By now, you–being the reader of vegan blogs that you are–, have likely ready numerous posts about Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals. I will try to keep my thoughts on the book relatively brief.
Foer’s book is a broad look at the debate over whether or not we should consume meat. It is not a manifesto against animal consumption, as some reviews might lead you to believe, but is actually more of a debate. It is not exhaustive in covering every case for or against vegetarianism; he focuses mainly on ethical and environmental issues but he does briefly go into health and human welfare (i.e. the deplorable conditions for slaughterhouse workers.)
I wouldn’t go so far as to agree with Erik Marcus who calls the book a masterpiece, but I do believe that this book is written in the best possible way to appeal to mainstream America on the issue of animal rights. Foer did not approach the topic as a hard-core vegan activist (and in fact Foer is just now transitioning from vegetarianism into veganism) and I think that gives him more credibility with an audience of meat-eaters. He gives room in the book, via entire first-person passages, to several people who believe that eating animals is ethical so long as we provide them with a good life before slaughter. By doing so, Foer genuinely provides the reader with all sides of the story, making it a much more valuable resource than if this were merely a proclamation of the author’s beliefs.
A good portion of the book is dedicated to debating the merits of those who advocate animal welfare versus those who advocate animal rights. It is a compelling debate. We vegans would obviously prefer that, if animals are going to be murdered, they be treated humanely beforehand. But the question is, do we work with animal welfare advocates because their work could help improve the lives of animals, or do we oppose them because in the end they still believe killing animals is just?
I love love love that throughout the book, Foer takes every opportunity to point out the flaws in Michael Pollan’s arguments. I personally believe that Pollan is an idiot who chooses to selectively conduct research that will always produce conclusions that match his hypotheses. Michael Pollan likes eating meat and while he is an anti-factory farm activist, he chooses to ignore the many problems with eating “humanely-slaughtered” meat so that he can go on eating his pork chops guilt-free. I give my kudos to anyone who exposes Pollan’s misinformed thinking so three cheers to Mr. Foer.
Foer’s two absolutes are that factory farming is inhumane and that it has atrocious effects on the environment. I hope Al Gore is listening when Foer states, “Most simply put, someone who regularly eats factory-farmed animal products cannot call himself an environmentalist without divorcing that word from its meaning.” And I hope every reader pays attention when they hear, “No jokes here, and no turning away. Let’s say what we mean: animals are bled, skinned, and dismembered while conscious.”
I don’t eat animals, so I don’t have to go to bed feeling guilty about partaking in this cruelty, but what does keep me up at night is knowing how many intelligent, rational people will read facts like these in Eating Animals, and go right on eating meat at every meal. As Foer laments, “It’s always possible to wake someone from sleep, but no amount of noise will wake someone who is pretending to be asleep.”
Eating Animals is not the perfect animal rights guide, but I believe the facts and arguments it contains has the power to change the way a lot of people think about eating meat. In a way, its measured approach might actually be the best way to reach a mainstream audience. If you care about changing animal rights, go to a (local independent) bookstore, buy a copy, and pass it along to all your omnivore friends.
Click here for a great interview with Jonathan Safran Foer including questions on his looming veganism.
Foer will be making three appearances in the L.A. area this weekend. One at a sold-out event at the Skirball Center, one at the Santa Monica Public Library and one at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena. Click here for the nationwide tour schedule.