Vegetarian Manifesto? A book review

"At the end of the day, factory farming isn't about feeding people; it's about money."

I recently read Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals, released about 9 months ago. I've read Foer's novel Extremely Close and Incredibly Loud, but the foodie themes were what drew me to his latest memoir/non-fiction book. Foer's purpose for writing the book was to unravel the vegetarian/omnivore flip-flop that he had been engaged in much of his adult life in light of impending fatherhood.

When I was younger I would ask my vegetarian friends about their choice, but I've honestly stopped caring about why others make the decision. Perhaps I lost interest because the veggies usually didn't have a reason and even seemed dispassionate about it. I've never seriously considered vegetarianism myself, but I was hooked on Foer's book almost instantly.

Eating Animals offers a convincing argument for discontinuing support of factory farming, though not necessarily for vegetarianism itself. Foer does, however, make it hard to see another way out. In one such argument Foer writes,
"A good number of people seem to be tempted to continue supporting factory farms while also buying meat outside the system when it is available. That's nice...How effective would the Montgomery bus boycott have been if the protesters had used the bus when it became inconvenient not to?...If anyone finds in this book encouragement to buy some meat from alternative sources while buying factory farm meat as well, they have found something that isn't here."
Much of the book seeks to offer an insight into the lives of the animals that we eat, which, while considerably graphic and disturbing, is not offered as the only reason for swearing off factory farm meat. Foer makes clear that many of the world's problems are significantly contributed to by factory farms, from public health issues (foodborne illnesses, antibiotic resistance) to poverty and obesity (depending on region of the world), and global warming and pollution (caused by the large number of animals gathered on such farms).

"Rationally, factory farming is so obviously wrong, in so many ways. In all of my reading and conversations, I've yet to find a credible defense of it. But food is not rational. Food is culture, habit, and identify..."
Throughout the book the author discusses food as memory/culture/family, and as hokey as it may sound, this is one approach that made the author's message meaningful for me. Foer recognizes that people do not make rational choices when it comes to food. The choices about what we eat are complicated, and he doesn't pretend that it's easy to make better ones, but he does put the responsibility for changing this broken system squarely on the reader/consumer.

People know about factory farming. We've all been told about the horrors of the slaughterhouse, the tiny cages, the animals that can't naturally reproduce or stand-up, the high rate of injury among meat processors, and on and on, but it's easier to forget, to push all of this (along with those other global problems) out of our minds than it is to sacrifice our idea of comfort, craving, and nourishment.

I'm not sure where I stand now, but I have been acutely more aware of my consumption since completing this book. I'd love to stock my freezer with healthy, antibiotic-free meat raised and processed locally on family farms, but what about eating at restaurants? Would my personal at home effort be just a drop in the bucket? An insignificant choice made by a single, urban woman? This book has made me think about my personal responsibility more than anything else has recently, and I encourage you to pick it up too. I promise you will not feel bullied into becoming a vegetarian, but it will make you peel your fingers away from your eyes, if just a little bit, to acknowledge the way our food choices affect the ecology of the planet and the sustainability of our food system.

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