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Book Review: Eating Animals

Eating Animals

My boss just lent me Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. Anyone who’s interested in this topic will already know the gist of this book, if not the specific examples. But I think it’s still important to read because we periodically need to be reminded exactly why we have the convictions that we do. After reading this, I decided to be a shallow vegan when I don’t know if the milk, cheese, or eggs are from more humane farms. By shallow vegan I mean no obvious animal products, although I’ll ignore anything that’s baked in. Baby steps, right?

This book does offer two things that other books on the subject don’t. First is a personal explanation of the author’s food history and culture. Every family has these traditions that are considered an insult to abandon, and are a major reason (I think) why more people aren’t vegetarian. The possibility (really, probability) of being thought rude, inconsiderate, or difficult by friends and family is a struggle. It takes a while for them to move past that gut reaction and embrace a new tradition. I like that this book addresses that reality.

Secondly, the chapter breaks offer a graphic representation of the facts he’s presenting. I don’t mean graphic in terms of pictures of the conditions of factory farmed animals—thank you, Peter Singer, for that—but clever illustrations. For instance, a box across two pages shows the space allowed each chicken. (Trust me, it’s smaller than an actual chicken.) A tiny slice taken out of a word shows that only 1% of animals raised for meat in the U.S. come from family farms. For those who are right-brained—or just have heard these facts so many times that they can become background noise—the illustrations serve as a shocking reminder.

Despite all my praise, there were definite problems with this book. It’s longer than necessary, continuing to pontificate long after the point has already been made. And well-researched it may be, but not well-organized. Foer leaps from idea to idea in a not-always-logical manner. Overall, I get the sense of strong emotion justifying itself with facts. That definitely has its place in the conversation, but it’s not my ideal book. Is Jonanthan Safran Foer this generation’s Peter Singer? Maybe. But I’d still suggest that everyone go back and read Animal Liberation.


Comment from Danielle
Time March 9, 2010 at 10:35 am

Friends just posted something that touches on this:

Comment from Brenda Pike
Time March 11, 2010 at 10:02 am

It’s weird. I always thought that getting heritage breeds of chickens and turkeys was silly (“My chickens came from the Mayflower…”), but I didn’t realize that the vast majority of poultry today can’t even procreate because they’ve been bred to be too big and overbalanced to live longer than adolescence (if that). I always kind of imagined even factory farmed animals to be basically the same as the ones I grew up, but they’re actually genetically distinct. And kind of disgusting. Poor things.

Pingback from Friday Green Links – 6/11 « Pragmatic Environmentalism
Time June 11, 2010 at 7:33 am

[…] – It seems weird for a vegetarian to want more slaughterhouses, but Eating Animals showed me that in order for animals to be humanely slaughtered, they shouldn’t travel so far […]

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