Friday, May 13, 2011

Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals

A couple things about me:
I hardly ever read nonfiction.
I have been a vegetarian for over 11 years.

Jonathan Safran Foer is an incredible fiction writer. One of my favorite movies is from his book, Everything is Illuminated, and his second novel, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, is one of my faves, so when I saw that he came out with a non-fiction book and it was about the food industry I was immediately interested.

Like I said, I hardly ever read nonfiction, and I actually have never read a full book about food (not even a Pollan).  I stay up on food legislation, nutrition and safety through news articles and reports, but not books. I decided to give this a try mostly because I wanted to read a well writen fiction writer's nonfiction on a topic I enjoy, although I figured it would all be redundant information that I was already aware of. Some of it was, but I did learn some new information that I don't feel like gets much attention (such as the atrocities of sea trawling, or the amount of fecal matter that get's absorbed into chicken meat). A majority of the book is spent on the horrors of factory farming and the slaughter of the animals.  All of this I am familiar with, although it is shocking and disgusting to hear about at any time. The abuses inherent in factory farming are getting a lot of media coverage lately, from Oprah to wonderful and accessible documentaries like Food Inc. I think it's incredibly important that people understand where their food comes from and how it is produced because, if you're reading this blog, you eat food. And if you can't handle reading about or viewing how your food is made, you honestly shouldn't eat it. The slaugher portions of the book, although a great reminder why I eat the way I eat, were not the important parts of this work. You can find that imformation anywhere. What I did find fascinating were Foer's own opinions on the subject.  The why's and how's about his conversion to a vegetarian diet.

I have a two year old son. I can't tell you how many times while I was pregnant people would ask if I was going to raise my child vegetarian. If I said yes, I would get anything from criticism about taking away my child's agency, to lectures on the importances of protein, to "hmm, you'll grow out of it" type of  comments. I can't say all these negative and unsuporrtive comments didn't get to me. I worried constantly about my decisions for my son and how I would raise him and if it was right or wrong. I tried to study my decisions with an open mind and finally decided I would raise him to eat like I eat.  It makes life hard occaisionally. I have to explain things to family and caregivers, like that chicken broth isn't vegetarian even though it doesn't look like a piece of meat. For the most part our families are understanding and very kind and respectful of our little quirk, but I wonder what challanges it will pose in the future. Will my child feel left out when we are the only family not eating turkey at Thanksgiving, or hotdogs at a summer bbq? When will he even begin to notice these differences? What talks will we get into about the subject? How old will he be when he rebels, goes to McDonald's with friends and orders a cheeseburger? How will I feel then? Jonathan Safran Foer also wonders things like this, since he is also a new parent and deciding the best way to raise his child. I found the value of the book for me lay in these passages. I enjoyed reading his dilemmas and resolves and worries and fears and hopes and goals. We all have a relationship with our food. We feel emotional about it, attached to it. It's important for each of us to reflect on our diets and make resolves. Reading this book helped me remember the reasons behind some of my decisions and helped me have a moment to think about my own relationship with food and the experiences I am giving to my family.

So I didn't find it particularly new, or informant, but I did find it perfectly reflective and a great overall review of the the way our nation thinks of, produces, and consumes animals. It would be a good starting point for someone who is interested and doesn't know too much about the industry. It's opinionated, but it's also factual and the opinions are not harsh. Foer keeps a very open mind, and at the time of writing the book has only been vegetarian for a couple of years and still misses his Grandma's signature chicken dish. He takes into account stories from people on all sides: factory farmers, non-tradtional farmers, PETA, independent animal activists, vegans, vegeatrians, conscientious omnivores etc. He most defintely did his research for this book, and although he chooses a vegetarian diet himself, the book is not anti meat.  It is anti factory farming, and a good call for change and activism in food production.

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