For most of my life, eating meat was the most normal thing in the world. You said your prayers before you went to sleep, you raised your hand in school, and you ate that turkey sandwich for lunch.
Of course, there were times as a kid when I asked my parents about whether it was “mean” to “eat a dead cow,” but this was usually shut down with “don’t talk about that at the dinner table.” Or, the day I announced around age 9 that I didn’t want to eat the chicken my mother made for dinner because I thought it was wrong, “well, good luck making your own dinner.”
I always knew, as did the rest of my family, and anyone else who eats meat, that what we were putting in our mouths were pieces of dead animal. Gross to think about, sure, but, I thought, it’s only natural to eat animals. The food chain, right?
When I pictured the lives of the cows, chickens, pigs, or whatever that lived before they made it onto my plate, I had a vague notion of an idyllic farm, with pastures, green grass, and of course, the inevitable slaughter– but quick and humane, a necessary evil. Perhaps reminiscent of scenes from Little House on the Prairie. Every so often I’d overheard a passing remark about how “you don’t want to know how meat is processed”, but I brushed it off– it couldn’t be wrong to eat meat, clearly it was no big deal. After all, it was normal. Everyone did it. You NEED it for protein. And my family bought cage-free eggs!
But then I learned the truth. I only learned this truth recently, very recently, in fact, just a few months ago, and ever since I have learned it, the thought of eating animal products causes me to feel sick to my stomach.
It turns out that the truth of the matter is that the vast majority of animals raised for food live out their lives in horrifying conditions on factory farms, genetically engineered to grotesquely unnatural degrees, packed into tiny spaces, before they are murdered in gruesome ways. And apparently, no one is aware, or they just don’t care –> or they can suspend their empathy just enough to enjoy that slice of bacon with just a twinge of guilt.
Imagine my shock when the veil of cognitive dissonance was lifted and I realized that in a society where we profess to abhor animal cruelty, detest those who abuse their pets and observe with patronizing adoration farm animals in petting zoos, simultaneously implicitly endorse the systemic torture of millions of animals every single day and that all those ethical labels don’t mean a thing. Imagine how horrified I was when I realized the thousands of deli sandwiches I’ve eaten in my life and the sadistic industry I was fueling in all of my blissful innocence!
About the Book
Title: Eating Animals
Author: Jonathan Safran Foer
My Rating: 5/5 stars
Synopsis (from Goodreads) (truncated):
“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.“
I never seriously considered veganism or vegetarianism throughout most of my life, unconsciously absorbing the negative propaganda and ridicule about hippie vegans and whatnot throughout media and popular culture. But the meat industry is one of those things where, until you REALLY contemplate it, it seems normal and necessary and not bad. But then when you start to think about it, then it seems more and more morally untenable. And then when you research it, it becomes hard to believe the truth was right under your nose this entire time.
I will have to get on my soapbox another time to dive more into my thoughts, but for now, I want to focus on this book review. In Eating Animals, Foer attempts to answer that age-old question: is it okay to eat animals?
Throughout the course of the book, though, it becomes apparent, in my opinion at least, that the issue of whether or not to eat meat can be split into distinct moral dilemmas. Deciding it’s morally wrong to eat factory-farmed meat is different from deciding it’s wrong to eat meat at all. I’m still deciding where I am on that second moral quandary, but as for factory-farmed meat, which is around 99% of all meat (and dairy, and eggs) that you eat– I think it’s definitely wrong to eat it.
Foer goes into excruciating detail about the conditions of animals on factory farms as well as the speciesism that informs the way we think about pigs vs. the way we think about dogs, for example. It’s a very eye-opening book.
In short, I will be recommending this book to everyone who thinks I’m turning into a crazy vegan.
Have you read Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer? Are you vegan or vegetarian? Why or why not? Feel free to share in the comments.
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8 comments on “Book Review: Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer | (And Why I Stopped Eating Animals)”
I always love hearing about people discovering the horrors of conventional agriculture. It is truly horrendous, for the animals, for the earth and for the people who are somehow unwittingly eating essentially toxic materials.
I could not agree more about avoiding the vast majority of animal products (well, to be honest, I would say avoiding the vast majority of all food sold in grocery stores).
All that to say, as a member of a farming family and simply as an indepently minded person I firmly believe that animal foods are an incredible way to get the nutrients needed to thrive as a human being. Humans have been eating meat and drinking milk ever since the fall of Adam and Eve and I truly believe that God gave us creatures to both take care of and steward as well as to eventually harvest in the most humane way possible.
Our farm is definitely in that one percent or so, as a certified organic and grass-fed dairy. We also have chickens and pigs raised on pasture and organic grain. We are constantly trying to improve our practices and always placing value on the lives of our animals and taking care of our corner of the earth.
The way that we farm is sadly rare and I truly believe it to be the one of the only right ways to do so. I feel incredibly blessed to be apart of how my family lives and works.
A couple of things I would note before finishing this long comment would be:
(a) despite the fact that organic etc. practices are not perfect, they are a huge step in the right direction from conventional practices. do not be fooled by those who say that there is no difference.
(b) I would challenge you to also be aware of the fact that most vegan/vegetarian processed foods – fake milks and meats etc – are actually quite harmful to a person’s health and that simply removing meat from your diet is not enough if you are passionate about preserving the earth and creating a healthy environment for all creatures.
(c) the meat industry is horrendous, but it is truly the entire agricultural system that is completely and utterly broken – as well as sadly toxic in every sense of the word.
Anyway! I am very passionate about this topic, but I apologize if I am dumping info on you that you have no desire to follow up. 🙂
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It sounds like your family farm is one of the few that raises animals in an ethical way and I’d even argue that perhaps whether to eat meat in general vs whether to eat factory-farmed meat are two different moral debates entirely. That said I’ve just written a short post on why I decided to go vegan https://frappesandfiction.com/2022/09/18/why-i-became-a-vegan/ there are so many things in the world that are horrible but hidden from all of our consciousnesses
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I didn’t read it, but I read “Everything is Illuminated” from him, and it was fantastic. I will try to get it. Thanks for the tip!
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Great post! I’m not vegetarian myself but I’ve reduced my meat and dairy consumption quite a bit in the last several years. It’s alarming what goes in our food (especially in the US where things aren’t as regulated) and the conditions that these animals are kept in bothers me too much. But swapping these things out has been so much better on my health as well!
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you should definitely read it