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October 14, 2010 / Wendy Joan

Playing House Reviews: Eating Animals

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Jonathan Safran Foer had me at Everything is Illuminated—his imaginative and dreamy novel on a journey through Ukraine much better known as a major motion picture. When I heard Foer had a new, nonfiction book on the factory farming industry, I knew I had to pick it up. Last month, I did.

Foer comes clean in the introduction as a nearly lifelong flexitarian (occasional meat-eater/occasional vegetarian), writing “Mark Twain said that quitting smoking is one of the easiest things one can do, he did it all the time. I would add vegetarianism to the list of easy things.” Upon entering matrimony, Foer and his wife decided to begin their new life together as serious vegetarians. And ate fish on their honeymoon.

The catalyst for writing Eating Animals comes with the birth of Foer’s first child, and he entered fatherhood simply wanting to know where the food he feeds his son comes from:

Feeding my child is not like feeding myself: it matters more. It matters because food matters (his physical health matters, the pleasure of eating matters), and because the stories that are served with food matters … Within my family’s Jewish tradition, I came to learn that food serves two parallel purposes: it nourishes and it helps you remember. Eating and storytelling are inseparable—the saltwater is also tears; the honey not only tastes sweet, but makes us think of sweetness; the matzo is the bread of our affliction.

But the story Foer has to tell us is nowhere near as sweet. There is no need to recount the horrific conditions animals on factory farms live and die by, though these widely unknown truths are the heart of the book. It would be naïve and unrealistic for me to recommend every meat-eater on the planet read Eating Animals (though Foer’s work has been translated into some 36 languages). The book will, however, strike a chord with the already-conscious eater—if “organic,” “free-range” and “cage-free” mean something to you, you can’t afford not to pick it up.

Like any serious journalistic endeavor (and to save Eating Animals from the ranks of vegan propaganda), Foer presents as many sides of the factory farming story as possible. We meet family farmers, factory farmers, farmers stuck somewhere in the middle, even a vegetarian cattle rancher. Her words have left more of an impression on me than Foer’s startling statistics, and seem to be a good place to end:

I used to think being a vegetarian exempted me from spending time trying to change how farm animals are treated. I felt that from abstaining from meat eating, I was doing my part. That seems silly to me now. The meat industry affects everybody in the sense that we are, all of us, living in a society in which food production is based on factory farming. Being a vegetarian does not relieve me from responsibility for how our nation raises animals…

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One Comment

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  1. Pam Biddlecombe / Oct 14 2010 9:35 am

    Wendy,
    I have an increased awareness of everything I put into my mouth, these days, trying to make good food and liquid norishment choices. I’m sure reading “Eating Animals” will influence my choices and make me a more compassionate consumer of Mother Earth. Really enjoyed this book review!
    Pamela Sue

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