Title: Eating Animals
Author: Jonathan Safran Foer
Pages: 352 (hardcover)
Release Date: November 2, 2009
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Review source: Hachette Book Group
As my son began life and I began this book, it seemed that almost everything he did revolved around eating. He was nursing, or sleeping after nursing, or getting cranky before nursing, or getting rid of the milk he had just nursed. As I finish this book, he is able to carry on quite sophisticated conversations, and increasingly the food he eats is digested together with the stories we tell. 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 matter. These stories bind our family together, and bind our family to others.
At age 12, I stopped eating red meat. Before then I ate raw hamburger [you know, rolled up in a ball] and the chicken livers that my Nana cooked. At 18, I gave up all other meat. I ate fish off and on until a few years ago. Now I’m a non-dairy vegetarian. I’m not vegan because I cannot afford to be. It is a complex and complicated undertaking and can be very expensive. If Alicia Silverstone wants to come to my apartment with a personal chef, I’m more than happy to go vegan.
Eating Animals reads as a cross between a memoir and an investigative journalism expose on factory farming, the humane treatment of animals, and making wise choices in the food that you eat. In between the plethora of facts, Jonathan Safran Foer mixes in his own memories of food, his decisions to become a vegetarian, and his thoughts on the entire United States food industry. Eating Animals is an ambitious undertaking and Jonathan Safran Foer spent three years researching the book, interviewing all kinds of people and traveling throughout the United States in his quest for knowledge. He goes on a rescue mission to a turkey farm with an animal rights activist. He visited Paul Willis’s hog farm in Iowa and also “heritage” poultry farmer Frank Reese. He wanted to become an educated consumer. Safran Foer is clearly anti-factory farming. And honestly, who wouldn’t be? Is Eating Animals going to be a vegetarian manifesto for some? Sure. Many people will not pick up this book because they do not want to know about the food that they are putting in their mouths. I read a passage to my mother and she didn’t want to hear it. Ignorance is bliss, as the saying goes. If people go around not thinking that the food on their plate once roamed a verdant pasture or was crammed into a minute stall just so that they could have tender meat to eat, maybe they’d think twice.
This is why when fully conscious cattle at the (then) largest kosher slaughterhouse in the world, Agriprocessors in Postville, Iowa, were videotaped having their tracheas and esophagi systematically pulled from their cut throats, languishing for up to three minutes as a result of sloppy slaughter, and being shocked with electric prods in their faces, it bothered me even more than the innumerable times that I’d heard of such things happening at conventional slaughterhouses.
To my relief, much of the Jewish community spoke out against the Iowa plant.
Ultimately Eating Animals is for people to read who know little about our agricultural business and want a brisk, thoughtful, exhaustively researched book. It lacks preaching and serves to deliver the goods and let the reader debate the pros and cons of factory farming and food production and to purchase and consume food with a conscious state of mind. Do you know how that chicken got to your table? Did that lobster feel anything when it was thrown into a boiling pot of water? Is the slaughtering of cows as painless a process as the meat industry claims? The reader will find these answers in Eating Animals. If you’re at all squeamish and love your veal, lamb, foie gras, pate, juicy steak, hamburger and just plain old chicken, Eating Animals is not going to be a pleasant or palatable read for you. However, do not let that deter you. The wonderful, sensitive approach of Safran Foer eases the reader into each topic, one toe at a time. It’s an important topic. Along the way, you will also find out about Safran Foer’s own journey to vegetarianism. He writes with honesty, humor, and straightforward clarity.
I’ve restricted myself to mostly discussing how our food choices affect the ecology of our planet and the lives of its animals, but I could have just as easily made the entire book about public health, worker’s rights, decaying rural communities or global poverty—all of which are profoundly affected by factory farming. Factory farming, of course, does not cause all the world’s problems, but it is equally remarkable just how many of them intersect there. And it is equally remarkable, and completely improbable, that the likes of you and me would have real influence over factory farming. But no one can seriously doubt the influence of US consumers on global farm practices.
Let me share some of the highlights:
Ten million land animals are slaughtered for food every year in America [pg. 15]
Many scientists predict the total collapse of all fished species in less than fifty years—and intense efforts are underway to catch, kill, and eat even more sea animals. [pg.33]
Most male layers [chickens that lay eggs] are destroyed by being sucked through a series of pipes onto an electrified plate. [pg. 48]
Perhaps the quintessential example of bullshit, bycatch refers to sea creatures caught by accident—except not really “by accident,” since bycatch has been consciously built into contemporary fishing methods. . .The average shrimp trawling operation throws 80 to 90 percent of sea animals it captures overboard, dead or dying, as bycatch. [pg. 49]
A University of Chicago study recently found that our food choices contribute at least as much as our transportation choices to global warming. [pg. 58]
Fish build complex nests, form monogamous relationships, hunt cooperatively with other species and use tools. They recognize one another as individuals (and keep track of who is to be trusted and who is not). [pg. 65]
Killing chickens: The conveyer system drags the birds through an electrified water bath. This most likely paralyzes them but doesn’t render them insensible . . .The next stop on the line for the immobile-but-conscious bird will be an automated throat slitter [Netflix Food Inc. and it shows this clearly]. [pg. 133]
In 2004, a collection of the world’s experts on emerging zoonotic diseases gathered to discuss the possible relationship between all those compromised and sick farm animals, and pandemic explosions. [pg. 138]
In parts of the world where milk is not a staple of the diet, people often have less osteoporosis and fewer bone fractures than Americans do. The highest rates of osteoporosis are seen in countries where people consume the most dairy foods. [pg. 147]
Killing pigs: After getting stunned and hopefully rendered unconscious on the first, or at least the second, application of the stun gun, the pig is hung up by its feet and “stuck”—stabbed in the neck—and left to bleed out. [pg.155]
Conservative estimates by the EPA indicate that chicken, hog, and cattle excrement have already polluted 35,000 miles of rivers in twenty-two states (for reference, the circumference of the earth is roughly 25,000 miles). [pg. 179]
According to The Handbook of Salmon Farming: Six sources of suffering for salmon are: (1) water so fouled that it makes it hard to breathe; (2) crowding so intense that animals being to cannibalize one another; (3) handling so invasive that physiological measures of stress are evident a day later; (4) disturbance by farmworkers and wild animals; (5) nutritional deficiencies that weaken the immune system; and (6) the inability to form a stable social hierarchy, resulting in more cannibalism. [pg. 190]
Here’s a list of some famous vegetarians:
Alicia Silverstone Abbie Cornish
Portia de Rossi J.M. Coetzee
Benjamin Gibbard Zooey Deschanel
Alanis Morissette Shania Twain
Jim Carrey Pamela Anderson
Morrissey Dennis Rodman
Chris Martin Liv Tyler
Casey Affleck Kristen Bell
Chelsea Clinton Billie Joe Armstrong
Emily Deschanel Lisa Edelstein
Kevin Eubanks Traci Bingham
Natalie Portman Nastassja Kinski
Sir Paul McCartney Stella McCartney
Cilian Murphy Damon Albarn
Kate Bush Jane Goodall
Thom Yorke Julie Christie
–review by Amy Steele
Jonathan Safran Foer will be speaking as part of the Brookline Booksmith Reading series on November 11.
GREAT NEWS: HACHETTE BOOK GROUP is graciously providing me with THREE copies of Eating Animals to give away.
To Enter: Leave email in the comment section and if you dare, answer this question: are you a vegetarian or have you considered becoming a vegetarian? Why or Why not?
OPEN TO U.S. AND CANADIAN RESIDENTS ONLY. CONTEST ENDS DECEMBER 1ST.