on February 8, 2010
The author brings a novelist's talent for observation and description to the subject of farmed animals and the people who eat them. It is very engaging and horrifying in just the right measure and I found myself confronted with information I hadn't heard before, despite lots of reading on this topic. I was fascinated with his ethical dilemma and how he took us through it all, both from his point of view and those of others.
His conclusions are not mine, nor is this book the perfect statement of my own philosophy, but I think it is a step in the right direction and it is getting a lot of attention. Martha Stewart had him on her show and she said to her audience, "I think you'll agree with most of what [the author] has to say." Really? I think most of them don't want to hear it. Great quote from J.M Coetzee on the book jacket for those who do dare read it: "The everyday horrors of factory farming are evoked so vividly, and the case against the people who run the system is presented so convincingly, that anyone who, after reading Foer's book, continues to consume the industry's products must be without a heart, or impervious to reason, or both."
We'll see. Human beings have an amazing capacity for rationalizing their own actions.
This book is a collection of personal stories and philosophical reflections - some humorous, others troubling - the author uses it to make a very significant point about our somewhat questionable relationship with the animal world around us. As top of the food chain, we have come to rely on certain domestic animals like cattle, chickens and pigs for our main food sources. This heavy reliance on red meat or animal protein has become a traditional part of our North American culture as reflected in the millions of animals slaughtered each year in readiness for our dinner tables. This dependence on meat as a mainstay of our diet, while not altogether healthy, is not the issue that Foer focuses on here. While a Vegan in his dietary preferences, Foer does show some understanding why most of us come honestly by our need for meat: a desire for flavour, an instinct for herding, and the need to provide for one's family are some of the key compulsions. Having made that point clear, Foer launches into a discussion of how present society has come to mistreat animals it raises to eat. From the floors of the modern food factories and slaughter houses of America comes an updated version of the horrors of the meat industry described in Upton Sinclair's 19th century "Jungle". Based on Foer's sources, the meat we normally consume on a daily basis has been raised under some of the most appallingly cruel conditions known to humankind. Turkeys clubbed and electrocuted, thousands of pigs squeezed into small, poorly-ventilated pens, and calves forced to live in their own execrement are all conditions that speak to an industry that puts profit ahead of humanity. Foer's challenge to each of us meat-lovers is to start adopting an ethos that credits animals with having feelings and emotions that need to be respected even if they are a lower part of the food chain. If we don't, we will invite all kinds of soci-economic problems from destroying the environment to causing the outbreak of some serious pandemics. When I read his colorful description of growing up in a well-to-do Jewish-American home, I got the distinct impression he did not feel comfortable describing the convenient lifestyle that has bred this wretched problem of animal abuse. To show his readers an alternative way to raising animals for food on a large scale, Foer offers examples of husbandry with a conscience: small farms and cooperatives that raise and produce their meat under the strictest standards of public hygiene and respect for the animals. While I still love my BBQ steaks and pork ribs, Foer's very thoughtful study on the nature of the food industry has given me cause to educate myself as to how ranches, hatcheries, and slaughterhouses raise their produce for market. Have we come to assume, in our abundant lifestyle, that we are no longer morally responsible for how we handle our food resources, especially the living ones? If so, think again and read this book.
on November 8, 2009
Foer's first book of nonfiction is not a rant against meat eaters, but more of a philosophical and meditative investigation on what it means to eat meat in today's society. Through the device of "storytelling" Foer examines the cultural, environmental, ethical, social, and political issues with consuming meat from factory farms, which account for 99% of meat consumption in the U.S. (I'm sure the figure is similar for Canada). His discussion of eating as storytelling was really interesting, in that what we eat tells stories about us as people, but also that storytelling centres around food consumption (think of big family dinners).
To be fair, I'm already a vegetarian, so perhaps some of this book was preaching to the converted. However, I think that anyone with a stomach will get something out of this book. Foer allows farmers, PETA activists, and industry workers to tell their own stories about factory farming and conditions on today's farms and what happens to the animals. In this way, the book is more powerful than other accounts of factory farms and the food industry because (I can't resist saying this) you get it straight from the horse's mouth.
Foer also offers some interesting philosophical and moral discussions of his own, surrounding why we find it inhumane to eat the family dog, but not slaughter other animals. What constitutes "suffering", and which is more important to us: the knowing or the eating. The knowing being knowing about the conditions of the farms where our food comes from, and the eating being the love of consuming of that food. For me, the knowing is more important than the eating, but for many others the eating is more important than the knowing.
