Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Eating Animals

I just finished Jonathan Safran Foer's new book Eating Animals. I picked it up on Sunday morning after a trip to the Dupont Farmer's Market. I finished it in just three days (Sunday afternoon and after work Monday and Tuesday). I couldn't put it down. Jonathan's use of language, straightforward description, and incredible personal narrative is compelling and impactful. He provides enough details to make you uncomfortable but, as he mentions in the beginning of the book, are conservative. While I already knew much of the information he outlines regarding animal processing methods and abuses, the book made my stomach churn.

Jonathan probes the reader with very pointed philosophical and personal questions. He challenges readers to look at their own stories (which define our identities and relationships) and evaluate what our dietary choices mean. He asks how our dietary choices define us. He argues that choices about what we eat and how we eat it matter most. The voice of his grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, echoes throughout the book, “If nothing matters, there’s nothing to save.”

This is an important book to read. I am going to read it again, more carefully, so that I can really evaluate what Jonathan has written.

Ultimately, however, the solutions he offers to the host of issues and complexities he presents regarding eating meat, current animal agricultural methods, and the factory farming industry revolve around personal choice, specifically, vegetarianism and veganism. He writes, "It might sound fantastic, but when we bother to look, it's hard to deny that our day-to-day choices shape the world." I agree with Jonathan, individual choice is important. It does matter.

But, how can we confront the overwhelming economic, political, and social forces presented in the book? These forces remain unknown. Also, Eating Animals introduces different characters, many entrenched in the fight against the factory farm, but how can they work together when they do not agree on the end goal nor the means? Goliath is poorly defined but omnipresent; David is splintered and may not be equipped for the fight.
Personal choice is only a part of the solution. Political advocacy and social change are needed on a much larger scale. But with what goal and how do we get there?

Jonathan argues that his book is “an argument for vegetarianism, but it’s also an argument for another, wiser animal agricultural and more honorable omnivory”. What he means by “honorable omnivory” is presented mainly in anecdotes about the few “compassionate” and “sustainable” farmers left in the United States. I am left wondering how this is possible and what steps need to be taken to get there.

Read this book. I’m going to read it again. I have not yet decided on what his challenges mean to me.

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