I read both books in one day. It was a nice escape. I know there's potential to analyze it in a way that would depress me thoroughly, relating it to t...moreI read both books in one day. It was a nice escape. I know there's potential to analyze it in a way that would depress me thoroughly, relating it to the reality of human cruelty and indifference, but for now I'll just let it be the story that it is. (less)
This isn't as much of a review of Jonathan Safran Foer's latest book as it is a reaction to it--a reaction to the reactions of others, even. The title...moreThis isn't as much of a review of Jonathan Safran Foer's latest book as it is a reaction to it--a reaction to the reactions of others, even. The title of this book garners a reaction from people who haven't read it and who may never read it. Just carry Eating Animals around for a few days and you'll understand. There's an assumption that a book about eating animals is going to tell you that it is in some way wrong to eat animals--whether for the welfare of animals or for your own welfare--and most people "don't want to hear it." We know something is wrong with meat today--with how completely estranged we are from the process that turns animal into product. We have that general feeling and we don't want the specifics. We don't want to face being held accountable for what we know. We don't want to think about eating animals. Why not? If there's no shame in it, then why is there such an aversion created by the title alone?
I say "we" because I'm guilty of the same, and it took this book to make me realize it. It took seeing how the people around me wanted nothing to do with a book that might challenge their eating habits. Allow me to explain with a little bit of backstory here, which is irrelevant to the book itself, but entirely relevant to my reading of the book:
I've been a vegetarian for close to five years. I've had a moral qualm about eating animals since I first made the connection between the meat on my plate and the animals in my backyard. (I grew up on a farm. There were cows and they had much happier lives than most do these days, though I never saw what end they met once my parents sold them.) Why then did I only become vegetarian at the age of eighteen? (I mean, obviously, I pieced together that burgers were made from cows long before then; I wasn't that slow of a child.) My various attempts to give up meat failed. I'm not sure why. The obvious answer would be that I had weak willpower, but I think that's a cop out. When vegetarianism did stick, I didn't feel any more self-empowered. In fact, the attempt that succeeded started as a fluke. I had no intention of seeing it through. I found out about PETA's 30-day challenge and I was curious. "I can abstain from eating animals for a month," I reasoned. When the month was over, I didn't want to eat animals anymore. No craving for meat was strong enough to compensate for the amount of suffering inflicted on animals. (What can I say? I'm a bleeding heart, a pussy, whatever.)
I surrounded myself with literature and images of slaughterhouses long enough to fend off the desire for flesh. The desire disappeared and I felt better. I felt better because I was eating better (fresh fruit and veggies was a vast improvement over my childhood diet of Hardees and Mountain Dew). I felt better once the nagging guilt the conflict between my beliefs and my actions caused was no longer. Or so I thought.
The truth is that over the years I became lax in my beliefs. Not eating animals became more habit and preference than moral conviction. People wore down my enthusiasm. Oh, the enthusiasm was there to begin with! There's nothing more exciting and refreshing than newfound vegetarianism! I felt better and I wanted other people to feel better, too. I thought I could help initiate that. I thought that I could lead by example--I wouldn't push my opinions down anyone's throat, of course, because I didn't want to be uppity about it. It doesn't work that way, or at least it didn't for me in rural North Carolina--in the county supporting the largest Smithfield slaughterhouse in the world, to be exact. People were interested, but only for the sake of arguing. Foer obviously experienced the same, writing:
"I can't count the times that upon telling someone I am vegetarian, he or she responded by pointing out an inconsistency in my lifestyle or trying to find a flaw in an argument I never made. (I have often felt that my vegetarianism matters more to such people than it does to me.)"
There's only so much antagonistic query I was equipped to handle at the age of eighteen. To be perfectly blunt, I stopped giving a fuck. I decided to be a vegetarian, not explain my reasons to others, and to stop giving a fuck what others thought about it. When someone asked me why I didn't eat meat, my responses ranged from "I don't like being overwhelmed by choices" to "I was raped by a butcher." When you stop giving a fuck, then people generally stop harassing you. These people aren't that clever to begin with, so they usually don't bother if they have to compete with another's nonchalance.
My initial reason for not considering becoming vegan was the difficulty. I felt it was a big enough change to quit cold turkey cold turkey. Yeah, I know, there's no excuse for my sense of humor. Over the years I should have made the necessary steps to eliminate eggs and dairy from my diet. I have no excuse for that either. I knew neither were essential to my nutrition or well being--that it was just a matter of putting forth more effort. In the back of my mind I knew, too, that my inaction was supporting animal cruelty towards laying hens, as well as indirectly promoting the veal industry. That nagging guilt was still there, but I pushed it aside.
I realized this past week that I can no longer do this. It is no longer acceptable. In fact, it never was. Nothing changed.
I was hardly beginning the book when I started to suspect that I was on the brink of a life-altering decision. Was Foer so persuasive that he alone managed to turn me vegan within the first few chapters? No. It wasn't even the news that Natalie Portman turned vegan after reading Eating Animals, either. ;)
It was my boyfriend telling me that he "didn't want to hear it" when I mentioned that piglets on factory farms have their testicles removed without anesthesia within the first ten days of their lives.*
It was the moment when my literature teacher asked me if Eating Animals contains information so disturbing and disgusting that she would probably never want to eat meat again; and then without pausing for a reply, she said, "I'd better not read it then."
