Jonathan Safran Foer
Back Bay Books
paperback edition, September 2010
A copy of this book was provided to me by Hachette Book Group
Jonathan Safran Foer's book Eating Animals should be required reading for anyone who eats food. Foer's non-fiction book, which took him three years to research, gives the reader important information about where our food comes from, and it does so without once being pious, self-righteous, or telling the reader what to do or how to eat.
Eating Animals is compelling, fascinating, disturbing and hopeful. Whether you are a committed carnivore, a deliberate omnivore, or a vegetarian or vegan, Eating Animals will challenge your beliefs and assumptions about food. Foer tells the story mostly from his own point of view, a Jewish grandson of a Holocaust survivor, an on-again off-again vegetarian, a husband about to become a father. Foer begins with his own personal story, talking to the reader as one would to a friend. It's disarming and charming; Foer just wants to decide for himself and his children--what should our family eat? He begins his research for the book with this question in mind, and answers it for himself by becoming vegan. But this book is never preachy, and Foer never tells the reader: this is what you ought to do.
But after reading this book, even if the idea of animals holds no moral repugnance for you, factory-farming as it is practiced today probably will. Foer has done very thorough research here, and he is convincing. In the words of Frank Resse, a poultry farmer who actually practices organic, cruelty-free farming, "animals have paid the price for our desire to have everything available at all times for very little money." Foer shows, and proves exhaustively, that factory-farming is cruel, sadistic, unsafe, and practically universal in this country. If you eat poultry, beef, eggs, dairy products or fish, you are eating the products of factory-farming. That means your food has been raised from "Frankenstein-like genetic stock...illness is always rampant; suffering is always the rule...death is invariably cruel."
Foer's voice is not the only voice in Eating Animals: ranchers, poultry farmers, factory-farm managers, animal-rights activists, slaughter-house workers and others each have a voice in this book. The reader learns about Frank Reese, a poultry farmer who is raising real turkeys, not the genetically-manipulated monstrosities whose lives are pure suffering. We meet the owners of Niman Ranch, a company that has defied the trends of factory-farming, and focuses on raising healthy cattle in a humane way.
In the course of his research, Foer goes on a 3:00 a.m. undercover visit to a turkey factory-farm, where he sees tens of thousands of turkey chicks, some of them dead or dying, their beaks burned off, their toes cropped. He visits a family-owned slaughtering facility, one of the last left in the country. He visits with cattle rancher Bill Niman and his vegan wife Nicolette; Bill and Nicolette each tell their own story--why they are in the business of ranching, what they are doing to produce quality beef under humane conditions.
In the end Foer never presses his reader, never bludgeons the reader with opinion. He offers information: the environmental costs of factory-farming, the facts about the health risks for consumers, the moral and ethical problems presented to the consumer every day.
I would recommend this book to literally any reader. The information presented in this book is important to us all, and the writer tells his story, and the story of our food, in a non-threatening, non-judgmental way. Foer's prose is a delight to read; his blending of reportage, memoir and novelistic technique, and his own distinctive voice, make Eating Animals an important and necessary book.