Posts Tagged Jonathan Safran Foer
book review: We Are the Weather
Posted by Amy Steele in Books on October 11, 2019
We Are the Weather by Jonathan Safran Foer. FSG| September 2019| 272 pages | $25.00| ISBN: 978-0-374-28000-0
“The truth is I don’t care about the planetary crisis—not at the level of belief. I make efforts to overcome my emotional limits: I read the reports, watch the documentaries, attend the marches. But my limits don’t budge. If it sounds like I’m protesting too much or being too critical—how could someone claim indifference to the subject of his own book? —it’s because you also have overestimated your commitment while underestimating what is required.”
Okay so two things: I have been a vegan for 15 years and was vegetarian for at least a decade prior to that; I am a fan of Jonathan Safran Foer. Eating Animals and Here I Am are favorites of mine. I always recommend Eating Animals to people. And it’s not that I wouldn’t recommend We Are the Weather but I just didn’t like it that much. I wasn’t impressed. It’s a self-exploration of why Foer isn’t doing more or caring more. This is the book someone writes to appease guilt. It’s an existential search for why he cannot sustain a vegan diet and lifestyle. It’s well-written and researched–the book provides plenty of facts to back up the thesis that factory farming affects climate change. Foer writes: “Climate change is the greatest crisis humankind has ever faced, and it is a crisis that will always be simultaneously addressed together and faced alone. We cannot keep the kinds of meals we have known and also keep the planet we have known. We must either let some eating habits go or let the planet go. It is that straightforward, that fraught.” This book didn’t move me as much as Eating Animals moved me.
Utilizing family history, notable the Holocaust and WWII, Foer states the importance of decreasing meat consumption for the common good. Foer notes: “Ninety-six percent of American families gather for a Thanksgiving meal. That is higher than the percentage of Americans who brush their teeth every day, have read a book in the last year, or have ever left the state in which they were born. It is almost certainly the broadest collective action—the largest wave—in which Americans partake.”
I understand something is better than nothing and I’d like everyone to reduce meat, dairy, poultry and fish consumption. As someone who is first and foremost vegan for the animals, I can’t relate to the sentiment that it’s okay to sometimes eat fish or meat or sometimes have dairy ice cream if someone says they’re vegan. It isn’t a “cheat” diet. There are dire consequences. Foer writes: “According to Project Drawdown, four of the most effective strategies for mitigating global warming are reducing food waste, educating girls, providing family planning and reproductive healthcare, and collectively shifting to a plant-rich diet.”
Most people remain ignorant to the impact of their diets. They’re not morally opposed to consuming animal products. They also don’t think that an individual’s choices will affect the greater good. They’re wrong. He states: “When I first chose to become vegetarian, as a nine-year-old, my motivation was simple: do not hurt animals. Over the years, my motivations changed—because the available information changed, but more importantly, because my life changed. As I imagine the case for most people, aging has proliferated my identities. Time softens ethical binaries and fosters a greater appreciation of what might be called the messiness of life.” He makes these types of statements but by the end of the book I still don’t understand these other motivations and why it’s so hard for Foer not to be 100% vegan. If you want to be vegetarian or omnivore then that’s your choice. It’s not, however, difficult to commit to being vegan if you’re in it for the right reasons. And if you’re committed to helping the environment, then it’s critical that you make changes in your diet.
Here’s some notable facts from the book:
–“There have been five mass extinctions. All but the one that killed the dinosaurs were caused by climate change.”
–“Since the advent of agriculture, approximately twelve thousand years ago, humans have destroyed 83 percent of all wild mammals and half of all plants.”
–“Sixty percent of all mammals on Earth are animals raised for food.”
–“There are approximately thirty farmed animals for every human on the planet.”
–“In 2018, more than 99 percent of the animals eaten in America were raised on factory farms.”
–“Humans eat sixty-five billion chickens per year.”
–“On average, Americans consume twice the recommended intake of protein.”
–“The four highest-impact things an individual can do to tackle climate change are eat a plant-based diet, avoid air travel, live car-free, and have fewer children.”
–review by Amy Steele
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Farrar Straus Giroux.
