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Jonathan Safran Foer's 'Eating Animals' Book Will Fundamentally Change the Way You Think About Food

"He is the Michael Pollan of a younger generation: grittier and more daring, more insightful and decisive."
 
 
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If ever there was a book that could profoundly affect our lives at the most fundamental level, this one is it. I loved Jonathan Safran Foer's novels ( Everything is Illuminated, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close); they were glorious to read and get lost in. But his new non-fiction kindles something more: it is somewhat of an awakening, and it just might tip us farther into what is being called the next great social movement of our time: eating consciously.

Eating Animals takes a bold and fresh approach to our most important relationship with the world around us -- our food. The originality of the thinking and depth of research establishes Foer as a major player in the national discussion of the ethics of eating. He is the Michael Pollan of a younger generation: grittier and more daring, more insightful and decisive. And as we would expect from Foer, the stories he tells explode off the page and into our hearts.

Foer takes us alongside him as he bungles through undercover investigations and into the hidden world of today's industrial farming. We find out that turkeys have been so genetically modified they are not capable of sexual reproduction. We learn that the chickens on American's plates have been bred to grow so large so fast that their mere genetics destines them to suffering. We learn that "free range" means next to nothing and why it's fish and chicken you want to most avoid.

The book is a case against factory farming, but we don't hear only the bad news about animal agriculture. Foer also takes us to the most humane and sustainable animal farms in the nation. We get to hear a dizzying variety of voices: factory farmers, slaughterhouse workers, animal activists, a turkey farmer who apologizes to his animals, a vegetarian cattle rancher, and a vegan helping to build a slaughterhouse.

Part of the appeal of the book is the real-life characters we meet and the new landscape of animal protection and food advocacy that Foer plugs us into. He has us meet the head of the nation's largest cooperative of family-owned pig farms, gives us a fresh perspective on the ever-controversial PETA as it approaches its 30th year and introduces us to exciting new groups like Farm Forward that are building unique coalitions with animal activists, small farmers, and sustainability advocates.

While Foer makes a strong case for vegetarianism, he gives dissenting voices a place and never forgets that the stories we tell about food are always about more than what we eat. "Stories about food are stories about us -- our history and our values."

Foer is quite fair to the "humane" animal farmers who he writes about appreciatively. In the end, he leaves us opposed to factory farming as something beneath human dignity, but stops short of an explicit case against all meat. His opposition to factory farming appears to be his central message, but I think he accomplishes something much less modest: For careful readers, the book offers an indictment of all meat. Virtually all of the "humane" producers he discusses mutilate animals without pain relief and treat them more as commodities than living beings. And as Foer himself says, "Every farm, like everything, has flaws, is subject to accidents, sometimes doesn't work as it should. Life overflows with imperfections, but some imperfections matter more than others. How imperfect must animal farming and slaughter be before they are too imperfect? Different people will draw the line in different places... But for me, for now - for my family now - my concerns about the reality of what meat is and has become are enough to make me give it up altogether."