dara's Reviews > Eating Animals

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
Rate this book
Clear rating

by
1604742
's review
Jan 14, 14

bookshelves: read-in-2009, favorites, reviewed
Recommended to dara by: Jonathan Safran Foer's previous writing
Recommended for: everyone
Read in November, 2009

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 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.

Written 11/12/09.

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.


11/15/13: Another update! But you'll have to scroll through my blog post if you want it bad enough: http://averagelookingvegan.wordpress....
348 likes · likeflag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read Eating Animals.
sign in »

Quotes dara Liked

Jonathan Safran Foer
“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.)”
Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals

Jonathan Safran Foer
“We need a better way to talk about eating animals. We need a way that brings meat to the center of public discussion in the same way it is often at the center of our plates. This doesn't require that we pretend we are going to have a collective agreement. However strong our intuitions are about what's right for us personally and even about what's right for others, we all know in advance that our positions will clash with those of our neighbors. What do we do with that most inevitable reality? Drop the conversation, or find a way to reframe it?”
Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals

Jonathan Safran Foer
“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.”
Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals

Jonathan Safran Foer
“Choosing leaf or flesh, factory farm or family farm, does not in itself change the world, but teaching ourselves, our children, our local communities, and our nation to choose conscience over ease can.”
Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals

Jonathan Safran Foer
“While it is always possible to wake a person who's sleeping, no amount of noise will wake a person who is pretending to be asleep.”
Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals

Jonathan Safran Foer
“If nothing matters, there's nothing to save.”
Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals

Jonathan Safran Foer
“We believed in our grandmother’s cooking more fervently than we believed in God.”
Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals

Jonathan Safran Foer
“Just how destructive does a culinary preference have to be before we decide to eat something else? If contributing to the suffering of billions of animals that live miserable lives and (quite often) die in horrific ways isn't motivating, what would be? If being the number one contributor to the most serious threat facing the planet (global warming) isn't enough, what is? And if you are tempted to put off these questions of conscience, to say not now, then when?”
Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals

Jonathan Safran Foer
“We can't plead ignorance, only indifference. Those alive today are the generations that came to know better. We have the burden and the opportunity of living in the moment when the critique of factory farming broke into the popular consciousness. We are the ones of whom it will be fairly asked, What did you do when you learned the truth about eating animals?”
Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals

Jonathan Safran Foer
“Perhaps in the back of our minds we already understand, without all the science I've discussed, that something terribly wrong is happening. Our sustenance now comes from misery. We know that if someone offers to show us a film on how our meat is produced, it will be a horror film. We perhaps know more than we care to admit, keeping it down in the dark places of our memory-- disavowed. When we eat factory-farmed meat we live, literally, on tortured flesh. Increasingly, that tortured flesh is becoming our own.”
Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals

Jonathan Safran Foer
“Imagine being served a plate of sushi. But this plate also holds all of the animals that were killed for your serving of sushi. The plate might have to be five feet across.”
Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals

Jonathan Safran Foer
“Find a printer paper and imagine a full-grown bird shaped something like a football with legs standing on it. Imagine 33,000 of these rectangles in a grid. (Broilers are never in cages, and never on multiple levels.) Now enclose the grid with windowless walls and put a ceiling on top. Run in automated (drug-laced) feed, water, heating, and ventilation systems. This is a farm.”
Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals

Jonathan Safran Foer
“Dogs are wonderful, and in many ways unique. But they are remarkably unremarkable in their intellectual and experiential capacities. Pigs are every bit as intelligent and feeling, by any sensible definition of the words. They can't hop into the back of a Volvo, but they can fetch, run and play, be mischievous, and reciprocate affection. So why don't they get to curl up by the fire? Why can't they at least be spared being tossed on the fire?”
Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals


Reading Progress

11/08/2009 page 21
6.16% "Natalie Portman says this book convinced her to switch from being a vegetarian to being a vegan. I'm scared (of change)."
11/09/2009 page 92
26.98% "Laying hens... the guilt begins... should I push more towards a vegan diet?"
11/10/2009 page 139
40.76% "Bye-bye milk & eggs. I'll miss having you in my diet, but I've run out of excuses for ignoring my own moral conviction. :(" 3 comments
11/11/2009 page 342
100% "I think I have to review this book. I can't NOT give my thoughts on it, to some degree at least."

