Reflections on “Eating Animals”

3 Nov

I actually have a lot of respect for PETA. No joke. Photo by ajschwegler/Flickr

“Cruelty depends on an understanding of cruelty, and the ability to choose against it. Or to choose to ignore it.” –Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals, p. 53.

As I noted previously, Eating Animals is not a whimsical look at the prospect of eating animals, as the Kate-Spade-handbag-green cover with folksy lettering might suggest. Instead, it is a sickening revelation about how utterly wrong and even sinister the modern meat industry is. And although much of the information wasn’t new to me–I’m a vegetarian, for goodness’ sake–the author managed to deliver the information in a way that didn’t feel like preaching to the choir or simply restating the facts. And I will now add his book to the canon of works that contributed to my decision to be vegetarian (a story for another day).

One word to describe the effect this book had on me: maddening. I feel a lot like Alma in this scripture:

O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people!

Except instead of wanting to spread the gospel (although I am totally supportive of that too) I want to have the power to STOP every unsustainable, unethical practice on earth, RIGHT NOW. It makes me sad and it makes me sick that this cruelty, this waste, this utter destruction is happening every day, constantly. I seriously wonder, how are we not all dead yet? How is it possible that we still have semi-functioning ecosystems? Humans (particularly Americans, though they’re not alone) are causing destruction so quickly, so widely, so deeply, sometimes in ways that are irreparable, irreversible. Can we please just take a break from our world-destroying to think about this for a minute? Until we get things figured out, and, say, establish a regulatory agency that actually regulates industry and protects consumers, can we please put a moratorium on factory farming? Even better, can we put a moratorium on eating animals?

Maybe we can’t. For now, the only solace I have is knowing that by being vegetarian, I can at least put a personal moratorium on factory farming. But one thing that is significant about Eating Animals is its message (as I interpreted it) that being vegetarian doesn’t let you off the hook. This was a turning point for me. It’s been easy to tell myself that I don’t have to worry about the evils of factory farming because I’m vegetarian–I’m not supporting them by buying their products. And for the most part, that’s true. But Foer suggests that I and my fellow vegetarians would be selling ourselves short if we stopped at stopping to eat meat. (Not that he addresses his book to vegetarians–on the contrary, he makes an effort to be sympathetic to current carnivores.) The fact is, animals are suffering whether or not I eat them, because there are still millions of people who do. And those millions are eating meat that comes from a factory farm 99 percent of the time. So for me, Eating Animals was nothing less than a call to action. Not eating meat is not enough. I’m not sure what “enough” is at this point. Maybe it’s sending a letter to my state representatives asking for reform. Maybe it’s donating to PETA. Maybe it’s convincing Dave to cut back on meat. Maybe it’s going vegan again. But it’s definitely time to do something. Thanks, Jonathan Safran Foer.

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