Title: Eating Animals
Author: Jonathan Safran Foer
Published: September 1, 2010
Length: 368 pages
Eating Animals is a nonfiction book written in a journalistic style that discusses the morality and practicality behind eating meat. Jonathan Safran Foer takes aim at the factory-farming and fishing industries and exposes the many dark truths about the meat that our society consumes in record numbers. Family farms are not given a free pass, however. Eating Animals is a full investigation of meat-eating from every angle.
Before I go any further, let me state that I am a vegetarian. My wife and I became vegetarians this past July and we have not strayed from that path ever since. While my wife decided to become a vegetarian at the beginning of the month, I held off for another couple of weeks. Eating Animals is what finally pushed me over the edge. It is one of the best decisions that I have ever made.
Jonathan Safran Foer claims, rather disingenuously in my opinion, that Eating Animals is not meant to turn the reader into a vegetarian. While this might technically be true, as he never directly tells the reader what to do, all of his evidence points in favor of abandoning meat-eating. Interestingly enough, the book begins with the author’s personal journey regarding vegetarianism. He lays the emotional groundwork early on regarding how meat-eating was once very important to him and to his family, largely due to his grandmother’s cooking. I can empathize with this situation a great deal, as I imagine many readers can. However, Foer’s feelings shift as he ages and he eventually can no longer rationalize meat-eating, especially to his children.
Some of the most interesting and heart-breaking chapters involve Foer’s personal visits to factory farms. He does not spare gruesome details when it comes to his descriptions of what exactly happens at factory-farms and slaughterhouses. Some of these sections were extremely difficult for me to read, so be warned on that count. Unfortunately, I think that brutal honesty is necessary for this topic. Many people avoid thinking about the meat that they are eating and what was done to produce and acquire it. It is only when the reader starts to see the horrific conditions of the factory-farm that the truth about meat production really hits home. At the most exciting point in the narrative he even breaks into a farm with an animal rights activist.
There is a dictionary of terms toward the beginning that explains many important concepts, such as the fact that “free-range” is a relatively useless term because there are so many workarounds. The same can be said about “organic” products because the definition is so vague. Overall, I found the dictionary to be very informative and it has helped me in my decisions going forward as I read food labels with a wiser eye.
The author gives a little more slack to family farms, but when he meets and interviews family farm owners he often runs into the same problem: morality. The underlying message behind Eating Animals is that factory-farming is cruel to animals, punishing to the environment, and dangerous for humans. However, the morality of killing and eating other animals is really at the heart of it all. Even family farms often have to use slaughterhouses that do not use entirely “humane” methods. Foer stops short of condemning all family farms, but he is not entirely comfortable with them, either.
Foer’s tone can be a bit smug at times, and he is writing with a fairly obvious agenda. It just so happens that I completely agree with his agenda. The statistics are a bit old since the book was published in 2010, but from my own fact-checking I can say that he certainly did his research. Vegetarianism is very important to me, although I do not proselytize it unless someone specifically asks me about it. After all, I ate meat for all of those years, too. However, I think that Eating Animals is required reading for anyone who is thinking about becoming a vegetarian (or vegan) or who wants to learn more about the truth behind the factory-farm industry. If people want to eat factory-farmed meat, then they should not be able to ignore the suffering of other animals along the way. After all, humans are animals, too.