This is not a book where you will feel attacked as a meat eater, but it is a strong book and Foer doesn't back down with giving the gruesome details of the factory farm industry. He does advocate for, and include information on, family farms and humane practices and "ethical" meat, so it's not a total downer of a book. In fact, even though much of the book is disturbing, Foer manages to come off as hopeful, and often funny.
A quote I really enjoyed that I think sums up much of the intent of the book is found on page 102: "It's always possible to wake someone from sleep, but no amount of noise will wake someone who is pretending to be asleep." Or, in other words, for those that pretend to be asleep, the eating is more important than the knowing, so they choose forget the knowing and continue to eat. Hopefully this book will help change that, as it's impossible to forget the scenes described by Foer and industry workers in this book.
on January 14, 2010
I've been advocating for animal welfare for over two years now, and to do so, I needed to base my sayings upon solid facts and texts. This book is one of the best I've come to read both in interest and in argumentation quality.
This is so because the author uses not properly an argumentation but the presentation of what has found on the field and in his extensive research and text-reading on the subject. He presents his own experience as a person that want to know what's really happening to things he consumes and that therefore must investigate in places where he is not necessarily welcomed. He also presents social situations that a person concerned about animal welfare and environmental issues related to meat production may encounter. This is a breath-taking informative kind of writing. I warn you that there is actually no plot in this book but our own existence as consumers, which is big enough to motivate you to read the whole story.
It doesn't get a 5-star rating because it is not perfectly complete. It lacks some aspects like the situation of individual farmers as beings behind the big companies that own the production and their desire and/or capacity of returning to a smaller form of agriculture. It could have talked more about the international and globalization context in which agriculture is now part of, which might explain, but not excuse, some of the behavior encountered in farmers.
Ultimately, I recommend this book to any single person who eats or has eaten meat, which is virtually everyone. If you want to say that you know what you are eating, you have to read this book, especially if you're an American.
on October 31, 2013
I recently finished the book "Eating Animals," by Johnathan Safran Foer. Before I go any further I'd like to state for the record that I am not a vegetarian. I approached this book as someone who eats meat and enjoys eating meat. After finishing reading it, I would say that I'm not convinced enough by the arguments of the author to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle, but will certainly give thought to reducing the amount of meat that is part of my diet.
While I liked the general tenor of the book, I found its overall structure rather disjointed and hared to follow. I think the reason for this is that Foer tries to do too much with the book and ends up not doing enough. This stems in large part from Foer's desire to be as accommodating as possible to his carnivorously inclined readers.
Another contributing factor to this is Foer's bringing in to the book elements of the origins of our meat eating habits. These to me, are the weakest part of the book for he fails to address these questions in any depth. He often introduces one of these subjects only to almost immediately veer off into another discussion on factory farming and meat production. More detail on the cultural aspects of our meat eating habits would be very welcome. As well a more structured look at the relationships between us and the animals we eat would make the book better.
To his credit Foer is very sensitive to the people that he meets along the way, whether they be part of the factory farm, food producing movement, adamantly opposed to it, or caught somewhere in-between. The stories these individuals tell enable the reader to get a real strong sense of the many nuances that are involved in the production and consumption of meat products.
When I speak of nuance, I am referring to the raising and slaughtering of meat that is done outside of the factory farm process. There is no nuance within that world. If there is one thing Foer's book makes clear time and time again, it is that our current way of mass-producing meat for consumer consumption is barbaric to the nth degree. It is not only barbaric in the way that the animals are treated in the slaughter process, but also in the way it affects the mental state of those who are involved in the production of the meat.
So now the hard part, change. There is no doubt that Foer is right when he says that the only reason we don't eat less meat is that we are unwilling to. Yet, I love eating meat, especially when I can get it cheap. Nonetheless, I think that over the next couple of months I'm going to try and make an effort to add at least a couple of meatless days to my eating habits. It's only a small start, but if we multiplied small starts by hundreds of millions of people, maybe we could bring our meat eating habits under control a little, and help remove a little cruelty out of our world. Perhaps I even need to include Boon Burger as a destination when I go out to eat. I've been there once and it was terrific.
on August 20, 2010
I really enjoyed this book, read it in two days like a top-fiction novel. Some of the cruel images will stay with me for a very long time but I also made peace with my own struggle of eating meat. I will make every possible effort not to eat any farmed animals. What I found very impressive about Foer is that he wasn't condemning meat eaters. When I tried to read Skinny Bitch few years ago I couldn't get past the first chapter because of them condemning it. Highly recommended.
on April 30, 2012
Never before have i been so motivated to make a difference! as a mother to 2 young girls (1.5 $3 years old), a yoga teacher, and someone who cares deeply about our (beautiful!) planet, I was moved so deeply (to action!) by this book, I find no words to do it justice... It is a very important book! yes, it does describe a horrible situation (some of it is really hard to stomach) but it does so in a very engaging manner (and believe it or not, humorously too!)
