Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

When Jonathan Safran Foer — author of Everything is Illuminated — learned he was going to be a father, he did what most new or soon to be parents do: a deep and probing critique of oneself and the world. You go through the “oh my god I’m so flawed and I’m going to screw up my kids” and “holy geez the world is a terrible place and how in the hell am I going to protect/teach/guide my kids?” Then there is the alternating happiness and fear that just makes ya crazy. Eating animals became a focal point of Foer’s transition from author to author/Dad.  Foer spent most of his life as an omnivore, but with the trendy patches of earnest, uneducated vegetarianism found in high school and college. With the birth of his child looming, Foer began to explore the ethics, practices, traditions, and consequences of eating animals.

Eating Animals grew from this research. This book is not propaganda, it is not sensational, and it is not inflammatory, anti-human or hateful. Eating Animals is a carefully researched piece of journalism that discusses how eating animals — in our modern world — is detrimental to our health, devastating to our environment, and hurtful to the health and happiness of humans. While Foer chooses a vegetarian lifestyle, he still advocates for a return to small farming and simple living. In other words, Eating Animals is mostly a call to end factory farming. What I learned in this book has horrified me, brought me to tears, and transformed my lifestyle.

Foer uses scientific research, interviews, and investigations to expose the dangers of factory farming animals. He breaks down the vocabulary used to disguise cruelty to animals, he describes the living and dying conditions of these animals, and illuminates the logical fallacies and lies that keep the world consuming meat. I’d like to share just a few of the things that continue to be on my mind regarding the human consumption of meat:

  • Foer discusses how huge slaughterhouses end up killing so many animals that the workers get completely desensitized to death and begin to view the animals as not living things, but as consumables. Soon workers become indifferent to the animals; for example, many animals end up dying mid-way through the processing. It is common for cows to be dismembered, skinned, and still be alive. Birds are kicked like footballs. Baby chicks are stomped on. Pigs — an especially intelligent animal (smarter than dogs) — are particularly prone to almost sexual humiliation: bolt guns and rods inserted into the anus and vagina, snouts sliced off, piglets pulled forcefully from the vagina, etc… 
  • Reading about animals being reduced to a commodity… something to be consumed by the masses… began to start weirdly aligning with my thoughts on rape culture. Chickens suffer and are crippled by genetically overgrown breasts. After all the consumer requires large breasts for consuming… the  ideal chicken breast is large and luscious and readily available. Do you see where I am going with this?
  • Factory farming is devastating to humans; there is a high rate of infection and injury in slaughterhouses, workers aren’t paid very well, and the industry preys upon immigrants and the poor to provide cheap labor too scared to complain.
  • Factory farming has a far reaching environmental impact. There is a lot of shit involved in factory farming and by shit… I mean shit. Chickens stewing in “fecal soup” after processing that plumps the bird and brings us lovely diseases like e. coli. Thousands and thousand of pounds of pig shit in “lagoons” that are then sprayed out over land. Cows standing in huge feed lots covered in cow shit. All the infections and diseases associated with meat have their root in animal shit. We’ve just been distanced, distracted, and deliberately lied to by the agribusiness industry. When we buy our lovely packaged meat at the store we certainly aren’t thinking about animal shit.
  • The growing of grain, the genetic modification of corn, the millions of pounds of feed, the millions of gallons of gas, the millions of gallons of water it takes to feed mass amounts of animals has contributed to a devastating amount of environmental emissions. Eating animals is more environmentally detrimental than all the transportation emissions of the world COMBINED. While we’re patting ourselves on the back for taking public transportation or driving a hybrid that Big Mac is most certainly negating every well-meaning transportation decision you’ve ever made.

I feel like I’m not doing this book justice. Eating Animals is more than a plea for a vegetarian lifestyle and an end to factory farming. Foer delves into tradition and capitalism and marketing and religion and probes humanity. This is a plea for being humane. Being kind to animals is being kind to ourselves and our world. It is so much more than saving a cow. It is saving our air, our land,our health, our wallet, and our freedom from corporate domination.

My husband accuses me of turning into a lame hippie. For all my punkers, DIYers, radical feminists, etc…. the single greatest fuck-you you can give to corporate America, the patriarchy, the establishment, etc… is to eliminate the suffering of animals. Reading Eating Animals is a measured, well-researched, intriguing exploration of meat consumption in America.

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