STEELE PICKS: Best Books of 2016
Posted by Amy Steele in Books on January 8, 2017
quite delayed on posting my year-end list.
here are the best books of 2016 [not ranked]:
An Abbreviated Life: a memoir by Ariel Leve [Harper]
–gorgeous writing, sad story. resilience. My parents got divorced when I was around the same age and I only have a few isolated or vague memories.
Alligator Candy: a memoir by David Kushner [Simon & Schuster]
—David Kushner’s older brother Jon disappeared one day on a bike ride to get candy and two men savagely murdered him, sodomized him postmortem and mutilated his body. It’s a horrific event to happen in one’s family. Only four at the time, Kushner didn’t quite understand the full impact. He missed his brother but didn’t know the complete details. Now a journalist, he decided to revisit the case and provide a voice for and memory of his brother. Through compelling prose and devastating emotion this memoir potently addresses murder and its effect on the family. full review.
Future Sex by Emily Witt [Farrar, Straus and Giroux]
—Future Sex reads as a fascinating sociological study on sexuality that delves into orgasmic mediation, internet porn, webcams, Burning Man and polyamory. Witt combines personal experience with research and reporting in a darkly amusing, honest and real manner. Witt investigates sites I’d barely heard of: Chaturbate; Porn Hub; Kink.com; Fetlife. She attends an orgasmic mediation workshop [looked up on YouTube and there are tutorials] and travels to Burning Man. She interviews tons of people such as polyamorous Google employees, the founder of OKCupid, a 19-year-old webcammer as well as a woman who creates female-centered porn. Witt doesn’t make a spectacle of what may be absurd. Instead she writes analytically, astutely with brevity and a sharp edge. full review.
Girl Through Glass by Sari Wilson [Harper]
—A former ballet dancer, Wilson provides intimate details about New York’s ballet scene. While this isn’t solely a novel about the ballet world, girls straddling the line between youth and adulthood provides fascinating reading. The novel flawlessly describes the razor sharp focus on becoming the best, earning a particular status and securing one’s place in this strange world overflowing with beauty and sacrifice. And what happens to all those girls who aren’t’ quite the best? Those girls who do not make the right school or earn a place in a prestigious ballet company? This absorbing, riveting novel does what a wonderful novel can do: it completely transports readers to a specific time and place in such an effective and specific manner that one thinks about the subject and characters well past finishing the last page. full review.
Heat & Light by Jennifer Haigh [Ecco]
—Returning to Bakerton, Pennsylvania—the setting for the 2005 best-selling novel Baker Towers—author Jennifer Haigh again focuses on an energy source and its effects on a small community. full review.
Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer [Farrar, Straus and Giroux]
–phenomenal writing. for some reason I waited to read this (maybe because it’s quite long and dense). immediately engulfed in the story of a family coming apart. numerous other elements including being Jewish and Middle East politics. amazing.
Lazaretto by Diane McKinney-Whetstone
—Set in post-Civil War Philadelphia, this historical fiction novel beautifully explores race, class, gender and family. full review.
Leaving Lucy Pear by Anna Solomon [Viking]
—An engrossing and gorgeous work of historical fiction, this novel effectively weaves together issues of class, feminism, wealth, power, mental illness and motherhood. The setting: Cape Ann, Massachusetts, a working class fishing community as well as a lovely coastal summer getaway for Boston’s wealthy. In 1917, the unwed teenage daughter of a wealthy family abandons her newborn daughter under a pear tree outside her uncle’s estate on Cape Ann. A decade later, Beatrice finds herself unexpectedly reunited with the Irish woman raising the determined and spunky Lucy Pear. full review.
Modern Girls by Jennifer Brown [NAL]
–The novel focuses on a strong mother-daughter relationship. Brown incorporates historical details which strengthen the plot, setting and characters. For instance in a meeting Rose attends, she urges her comrades to write letters to their Senators to repeal 1924’s Johnson-Reed Act which instituted quotas on the number of Jews that could enter America. While Rose and Dottie don’t share every detail with each other they’ve developed a solid bond and care deeply about each others well-being. Mother and daughter respect and support each other. Despite the decade, the restrictions against women and standard domestic expectations, these women remain strong feminist characters. A sequel set 10 or 15 years on would be greatly welcomed. These characters must be followed up on. Clear your schedule and brew a pot of tea. Once you start this wonderful, detailed novel you’ll want to read straight through. full review.