Comments (showing 1-35 of 35) (35 new)

dateDown_arrow    newest »

Roxanne Let me know how this one is, I've heard of it and wanted to pick it up sometime.


dara Well, his other books are made of WIN so I'm expecting great things. I just don't know how the meat-eating readers will respond. I mean... it isn't likely to change my life since I'm already a vegetarian, but I like his writing. I read the first few pages in a magazine before the book was released officially and it made me feel kind of passionate about being a vegetarian again.


Chloe Ofmatt wrote: "it made me feel kind of passionate about being a vegetarian again..."

I'm having the same reaction. Huzzah for Foer!



message 4: by David (new)

David Katzman Yay for vegetarians!


Rachel Hurray for you! Wonderful review!


Jackie Beautiful review. I am so excited to read this book.


Lisa Vegan Yes, I was touched by your review. I'm also so excited by how much conversation on Goodreads is happening because of this book.


dara I am, too. I just wish I could get people around me in person to discuss it.


Lisa Vegan Ofmatt, I can understand your frustration. All of us who do something against the grain/what people commonly do have had experiences of not being listened to. I've been vegetarian most of my adult life and vegan for the last 15-21 years, and I know quite a few people who don't want to discuss it, but I find others who are interested or who at least will listen. It's why I seek out others who feel as I do as well as those who do not; I always have some people on the same wavelength as me.


message 10: by dara (new) - rated it 5 stars

dara I just wanted to add a link someone sent me:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/andrew-...

It's an article by Dr. Andrew Weil, with whom I'm personally not familiar.

I think he gets down to the point when he writes:

"Foer's aim is not to make your choice, but to inform it."


Rachel Thanks for sharing this well-written essay on EA by Dr. Andrew Weil. I'm going to forward this along. I think his review is phrased in such a way that it might be accessible to meat eaters. If they read this, hopefully some of the will message sink in, at least just a little!



message 12: by Naomi (new) - added it

Naomi Just wanted to say that your review really struck a chord with me, your thoughts and reactions being much akin to my own on the subject. It is refreshing to know that some people think as I do, when it comes to thinking despairingly of a society that is able to be so ignorant, and so entirely unquestioning, whilst at the same time being highly defensive about their casual consumption of meat.
Can't wait to read this book!


message 13: by dara (new) - rated it 5 stars

dara Another link for anyone interested:

http://www.marthastewart.com/show/the...

Foer did an interview on The Martha Stewart Show; his segment is the fourth video titled "Fall Casserole."

She's cooking throughout the informal interview, and both are standing. Personally, I was kind of annoyed that he wasn't given the same amount of attention as the director of Food, Inc.


message 14: by dara (new) - rated it 5 stars

dara An added note to the already-convinced/vegan community:

I've seen a few people who don't want to read Eating Animals because they don't feel Foer takes it far enough/doesn't outright say GO VEGAN. This didn't bother me because 1) it helped me decide to end 5 years of being vegetarian and finally go vegan, 2) I think he presents it in a way that endorses the decision to go vegan but without completely alienating readers who aren't already part of the choir, so to speak, 3) the book is bringing issues to the forefront of media attention and public discussion, etc. I could go on, but instead I would just like to include part of a recent interview that I found addressing vegan concern:

Jeffrey Goldberg: It seems, from reading "Eating Animals," that you want people to adopt vegetarianism, but you don't actually say, "I've presented you with evidence that makes it morally impossible for you to eat meat." Why don't you go all the way?

