"I've noticed that quite a lot of people who are prominent in the animal liberation movement are Jews. Maybe we are simply not prepared to see the powerful hurting the weak." --Peter Singer (Author, Animal Liberation)


Two Thumbs Up for Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals

If we are not given the option to live without violence, we are given the choice to center our meals around harvest or slaughter, husbandry or war. We have chosen slaughter. We have chosen war. That's the truest version of our story of eating animals.

Can we tell a new story?
Jonathan Safran Foer
Following a media explosion in the last few weeks, Jonathan Safran Foer's nonfiction debut, Eating Animals, is finally in stores. Foer makes an impassioned case against factory farming that begs to be heard and, judging by the storm of recent media coverage, is being heard by some. Here's hoping it can change minds and habits on a large scale.

After being an on-and-off vegetarian for much of his life, Foer set out to explore where meat comes from when his wife got pregnant with their first child and he had to make decisions about eating animals on someone else's behalf. The search that follows is part memoir, part journalism, and it delves deeply into the issue of where meat comes from. With Foer's revered knack for storytelling, Eating Animals takes readers on a journey that will make them find factory farms nothing short of repugnant. All this is done in a style that is very accessible to the general public and never too preachy or pushy of Foer's viewpoint.

Indeed, Foer never comes to an all-out conclusion with regard to whether readers should go vegetarian. He gives them the information they need to start their own journey. He grapples with the thinking of The Omnivore's Dilemma author Michael Pollan, among others, and neither condemns the relatively small number of supposedly humane farms nor chooses to eat meat from them. Nevertheless, he makes it clear that the scarce existence of such farms is not justification for eating meat that comes from factory farms, as 99 percent of meat in this country does.

Eating Animals raises important, hard-hitting ethical considerations without forcing readers to reach the same conclusions:
  • "The global implications of the growth of the factory farm, especially given the problems of food-borne illness, antimicrobial resistance, and potential pandemics, are genuinely terrifying. India's and China's poultry industries have grown somewhere between 5 and 13 percent annually since the 1980s. If India and China started to eat poultry in the same quantities as Americans (twenty-seven to twenty-eight birds annually), they alone would consume as many chickens as the entire world does today. If the world followed America's lead, it would consume over 165 billion chickens annually (even if the world population didn't increase). And then what? Two hundred billion? Five hundred? Will the cages stack higher or grow smaller or both? On what date will we accept the loss of antibiotics as a tool to prevent human suffering? How many days of the week will our grandchildren be ill? Where does it end?"
  • "Just how destructive does a culinary preference have to be before we decide to eat something else? If contributing to the suffering of billions of animals that live miserable lives and (quite often) die in horrific ways isn't motivating, what would be? 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?"
Eating Animals is peppered with references to Foer's Jewish identity, which shouldn't surprise anyone familiar with his National Jewish Book Awardwinning novel Everything Is Illuminated. Perhaps the most gripping Jewish-themed tie-in is the one involving his grandmother, a Holocaust survivor who refused to eat pork when she was struggling to survive; click here to read about an excerpt of this story, which appeared in The New York Times Magazine last month. This should not be taken as criticism, but Eating Animals is essentially absent of religious inquiry into the question of eating animals. Foer's brief discussion of what "kosher" means in the context of modern kosher meat, reminiscent of his 2006 PETA video "If This Is Kosher ...," is worth reading. Here's an excerpt:
We have no reason to believe that the kind of cruelty that was documented at Agriprocessors has been eliminated from the kosher industry. It can't be, so long as factory farming dominates.

That raises a difficult question, which I ask not as a thought experiment but straightforwardly: In our worldnot the shepherd-and-flock world of the Bible, but our overpopulated one in which animals are treated legally and socially as commoditiesis it even possible to eat meat without "causing pain to one of God's living creatures," to avoid (even after going to great and sincere lengths) "the desecration of God's name"? Has the very concept of kosher meat become a contradiction in terms?
Recommend Eating Animals to friends who have never seriously considered vegetarianism and aren't about to pick up a copy of Erik Marcus' Vegan: The New Ethics of Eating. Recommend this book to the so-called "ethical meat-eater" in your life who is sympathetic to discussion about vegetarianism but isn't quite there yet. And with the holiday gift-giving season right around the corner, keep Eating Animals in mind as a great gift.


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