Synopsis (From Goodreads)
Jonathan Safran Foer spent much of his life oscillating between enthusiastic carnivore and occasional vegetarian. Once he started a family, the moral dimensions of food became increasingly important.
Faced with the prospect of being unable to explain why we eat some animals and not others, Foer set out to explore the origins of many eating traditions and the fictions involved with creating them. Traveling to the darkest corners of our dining habits, Foer raises the unspoken question behind every fish we eat, every chicken we fry, and every burger we grill.
Part memoir and part investigative report, Eating Animals is a book that, in the words of the Los Angeles Times, places Jonathan Safran Foer “at the table with our greatest philosophers.”
4 out of 5 stars
I picked up this book because I heard that it provided the history of why we eat the animals that we eat, like why most cuisines eat primarily chicken, cows, and pigs. My thought was that it is interesting across the entire world, most people are eating those specific animals and their cuisines likely adapted to eating them. At the very least, I do not encounter many cuisines that eat other animals, such as dogs or zebras. What are the anthropological and sociological developments that lead to the common animals that we do all eat?
While it does open with and provide a decent argument for people to eat their local stray dogs (I nor the author are truly suggesting this, but one does have to admit it is a readily available local food source), that’s not really what is covered at all. It instead focuses on the factory farming of chickens, cows, and pigs, and the author’s investigative journey to learn all that goes on within them. I have been a vegetarian for 11 years at this point, and while I initially became a vegetarian because I simply do not like eating meat, over time I have heard of or learned about the horror stories involved with the factory farming process. While it was interesting to read a detailed account of the factory farms, the general takeaway is nothing new to me. And most people that I know who still eat meat are aware that factory farming is really terrible, but they still choose to eat meat anyway. Yes, I do understand that this book is 10 years old as of me reading this, but unless you really want a more detailed perspective on factory farming, you probably already have your established preferences and morals related to eating meat. The author himself seems to have given up meat mainly due to how animals are treated within factory farming, so that is his large focus. It’s understandable as the bulk of his research for this book is literally breaking into factory farms to learn what is going on and see what they look like; that is the aspect that one is going to witness and experience. He does mention other factors, like the environmental impact, but they definitely don’t make up the “meat” of the novel. I, for one, don’t like how the animals are treated either, but they also wouldn’t exist if not to be killed for food. The main issue I have with factory farming these days is the environmental impact, and I would likely adore a book that covered all of the details relating to that aspect. If I didn’t give up meat 11 years ago, for sure I would have given up meat by today due to environmental concerns.
Mr. Foer does try his best to not take sides– he includes various voices of those involved in the industry such as farmers who raise animals naturally, those who work in factory farming and those who staff slaughterhouses. It helps address the issue of “if people aren’t going to give up meat, how do you feed the world’s population?” I imagine if this book was published recently, he would also include a section on laboratory grown meat as well. In the end, though, it’s pretty clear he is vegetarian for a reason and you’ll know which side he is taking.
I recommend this book if you have never heard anything about factory farming and want to learn more, or if you are considering giving up meat and want a better understanding of the current ethical considerations that go into eating animals.
See this review on Goodreads.