Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer (Book Review)

Jonathan Foer’s, Eating Animals, has been on my ‘to-read’ list since forever. When I happened to stumble upon it at a GoodWill store for less than a cup of coffee, I knew I had to give it a read. And I’m thankful I did.

Eating Animals is, yes, about eating animals. But more specifically, it’s about the intersectionality between the ethics of animal husbandry, between the cruel, unsustainable farming and slaughter methods of ‘factory-farming’, and between the complex reality that eating meat is a deeply enmeshed fabric of our society’s culture. Yes, Foer’s appetite is voracious (excuse the terrible pun), but he approaches each subject thoughtfully, with a philosopher’s curiosity and a journalist’s attention to detail, to unpack three years worth of meaty research.

Eating Animals succeeds, mainly, because of Foer’s talent for weaving otherwise bone-dry facts about factory-farming into a human-focused narrative that gets us thinking about our consumption of meat in new, important ways (e.g. Would Thanksgiving be the same if we didn’t serve turkey?). One particular night, Foer recounts, he (along with an animal-rights activist acting as his guide) sneaks into the barn of a factory-farm for a glimpse of the conditions in which the animals are kept, inside. His findings were— are, appalling; tens of thousands (he estimates 30,000 in one barn) of chickens confined in wire-cages (the platforms of which were the size of 8×11” paper). The chickens themselves were all sickly-looking, covered in shit, and, it seemed (due to genetic modification), always, always, in pain. Before leaving, Foer’s guide finds a chicken with scabs over its eyes. Instead of letting it suffer, she slits its throat, ending its misery. And, as Foer notes, we actually pay people to do this.

Eating Animals is worth reading for the education of how meat is produced in America, alone— 99% of our nation’s meat comes from inhumane factory-farms. Foer’s mission, he admits, isn’t to convert us to vegetarianism (though if you have any empathy, you’ll likely consider it by the end), but to present the facts of how meat is produced, and let us make our own decisions. And, while reading Eating Animals has led me to believe in the ethical, environmental, and nutritional superiority of a vegetarian diet over an omnivore diet, it isn’t my intent to convince you that you should stop eating meat either. I, Foer, and Eating Animals, will leave that up to you.

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