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Eating Animals

Eating Animals by one of my favorite fellow Jews, Jonathan Safran Foer. He is the author of such works as Everything is Illuminated which was ultimately turned into a type of dark comedy starring Elijah Wood. His works have always been unique, and from a distinct perspective. He rights as who he is, even in his fiction. He is a Jewish American descended from Holocaust survivors. Same as me, actually.

By Beth Oppenheim

These are probably reasons why I like his writing so much. He doesn’t hide behind a facade of objectivity, and he writes what he knows. In this nonfiction work, he crosses the line from writer to full-blown activist, and I am really glad he did.

I first learned about his book because of the New York Times magazine Food Issue, where Foer wrote about his experience in abridged form. The article simply got my juices flowing for what was to come: an expose about the food industry, as it relates to Foer’s vegetarianism, and his choice to raise his son as a vegetarian.

From the beginning, it is clear that Foer has spent much of this process being extremely conflicted. He visits farms undercover, recounts much of the gruesome detail of factory farming reality, all the while leading the reader towards a bigger and more intellectual argument.

He shares stories of his grandmother, a Holocaust survivor that ate whatever she could find in order to survive. She recounts to him a time where a Russian fighter (“God bless him!”) offered her meat in her most desperate state. She declined. “But why?!” Foer wants to know. She teaches us all a lesson that because it was pork, a meat forbidden in the Jewish faith, she was unable to eat it. She shows us that if there is nothing to distinguish a person, there is nothing worth saving.

I guess I should come clean and say that this is BY FAR not the first book I have read on farming, sustainable food, food safety, the agro-business industry, or any other related topics. I have read many – and Foer has too. His discussion of some of the modern day heroes of the local food movement is, in fact, where Foer makes his most compelling points. We all can hear about electrocuting turkeys and be horrified, but disagreeing with Michael Pollan? This I gotta hear!

Foer doesn’t disagree entirely with many of the people who have exposed factory farming for what it legitimately is: disgusting. It can be a lot of other things too – but the descriptions written in this text are evocative of disgust first and foremost. He explains that Pollan falls short in the work The Omnivore’s Dilemma of telling people to flat out make a decision: Are you going to eat meat, or aren’t you? This is true. Pollan suggests a dilemma of proportions that he is not able to solve alone.

Is it better to eat meat that is sustainably farmed, or is it better not to eat it at all? In the end, Foer pushes for the latter. I am still debating whether I loved or was confused by his conclusions, but ultimately his work is a really accessible way to show others what issues are at stake, and what we can ultimately decide about them.

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