By Meg Claire
I used to think that Jonathan Safran Foer was just one of the many young, New York, male, literary darlings. Just another Brooklyn hipster who got lucky with his first novel, Everything Is Illuminated. Maybe. But it was his 2009 book Eating Animals that made me take him seriously.
In a nutshell, Foer, a content meat-eater is about to have his first child and decides to investigate eating animals. He structures his investigative experiences while exploring the concept of story-telling. What stories do we tell ourselves about eating animals? What do we tell ourselves that makes this OK? Finally, and of most interest to newer vegetarians; what do we tell ourselves about the absence of meat on our family table? During the three years Foer took to write this book he became vegan.
“Compassion is a muscle that gets stronger with use,” Foer writes. “And the regular exercise of choosing kindness over cruelty would change us…We have grander legacies than the quest for cheap products.”
Foer blazes a vegan fantasy trail. He assists an animal activist in a late-night mission to a Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO). He writes SEVEN letters to Tyson Foods begging for a tour of one of their factory farms – to no avail. He illuminates the sentience of fish and their dastardly industry. He befriends vegetarian ranchers. He interviews slaughterhouse workers. He probes the differences between those advocating veganism and those advocating animal welfare. Even the facts and figures behind eating animals were surprisingly still eye-opening to a vegetarian like me.
Unfortunately, Eating Animals is not reaching the right audience. Unrepentant meat-eaters won’t pick up this book for the world, literary darling or not. My own mother, a foodie and gourmet food procurer, doesn't want to know "where it comes from". Those who do question this “most fundamental act of consumption” are usually already on the right path; toting reusable grocery bags, knowing the name Michael Pollan, and having at least a glancing familiarity with kale, curry and tzatziki. Hopefully Eating Animals puts them over the edge towards a meat-free diet. This has become the book I recommend to omnivores who ask me about reducing their meat consumption.
This review is a little dated, I know. The book’s been out for a year. After already being written up in all the lit mags, Eating Animals has had its fifteen minutes. Now, it moves into the pantheon of books that have convinced me of the true virtues of the meat-free diet. It becomes an authority. Eating Animals joins the bookshelf beside Jane Goodall’s Harvest for Hope, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, Jeffrey Moussaieff’s Why Elephants Weep, and Irene Pepperberg’s Alex and Me. Cheers, Jonathan Safran Foer! A new classic is born!
Have you read Eating Animals? Whaddija think? Which books are on your "classics" bookshelf?