#CBR6 Review #19: Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

I know that JSF is a polarizing author. You either love him or you hate him. You find his fiction avant-garde or too pretentious. I liked him a lot in college, though since my exposure to contemporary fiction has widened, I don’t LOVE him the way I used to. But I’m still in the favorable camp towards his fiction. But I think Eating Animals may be his most compelling work to date.

When he found out he was going to be a father, Foer went through a period of self-analysis, including the methods and systems of food that he bought into. He describes himself and his wife as vegetarians who sometimes ate meat,” a statement that really resonated with me, since that describes my relationship towards meat pretty perfectly. He then decided to figure out what stories we tell about our food, why we eat/don’t eat certain foods (why do we factory farm our chickens but refuse to eat the family dog? for instance), and how our meat comes to us.

For me, the most engaging part of the book comes from his argument for eating dog. He makes a fairly convincing case. I’ve taught that part of the chapter to my composition class, and it’s really fun to watch my students bellow with OUTRAGE over eating the family dog. Last semester, however, one young woman took up his cause and wrote a fantastic defense of his position. See? Polarizing. Foer is a charismatic writer who will either electrify you or piss you off.

I’ve read critiques about his self-righteousness, but I honestly don’t see where that comes from. Unless people are bristling about his call to action against purchasing meat that has been factory farmed. That’s got to be something each of us wrestles with on our own, so I won’t jump on any high horse here. Rather, I will say that since I relinquished almost every meat from my diet (for reasons varying from religious practice to I-just-get-really-sick-from-beef), Foer’s conclusions seemed like preaching to the choir. And the one thing I am loathe to give up, orange chicken from my Chinese restaurant, is not really because of the chicken–nope, if they could glaze that sinfully yummy sauce all over some well-braised tofu (and some places do) or seitan, I would never need to taste chicken in my mouth again.

What Foer has left me with on this re-read is a call to intentionality, to better practices, to make a better world. Do I dare disturb my universe? is the question I’ve been asking myself since I began blogging–coincidentally, a month after I got married. My husband and I already eat vegetarian at home, and are even flirting with part-time veganism. Is giving up meat a huge sacrifice in the scheme of things? If I can create vegetarian or vegan foods that are yummy, nutritious, environmentally sustainable, and affordable, does that mean I don’t need meat?

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