Ignorance is bliss. These words could not ring more true after reading Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. Foer’s prior novels, Everything Is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, rank among some of my favorite books so I was eager to read his foray into non-fiction. I was even more excited that his new book was about something near and dear to my heart – food. Food has always been a huge, wonderful part of my life.
I am one of those few people who spent their childhood eating dinner with my entire family and now my kids sit down and eat with their parents every night. Common conversation around the table is what we are eating at our next meal, the opening of a new restaurant, or a great recipe we saw in Bon Appetit. You get the idea. That being said, I am very cognizant of what my family consumes and buy local, sustainable products as much as possible. Until I read this book, I thought I was doing a pretty good job. Well – my pride in being a conscientious consumer has been tossed away now that Foer has seared into my brain the horrors of the poultry, pork, and fish industries.
Foer decided to write this book once his son was born and he wanted to fully understand how he was going to raise his child and what sustenance he was going to provide him. Foer had drifted in and out of being a vegetarian most of his life but was by no means one of these hard-core vegans. His grandmother was a big influence in his life and all of his memories of her were related to food and therefore he recognizes and talks a lot about how food is so much more than sustenance. Food represents family, love, friends, and community which makes our choices much more difficult. Unfortunately, 99% of animals consumed in this country are factory farmed which is a inhumane, unhealthy, and ruining our environment. This is the focus of the book. Foer gives detailed descriptions of how chickens, turkey, pigs and fish are factory farmed and I found every chapter upsetting and revolting. From an ethics and moral standpoint, the abuses that take place in these factories are horrifying especially after you read the descriptions of how intelligent pigs are (much more intelligent than a dog) and realize the fear and pain that they endure. Pain and suffering which is caused my man’s desire for cheap, tasty meat.
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. And how would you judge an artist who mutilated animals in a gallery because it was visually arresting? How riveting would the sound of a tortured animal need to be to make you want to hear it that badly? Try to imagine any end other than taste for which it would be justifiable to do what we do to farmed animals.
And from a hygenic standpoint, it is nauseating to read the accounts of these animals wallowing in their own shit.
Every week, millions of chickens leaking yellow pus, stained by green feces, contaminated by harmful bacteria, or marred by heart and lung infections, cancerous turmors, or skin conditions are shipped for sale to consumers.
Foer’s brilliance in writing this book is that he never comes across as proseletizying. He addresses the horrors of factory farming with eye-witness accounts, interviews with workers, health experts and scientists. And all the information is presented in clear, concise terms. When I was only half-way through the book, I made the decision that I would NEVER buy pork, chicken or turkey from the Smithfields or Tysons of the world ever again. And that I would also try to significantly cut-down on my families’ consumption of animals. But then I came to the ending of the book where Foer basically says that doing those things are not enough. His view is that every time you are dining with friends who are serving factory farmed animals or eating in restaurant, then you are contributing to the on-going demand for these animals. As he states, it is a lot easier to tell your friends when they invite you over to dinner that you are a vegetarian rather than ask where the chicken came from.
This is one of the few books that I have ever read that truly could impact my life. I haven’t decided at this point how I am going to proceed. In the short-term I am going to stick to my original plan and just do my best but it’s not so easy. As I was making my lunch this morning, I stopped and threw out the Boar’s Head turkey
[Turkeys]…..are given more antibiotics than any other farmed animals. Which encourages antibiotic resistance. Which makes these indispensable drugs less effective for humans. In a perfect direct way, the turkeys on our tables are making it harder to cure human illness.
I can’t say happy reading but I can assure you that this will be one of the more thought provoking books you’ve read in a long time.