Jonathan Safran Foer: I don't know that I would put it quite like you just did. I was really moved, I have to say, by some of the small farms that I went to. I would say that the goodness of good farmers might have surprised me more than the badness of bad farmers. Maybe that's just because I had more exposure to what factory farming was. But I went to farms where animals were treated better than I treat my dog, and it would just be impossible to try to honestly argue that they don't have good lives. So of course, they're killed in the end, but our lives are destined for death also. We're not getting killed, but there are slaughterhouses that kill these animals in ways that they don't anticipate death or feel it. So to argue against such farms, you have to get into a sort of philosophical terrain that I don't get into into. I don't know what my own feelings about it are.

JG: So are you a vegetarian because, at this point in the history of farming, it's safer, morally, to be a vegetarian? In other words, if you absolutely knew that all the meat or eggs and milk that were produced by X farm were produced according to your standards, would you go back to eating meat?

JF: You mean assuming that that farm existed in the context of this world?

JG: Yes, assuming that there was a farm somewhere where the animals, from birth to painless, unknowing death, where everything was as humane and gentle and kind as possible, would you then eat that animal?

JF: I wouldn't, for two reasons. One, because endorsing the exception is to endorse the rule. People would see me as another person eating meat. You know, it's like what happened with farmed fish. Salmon farming was originally created to take pressure off of wild salmon populations, because it's been clear for a long time that they're going to run out. But what happened was, when more supply was created, there was more demand for wild salmon, because our eating habits are contagious. There was more salmon on the menu suddenly, and you see your friends eating salmon, and so you eat salmon - that has more power than does conscientious eating.

There's also the fact that the kind of farming you're talking about can't be scaled. There's enough humane chicken now raised in America to feed Staten Island, at the rate we're eating chicken. You can use child labor as an analogy. It's easily conceivable that there are many situations in which giving a six-year-old a job would improve that six-year-old's life and, on a case-by-case basis, would be a good thing. But we don't create systems for the exceptions, we create them for the rule.

JG: Isn't it terribly boring to be a vegetarian? Go to this question of whether we are naturally omnivores, or is that just a cop-out?

JF: Well that's like asking, are women naturally subservient to men? If we look at history, one might have reason to think so. I mean, we certainly treated women as second-class citizens, almost always until quite recently. That doesn't mean it's right, that doesn't mean life is boring if we suddenly treat them as equals. Is a diet less rich without meat? Yes, it is. Is a diet less rich with chimpanzee? Yes, it is. I don't find it boring. Maybe I've just been a vegetarian for long enough.


message 15: by dara (new) - rated it 5 stars

dara For anyone interested, Peter Singer reviewed Eating Animals: http://www.themonthly.com.au/books-pe...

And also, Foer did an hour long video interview available here: http://fora.tv/2009/12/01/Jonathan_Sa...


message 16: by Rachel (last edited Jan 14, 2010 10:35AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Rachel From Peter Singer's Review: "The case against factory farming has been reiterated many times now, since Ruth Harrison’s 1964 Animal Machines. Yet, as long as this stinking, polluting, implacably cruel, dangerously unhealthy and utterly wasteful system of converting large quantities of grain and soy beans into small quantities of animal products continues to dominate meat and egg production, we can’t have too many books on the subject."

I enjoyed Peter Singer's review. Thanks for passing it along.

Animal Machines: The New Factory Farming Industry


message 17: by dara (new) - rated it 5 stars

dara Yeah, that's the first reference I've seen to Harrison's book. I may need to look into it.


Alexa My boyfriend is the exact same way :p


message 19: by MMM (new)

MMM "Raped by a butcher." It's not funny but I LOL'ed at your response to busybodies. I'm childfree and I get a lot of them expecting me to "explain" myself to them, so I feel your pain.


message 20: by David (new)

David Katzman I know I voted for this review in the past...with my mind...but since the vote didn't show up, I get to vote again! Yay, dara!


message 21: by Linda (new)

Linda This is almost as good as the book!!!!


message 22: by Matthew (new) - added it

Matthew Good story. I am a Vegan and i can't wait to read the book. But if you want to see just as important of a film watch Earthlings.


