Release date (Australia): 1 November 2009
“This story didn’t begin as a book. I simply wanted to know – for myself and my family – what meat is. Where does it come from? How is it produced? What are the economic, social and environmental effects? Are there animals that it is straightforwardedly right to eat? Are there situations in which not eating animals is wrong? If this began as a personal quest, it didn’t stay that way for very long...” Jonathan Safran Foer
I am a vegetarian. Let’s just put that out there. I find there are generally two types of reactions to this statement: either the person firmly (read: rudely) states their beliefs as to why meat is necessary for good nutrition and I must be very unhealthy or the person feels the need to tell me how they “barely” eat meat at all and they’re “pretty much” a vegetarian. Either way, I hate it. I hate these reactions because I just don’t care if you eat meat. I stopped eating meat when I was eight years old because I strongly disliked it. I might have become vegetarian as time went on for the animal aspect, but it’s impossible to know. I think that’s why I never thought seriously about trying these foods again as I grew older to see if my tastes had changed. But I’ll never know if I would have the willpower to stop eating red meat, chicken and seafood solely because I don’t like the idea of eating animals.
I have often felt that my vegetarianism matters more to such people than it does to me.
I do, however, like Jonathan Safran Foer. A lot. Everything Is Illuminated and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close are two of my favourite books in existence. Their beauty, humour and originality still astound me each time I read them and I love recommending them to anyone that will listen to me at the bookstore I work at. I somehow managed to be unaware of his writing of this book until it arrived in the store as a new release. I was thrilled when I realised what the book was, because Jonathan Safran Foer writes in such a beautiful way that I assumed it would translate effortlessly into non-fiction and make the dry, often harsh, facts of meat production more readable. Again, I was lucky to be right about this.
Cruelty depends on an understanding of cruelty, and the ability to choose against it. Or to choose to ignore it.
Despite being a vegetarian myself, I was relieved the book was not an argument for vegetarianism – I don’t like forceful opinions or being ‘told’ what to think, regardless of whether I agree with the person or not. If anything, the book was an argument against factory farming and the way in which animals are treated in such cruel ways, but this is presented in a factual manner without much of the judgements that are usually thrown in with any discussion of eating meat, seafood, eggs, and dairy. Jonathan Safran Foer freely admits his own varying degrees of vegetarianism over the course of his life and by no means states that this is the way in which human beings should live.
On average, Americans eat the equivalent of 21,000 entire animals in a lifetime.
The only minor issue with the book, for me personally, was that it was purely focused on the American meat industry, which doesn’t necessarily provide complete relevance to non-American readers. This is not surprising, given that Jonathan Safran Foer is American and researching even just Western world would be an almost impossible job to undertake. I like the fact that he allows the factory farmers, animal activists and many other people to speak for themselves.
Eating was carefree. My grandmother made that life possible for us. But she was, herself, unable to shake the desperation.
What I loved most about the book was the personal aspect; for example, Jonathan discussing his grandmother who only survived the Holocaust by eating repulsive things from rubbish bins and then her future of savouring food like she was constantly preparing for war. It was these stories interwoven within the often devastating facts that made this easily the most amazing and intelligently written discussion of eating animals that I have ever come across. I struggle to see how anyone could read this book and be the same person they were when they started it.
Food matters and animals matter and eating animals matters even more.