Book Review: Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

Ratings for reviews will appear above the fold, while the review itself will appear below the fold to avoid spoilers for anyone that wants to go into it with a blank slate.

Jean-Paul’s rating: 3/5 stars

Warning: The contents of this book may be hazardous to your very comfortable eating habits.

It is not everyday that you read a book that forces you to rethink your life choices.  “Eating Animals” is such a book.  For me anyway.  Which is strange because the book really isn’t that well written.

“Eating Animals” explores our relation to our food.  It is meant as a double meaning.  We are animals that eat and we eat animals.  It focuses mostly on meat and how it gets to our table, but it also explores our relation to food and the rituals that surround it.  Foer is a vegetarian and he explains that he is not trying to turn anyone vegetarian by writing this book, but it’s hard to believe that is true.  Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a “meat is murder” type of book.  He does a really good job of presenting arguments from both sides and he interviews individuals that really try their best to get meat to our table as humanely as possible.  The problem is that those individuals are hopelessly outnumbered by factory farming.  And factory farms are evil.

If you were to comprise a list of all the evils that occur on this planet, factory farming would certainly be near the top.  It is directly or indirectly responsible for a whole slew of global wrongs.  The land used to feed factory farmed animals could feed an extra 800,000,000 people if used to directly feed humans.  Factory farmed animals suffer a lifetime of torture.  They are often killed in ways that cause a maximum of pain.  Factory farms are one of the highest, if not the highest, contributors to global warming.  The regular use of antibiotics on factory farms is almost assuredly responsible for superbugs like MRSA.  The next global pandemic will likely start on a factory farm.  Factory farms drastically lower land prices in the area.  The shit produced on factory farms pollutes local waterways and is likely responsible for a myriad of health problem that seem to occur in much greater frequency than normal to nearby residents.  And if all that wasn’t enough, the meat produced on factory farms is often unhealthy.  If you’ve had a “stomach flu” or a “24 hour flu” chances are it was actually food poisoning from factory farmed meat.

Large-scale fishing isn’t much better.  It is the water equivalent of strip mining.  Entire ecosystems are killed in order to gather as much of one species as possible.  Pages of ocean species are dedicated to listing the unfortunate victims of these mass catches.  And I’ll miss you most of all, sushi.

It isn’t easy to come away from the book with the conclusion that eating animals is a universal wrong.  There are ways to raise animals as humanely as possible when the end result is a forced death.  Many tiny examples are covered in the book.  Those ways have all been abandoned by factory farms.  It is near impossible to read a litany of their sins and not come to the conclusion that they should be banned whether you are a meat eater or not.

Jonathan Safran Foer is the kind of writer that you either love or hate.  I am firmly in the love category.  He has a way of expressing things that is…different.  I can’t explain it.  You can see that differentness in “Eating Animals” as well, but the book itself is kind of a mess.  There is no coherent flow to the chapter progression.  You feel as if you’re on one track and then he jolts you into another track only to be thrown back to the first track chapters later.  Despite all that, the book is quite effective.  I went into the book a meat eater and I came out the other side a vegetarian.