message 23: by Anja (new) - rated it 5 stars

Anja I know what you mean and I must say you describe your experiences with this book, and the way other people reacted to it, quite entertainingly. I have also talked about this book to many people whose reaction was: 'I don't want to read it because I do not want to feel guilty or uncomfortable about what I put in my mouth'. This might be described as 'the willing suspension of reason and responsibility'. Fortunately, I have also convinced some of my friends to read it - and I keep recommending this book!


message 24: by Vignesh (new) - added it

Vignesh Anand I am vegan, single, straight, literate and am more or less cute. So, you can have me !.I do understand the dilemmas you are facing.Am bidding for the moment that will vindicate my righteous mode of life. I do take canny steps to make my friends and coworkers realize the wisdom in my being a vegan.But anything that ticks the cognitive apparatus of a human,the case being morality,will likely piss him/her off.Apparently,if you would approach the whole problem with a sense of astuteness, they do seem to agree on a few points. So, be shrewd and make them understand the practical benefits of being vegan - environmental, health, so on...


Martina Couldn't have said it better myself! I am still vegetarian after reading this book but no more "free range" eggs or just cheese from anywhere for me. I need to know where it comes from... I advise everyone vegan/vegetarian/any diet to read this. You need to know why you eat what you eat and why you shouldn't and don't have to eat things you've grown up believing you need.


message 26: by Eddie (new) - added it

Eddie Best review of a book I think i have ever read.


message 27: by Stacy (new)

Stacy The whole thing reads as bravery to me, Dara! "Keep your head up; keep your heart strong." Did you read Nonviolent Communication with the book club? I know a lot of people found it difficult to imagine using his technique, but I have found that just putting serious thought into the process and trying to apply it just a little bit, has helped me immensely already. I work in the hospital, speaking to people about diet on a daily basis, so I have years of frustrating conversations under my belt; just coming out of it feeling like I left someone's mind open instead of helping them close it tighter has made a huge difference in how I feel and spurs me to keep going. People are surrounded by others trying to persuade them all day long; family and friends telling them what they "should" do and shaming them when they don't. People beat themselves up internally the same way on a consistent basis. It's how we've been trained to operate and it can leave us feeling defeated, distrusting, and defensive of anything we feel we can hold on to, including our destructive habits. You and I may have a thinking and feeling style that can get through it by thinking about what's most helpful for all, but I don't think a lot of people have that skill. Humans count themselves as higher than other species, but we show that we are ruled by our baser instincts in our every deed.


message 28: by dara (new) - rated it 5 stars

dara I haven't kept up with the book club reading, but maybe I will have more time now that I'm graduating.


message 29: by Lea (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lea This is exactly how I feel as a new vegan. It's hard. People don't understand and do not want to understand. I've gotten the same reactions. Most people choose ignorance over giving up something they've always known. You'd probably like The China Study, if you haven't read it already!


Sandra Thank you for your non-review review! I love that you didn't change anything you had written previously but just updated, hope everything works out!


message 31: by Valter (new)

Valter Thank you Dara. Loved your reflections.
Even more useful than a review.
This is one thing I love about Goodreads, it's more than a review place, it's a place for sharing thoughts.


message 32: by Jennifer (new) - added it

Jennifer Oh man, what a relatable review! And enjoyable to read! Thanks for all the extras you've tacked on, too. I'm much the same in that I grew complacent about my reasons for veganism; I was convinced, and I didn't feel like dwelling on the "why" anymore. But every once in a while, amid all the annoying, defensive responses, comes a genuinely curious question from a person who is actually giving it thought. And then I fumble for real answers! This book is coming up on my to-read list, and it sounds like it's just the kick in the pants I need.


message 33: by Lindsey (new) - added it

Lindsey I think you're my new best friend.


message 34: by Sanita (new)

Sanita Ločmele Dara, you are cool :) but not sure about that feminism turn (just dont get too radical ;) ) i havnt read the book yet, my boyfriend reads it now. i will take over. but we are not eating meat since feb, 2014. well, fish is still on the plate. may i call it a soft start :) ? good luck and love to u!


message 35: by Joe (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joe such a great review. bravo. I feel the same way. I just finished the book and it has made me decide to give up meat. I'll head over to your blog now.


back to top