Eat­ing Animals

  • Review
By – September 9, 2011

Every­thing about fac­to­ry farm­ing is illu­mi­nat­ed in Foer’s first major work of non­fic­tion, which attempts to help us make more informed choic­es about what we eat. Moti­vat­ed by the ques­tion of what to teach his first son about food, Foer set out on a three year jour­ney to learn where the meat on our plate comes from. His find­ings are startling.

The author feeds us the gory details of the lives of fac­to­ry-farmed ani­mals. His first hand descrip­tions are vivid and strik­ing in their grue­some­ness. But this book is about much more than the gore that sur­rounds our meals. Foer explores the envi­ron­men­tal impact of fac­to­ry farm­ing (“ani­mal agriculture…is the num­ber one cause of cli­mate change”), he describes the way in which large-scale health threats are linked to fac­to­ry farm­ing (H1N1 aka swine flu), he probes into the waste, the human­i­tar­i­an vio­la­tions, and the eth­i­cal dilem­mas sur­round­ing the process by which many of us fill our din­ner plates. He also debunks the myth of free-range” and tells us exact­ly what is in our chicken…and it’s not just chicken.

Foer is a fic­tion writer and por­tions of the book come to life the way his nov­els do. Beau­ti­ful pas­sages describe the social and even rit­u­al­is­tic aspects of shar­ing meals (Passover seders). He begins the book with a pow­er­ful sto­ry of his grand­moth­er turn­ing down a piece of pork even while she was starv­ing dur­ing the war. If noth­ing mat­ters, there’s noth­ing to save,” she told him. He ends the book with these very words, and the chap­ters in between tell us what, exact­ly, we are choos­ing when we choose to eat cer­tain meats, and why it matters.

Foer uses some of his trade­mark lit­er­ary devices in this book — long lists (chap­ter 3, Words/​Meaning), changes in nar­ra­tive voice (he uses tran­scripts from his inter­views with farm­ers with­out indi­cat­ing who is speak­ing). These gim­micky devices make for a dis­joint­ed and some­times tire­some read­ing expe­ri­ence, but they are well-worth the effort. What­ev­er is said of this book’s style, there is no ques­tion that it is a ter­ri­bly impor­tant work — well-researched, heart­felt, and above all filled with facts that any­one who eats should know.

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