About five years ago I picked up a discounted hardcover copy of Jonathan Safran Foer’s nonfiction book, Eating Animals. I never did end up reading it – I kept putting it off until it was eventually purged in one of my many moves. But, the existence of the book stuck with me, and when I re-committed to living vegan it was the first veggie non-cookbook I picked up. To say that Eating Animals has changed my life would be a bit dramatic. I’ve been obsessed with the injustices of the factory farm industry for the last year, so there was little in the nearly-300 hundred pages that fully shocked me. What this book did, though, was educate me on a system of cruelty in the most intelligent and thought-provoking way.
If you’re coming into veganism or vegetarianism motivated more by health concerns that anything, you might not know exactly what factory farming is. If you’re an animal lover, but an omnivore, you might have an idea of where your food comes from, but prefer not to think about it. If you’re already an ethical vegan or vegetarian, you might not know the statistics that Jonathan Safran Foer digs up during his research, but you know the gist. Well, this book is for all of us. No matter what your stance on eating meat, you will find words in this book that resonate with you.
Safran Foer does the unthinkable – he, while himself a vegetarian – shares the wealth of information he has accumulated over a three year period with a mostly-unbiased, kindly and entirely human perspective on our own species’ strengths and our faults. He speaks at length on the importance of food to our culture, to our traditions, and the role food plays in evoking and preserving precious memories of the past.
“Our decisions about food are complicated by the fact that we don’t eat alone. Table fellowship has forged social bonds as far back as the archaeological record allows us to look. Food, family, and memory are primordially linked. We are not merely animals that eat, but eating animals.” (page 194)
The author understands that choosing not to eat meat, while being the ethically sound choice when confronted by the nightmarish magnitude of the damage that factory farms are causing to our planet and to the billions of animals slaughtered in its wake, is not as simple as some vegan idealists might like everyone to think. And that is something that I can relate to.
I did not stop eating meat because I didn’t like the taste. Trust me. I’m not one of the lucky ones who is revolted by the smell of a steak barbecuing, the aroma of fatty pork sizzling on the stove, or the scent of a perfectly seared salmon steak. But, I am fully conscious. I am awake to the reality of where those foods came from. I cannot divorce myself from the truth – that the chunks of chicken in my favorite chicken salad sandwich are the bodily remnants of a living, breathing creature. She had a beating heart. She had the ability to experience joy. The desires of my taste buds are not worth the knowledge that I am responsible for her death.
Eating Animals is an incredible read. I am so impressed with Jonathan Safran Foer’s ability to craft a treatise that does not alienate anyone, regardless of where they stand on living meat-free. He even goes so far as to advocate for traditional heritage farming, if only as an alternative to factory farming.
I would recommend this book to absolutely everyone, and will endeavor to share it with whomever will listen as I continue on my vegan journey.