows. That is why I often recommend this book to my vegan friends as well as the omnivores in my life.

3.) The people he talks to are not all of the same opinion as me. Many of them are currently happily employed in the animal killing business. Still, many times they seem to show that there is still the same gut reaction of guilt and empathy in them as there is in many of those of us who abstain from meat. I think that in the way JSF presents these people, he makes it almost impossible for us to make a villain out of  any individual. This is good, this is not so polarizing, this is showing hope for the human spirit as a whole.

“Have you ever wanted to spare one?”

He tells the story of a cow that had recently been brought to him. It had been a pet on a hobby farm, and “the time had come” (No one, it seems, likes to elaborate on such sentences.) As Mario was preparing to kill the cow, it licked his face. Over and over. Maybe it was used to being a companion. Maybe it was pleading. Telling the story, Mario chuckles, conveying- on purpose, I think- his discomfort. “Oh boy,” he says. “Then she pinned me against a wall and leaned against me for about twenty minutes or so before I finally got her down.

Finally, I recommend this book because it made me cry in public. I do not cry in public. It is beautiful and sad and moving and uplifting. Read it.


Entry filed under: Book talk, Rambling, Wall Of Text.

Fambly, fear. Required reading.

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