Saturday, January 8, 2011

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

Eating Animals
Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

The blurb:
Like many young Americans, Jonathan Safran Foer spent much of his teenage and college years oscillating between enthusiastic carnivore and occasional vegetarian.  As he became a husband and then a father, the moral dimensions of eating became increasingly important to him.  Faced with the prospect of being unable to explain to his son why we eat some animals and not others, Foer set out to explore the origins of many eating traditions and the fictions involved with their creation.

Traveling to the darkest corners of our dining habits, Foer raises the unspoken question behind every fish we eat, every chicken we fry, and every burger we grill.  Part memoir and part investigative report, Eating Animals is a book that, in the words of the Los Angeles Times, secures Jonathan Safran Foer "a place at the table with our greatest philosophers."

I'd never considered becoming vegetarian, but Eating Animals has made me consider my usual food shopping decisions.  In the book, Jonathan Safran Foer analyzes the production and consumption of animals on several different levels, each of which are disturbing.

He points out that much of the food that we buy in the supermarkets that we presume are healthy, such as turkey, fish and chicken, are not what we'd expect.  Much of the turkey and chicken available in the grocery stores have been bred for human consumption -- the fowl that we find are bred to grow fast, to have large breast sections (because US consumers prefer the white meat).  The animals themselves are so altered from their original species that they aren't expected to be able to survive in the wild.  Having been bred for consumption, these animals are dependent upon the feed, antibiotics, vitamins, etc. from the poultry farms in order to survive.  It's disturbing that the animals are so different from the original animals.  How healthy can it be for us to consume an animal that was fed so much hormones, antibiotics and vitamins? 

Foer describes his underground visits to poultry farms and to slaughter houses.  His account doesn't become excessively emotional but the details are disturbing.  Learning exactly how the animals are raised and cared for, imagining the pain and knowing the various attrition rates paints a disturbing picture and once imagined is hard to dismiss.   While I had expected the description of slaughterhouses would be disturbing, the degree of unnecessary cruelty that many animals suffer at the time of their death -- hurting for sport --and the absence of any effective supervision over the care of the animals is worse than anything I could have imagined. 

I guess Eating Animals has made me realize that I can't just ignore the impact of my food choices.  While I haven't become vegetarian, it's hard to enjoy meat the same way.   Eating Animals has gotten me to make more careful choices.  Have you read Eating Animals? If so, has it changed how decide what to eat?

ISBN-10: 0316069884 - Trade Paperback $14.99
Publisher: Back Bay Books; Reprint edition (September 1, 2010), 368 pages.
Review copy provided by the publisher.

About the Author:
Jonathan Safran Foer is the author of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: A Novel and Everything Is Illuminated: A Novel.  His work has received numerous awards and has been translated into thirty-six languages. He lives in Brooklyn.

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