The Other Woman by Therese Bohman [Other Press]
—This novel bursts with intellectual prowess. It’s witty, provocative and thoughtful about money, class, what it is to have less and desire more, to be educated and smart but not particularly suited to anything. Swedish author Therese Bohman examines societal expectations of what makes a complete life: a good job; a happy coupling; a nice place. All the things by which we define ourselves but realize the innate superficiality of it all. If we focus on the having and not the feeling and the experiencing then we lack integrity, depth and strength of character. full review.
Pull Me Under by Kelly Luce [Farrar, Straus and Giroux]
—Pull Me Under is an exquisitely dark psychological thriller which examines identity and place through its compelling protagonist and story. read my complete review.
Rare Objects by Kathleen Tessaro [Harper]
–lovely historical fiction set in Boston. Author Kathleen Tessaro adeptly describes both the immigrant North End and wealthy mansions with vivid detail. Superb writing and research merge to tell this wonderful story. a page-turner about class, friendship and the things and people we value most. full review.
The Sun in Your Eyes by Deborah Shapiro [William Morrow]
–There’s that saying that you can’t tell a book by its cover. Book covers visually connect a potential reader to the book. The cover image makes you wonder what the book will be about. A beautiful, cool book cover sets expectations. On the cover of The Sun in Your Eyes is a photo of two women with a definite 70s rocker chic. What’s going on between these two women? It’s a 1974 photograph by William Eggleston and drew me right in. I’d also just seen the photo in the documentary Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me which features this photo. The blonde was Alex Chilton’s girlfriend. full review.
The Vegetarian by Kang Han [Hogarth]
–I’ve been a vegan for about eight years and am not too thin. Due to psychiatric meds I need to lose weight. I stopped eating red meat at 12!/everything but fish at 18 then went vegetarian to vegan. So the being deprived and malnourished because she’s not eating meat is bothering me a tad. Otherwise, the writing is great. It’s dark and suspenseful. Entirely original and engrossing.
We Love You, Charlie Freeman by Kaitlyn Greenidge [Algonquin]
–a thoughtful and provocative novel which effectively and creatively winds together numerous subjects from coming-of-age, first love, adolescence, sisterhood, race, anthropology, history and family dynamics. In 1990, a family relocates from Dorchester, Massachusetts to the Berkshires to teach sign language to a chimpanzee at the Toneybee Institute for Great Ape Research. full review.
September Book Readings in Boston area
Posted by Amy Steele in Books on September 2, 2016
The Art of Memoir
Tuesday, September 6 at 7pm
A Gentleman in Moscow
Wednesday, September 7 at 7pm
Jonathan Safran Foer
Here I Am
Thursday, September 8 at 6pm
The 37th Parallel
Friday, September 9 at 7pm
Lady Cop Makes Trouble
Saturday, September 10 at 5pm
The Terror Years
Harvard Book Store at Brattle Theatre
Monday, September 12 at 6pm
Writing Without Bullshit: Boost Your Career by Saying What You Mean
Harvard Book Store
Tuesday, September 13 at 6:30pm
The Book that Matters Most
Leaving Lucy Pear
Tuesday, September 13 at 7pm
Where Am I Now?
Harvard Book Store at Brattle Theatre
Thursday, September 15 at 6pm
The Art of Money
Tuesday, September 20 at 7pm
Robert Olen Butler
Tuesday, September 20 at 7pm
Harvard Book Store
Wednesday, September 21 at 7pm
Friday, September 23 at 7pm
Harvard Book Store at Brattle Theatre
Friday, September 23 at 6pm
You Gotta Get Bigger Dreams
Harvard Book Store at First Parish Church
Sunday, September 25 at 6pm
Harvard Book Store at First Parish Church
Thursday, September 29 at 7pm
book review : Eating Animals
Posted by Amy Steele in Books on November 9, 2009
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.
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