I can understand people's resistance to read, and know about these horrors ("ignorance is bliss", right?), but I think you CANNOT AFFORD NOT TO KNOW!! Not if you care a little about the world we live in - the future of your children, animal's welfare and the environment.
I see vegetarian's frustration with this book as it doesn't clearly state you should go veggie (although the author is, and he states the benefits to being vegetarian). I think it's because this book is intended primarily to people like myself: (previously) ignorant meat-eaters with a conscious, who he hopes to inspire to make a change. Well, luckily I was eating very little meat in the past because I actually love the taste of vegetables, but there's no way I can ever look at meat the same way, or eat animals! It was clear to me 30 pages into the book. I have also decided to put my girls on a mainly vegetarian diet, with very little meat from sources I trust. I don't see how antibiotics, hormones and drugs can be good for them... I'll let them decide for themselves if they want to eat meat (sorry, ANIMALS!), and I can only hope they'll go veggie.
It's the first time I write a book review, or send out a massive e-mail to everyone I love and URGE them to read this book and get informed! And despite the grim reality it describes, there is much, much hope. Here is something to inspire you - if everyone in America alone ate one less portion of meat a day, it would be the equivalent of taking 5 BILLION cars of the road!! This is the power we have!! We can all make a difference, even if it seems little!! Aren't you inspired??? I certainly am! Next for me is to write a cookbook with all the delicious vegetarian meals I cook that would challenge any meat eater who claims it's less delicious!
Guess what everyone gets from me this Christmas...?
on February 17, 2011
After reading and seeing quite a bit on the subject of animals I became a convinced vegan. I can say that Jonathan's book sealed my convictions with titanium bolts and deep layers of cement. I respect the fact that his book came out as a quest for educating himself on what he was going to feed his newborn son, and not intended as a pro-vegetarian book, I see from some of the reviews that some pro-vegetarians do not like that fact. Au contraire! I believe that condemning meat eaters is not the right approach to solving the urgent issue facing us. Education is the key. And Jonathan has made some serious credible and well documented research. Mind boggling facts. This is a facts-in-your-face-draw-your-own-conclusions type of book. It is also an intelligent philosophical reflection on the social implications. EVERYBODY should read it and draw their own conclusions. One thing for sure: it will affect somehow your food choices. Well hopefully at least it will make you aware of how each of us is responsible for encouraging an industry that is destroying us and the planet. I am convinced that the impact of this book would be huge if it got more media attention. However when we talk about meat it makes a lot of people feel unconfortable because of humanity's love affair with steaks (and now with sushis as well), and unfortunately the industry has more power than the government on regulations. We are lucky to live in a country where we can make our own choices. It is our duty to get educated and take responsability for our choices and our footprint. I highly recommend this book to EVERYBODY. It is not just about cruelty to animals. It is also about how factory farming (on land and in the ocean) is destroying our planet and affecting our health. If WE support an industry that has a negative impact far more important than other sectors like transportation on the planet, WE are the ones to blame. Education, education, education!
on April 11, 2010
In this well researched book, i discovered the flesh of animals at the supermarket has been treated as more or less a byproduct that can be "improved" and "altered" at will, like a computor or a car as if it didn't come from a being with a brain and feelings. Factory farms have declared war on these animals who deserve our loving care just like our pet birds, cats and dogs and they are treated with uncalled for incredible cruelty as if they were our ennemies of the worst kind. What HAVE they done to us? I live in Canada and i will only believe our factory farms here are better than the U.S. ones when it's proven to me, until then, i cannot approach any meat product at the superparket. Read the book, it is the best eye opener and consider joining a group like PETA.
on May 17, 2010
Foer's in-depth research and articulately presented findings make this book as educational as it is shocking. By page 81, I was a vegetarian. Walking through the meat department at my grocery store now makes me nauseous. It is not Foer's goal to turn people off meat, but rather to start demanding for ethical and humane treatment of farmed animals. He calls for the end of factory farming, and for good reason. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in where their food comes from. It's time to end the ignorance.