It was this general reaction I received coinciding with what I read that made me re-examine my own unwillingness to live by what I know--something I've known without needing to be told, but something I needed to be reminded of: shame. I am ashamed to be part of a system that is inexcusable.
"Not responding is a response--we are equally responsible for what we don't do. In the case of animal slaughter, to throw your hands in the air is to wrap your fingers around a knife handle."
What does all of this say about the book? Not much. Just read it. Throw your assumptions away, quit looking for someone else to tell you what to expect, and just read with an open mind, and a willingness not only to accept what feels right, but to take the actions necessary so that you may be at peace with yourself.
* In defense of my boyfriend--although no defense is necessary--since the conversation mentioned took place, he has agreed to read Eating Animals. Ideally, he'll read it and never eat another bite of meat again; just as ideally, when I handed my copy of the book to my mother a few hours ago and asked her to please do me a favor and read it, she would have done so in earnest, in an attempt to understand her daughter's lifestyle, instead of putting it down after a few pages and resuming her crossword puzzle, which although not ideal, was what actually happened. I can't allow myself to expect much to come of it, because there's enough disappointment in life as it is, but I am grateful for this much: that he cares enough about me to read what he would otherwise rather turn away from.
Update (7/6/11): He never read it. We broke up, for reasons unrelated to diet. But if you know any cute, single, straight, literate, vegan boys, send 'em my way. If they do, in fact, exist.
Update again (5/2/13): I'm a feminist now, so I apologize for the derogatory use of the word "pussy" within the original review. If there were any point to it, I'd also amend the previous update to exclude the word "straight" and change "boys" to "men" (not the band) because it's creepy when grown men want girls, so vice versa? There's no point though, because I'm not looking. I'm no longer single.
We're dating again. Everyone advises against dating an ex, but everyone can go fuck themselves. I'd like to think compassion is about second chances. For whatever more-complicated-than-that reasons, I've decided to give it a second go. He recently read the book. Kudos, right? Everything in its own time, or something. He's been vegetarian since, but I announce that tentatively, because obviously, things change: you can see that in just the span of updates to this not-a-review review. I'm happy right now. I'm hopeful. I finally realized I can't change the people I love. I can't shake them until they see what I see if they don't want to look, but I can tell my truth and maybe, just maybe, it will reach someone willing to take off the blinders. (less)
There's something charming about these simple drawings. If I give this book too much thought, I may get depressed because I can relate to it too well....moreThere's something charming about these simple drawings. If I give this book too much thought, I may get depressed because I can relate to it too well. Maybe if this were available to me at a younger age, I would have been more prepared for the disappointments of life. Actually, the word "prepared" implies that the book offers some countermeasure to disappointment; it doesn't. I just mean that children should read this so they know what to expect from life: failure and loneliness. :D(less)
"I have read a number of self-help books. This one will help anyone's self. Reading this book is like having a tiny Eugene riding on your shoulder and...more"I have read a number of self-help books. This one will help anyone's self. Reading this book is like having a tiny Eugene riding on your shoulder and whispering his advice in your ear. I agree with Eugene on all aspects of this book except taking acid at an office party. I am never doing that again. Buy this book." - Zach Galifianakis.
"I laughed out loud reading this. I was reading it in public. Three cute girls at a nearby table laughed at me. I swear one of them mouthed the words, 'fat loser' to her friends. I now hate Eugene Mirman." - Patton Oswalt.
"Do you need tips on how to live? I mean besides the breathing and eating part? Then this book is for you! Includes self-help tips for Jewish robots from the future (I'm guessing)!!!!!" - David Cross.
"This book is good, and not just because it was free. Knowing what I know now about the quality, I would have paid at least nine thousand dollars." - David Willis, cocreator Aqua Teen Hunger Force.
Before reading: Eugene Mirman is one of my favorite comedians. I'm so looking forward to this that I actually spent money on it--full cover price. I hope this book gives me the Will to become employed so maybe I could even buy a second copy.
After reading: Eugene Mirman is no longer one of my favorite comedians. Just kidding. The book didn't disappoint. If you're a fan of Mirman's standup and style, then his book is highly recommended.(less)
This children's book is rather heartbreaking in all of its simplicity. It skillfully and inoffensively covers a topic difficult for children (and adul...moreThis children's book is rather heartbreaking in all of its simplicity. It skillfully and inoffensively covers a topic difficult for children (and adults as well) to grasp: death. Bear informs his friends that he is suffering from illness and will be "going on a journey" soon. His fox friend takes the news the hardest, but finds some solace in his memories of Bear. The artwork and story both tug at my heartstrings. I imagine this book could be very useful for parents in explaining loss to very young children in a tasteful manner that doesn't encroach upon any particular religious beliefs.(less)
I watched the movies first and loved them. I haven't had the opportunity to watch the anime, but I'm reading the few volumes of the manga which are av...moreI watched the movies first and loved them. I haven't had the opportunity to watch the anime, but I'm reading the few volumes of the manga which are available to me and loving them as well on their own merit. I am glad that the movies and manga can differ so much and yet I enjoy both equally. It is rare that the love of something in one medium doesn't create a prejudice against any translations into different mediums.(less)
This book is adorable and poignant. It is also wordless, which makes its impact even more extraordinary; it manages to relate a story that is simple e...moreThis book is adorable and poignant. It is also wordless, which makes its impact even more extraordinary; it manages to relate a story that is simple enough to understand without words, but still has emotional depth. I never thought I would sympathize with a robot so much. (less)