The author Jonathan Safran Foer often tackles subjects that make other authors uncomfortable, stories about the victims of horrific events. In Everything is Illuminated, he chronicled a young man's journey to Ukraine to find the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis. He was one of the first to write about the events of September 11 in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. His third work, Eating Animals, deals with another type of victim: the animals we eat on a daily basis.
The book is both animal rights advocacy and an examination of how what we eat fits into our culture. As Foer writes, "food is culture, habit, and identity." Up until a point, we eat what our parents eat. When we become able to make our own decisions, food becomes a choice, though we risk ostracizing ourselves from friends and family if we chose a different path.
Though the vegetarian Foer wouldn't be opposed if giving up meat was a result of reading Eating Animals, the book is not about not eating meat; it's about not eating factory farmed, genetically-altered meat. In fact, Foer is very sympathetic to the men and women who humanely raise- and slaughter- animals on family farms.
Factory farms are evil in every sense of the word. These large corporations unabashedly release toxins into the environment. They treat their workers like animals and their animals like objects. They do not care if their fish, poultry, cattle or pigs suffer; these creatures do not live good lives or die good deaths. Factory farms put small, earnest family farms out of business. And their products are everywhere.
While the majority of Eating Animals is true of everyday eating, the last chapter is especially relevant this week. Thanksgiving ("turkey day") is synonymous with meat. However, "...more than any other animal, the Thanksgiving turkey embodies the paradoxes of eating animals: what we do to living turkeys is just about as bad as anything humans have ever done to any animal in the history of the world. Yet what we do to their dead bodies can feel so powerfully good and right."
Why is turkey necessary? American's don't really like turkey that much; 18% of all turkey consumed annually in the US is eaten on Thanksgiving day. Plus, "the turkeys we eat have about as much in common with the turkeys the Pilgrims might have eaten as does the ever-punch-lined tofurky." Yet turkey is tradition; many families cannot-and would not- fathom a Thanksgiving table without this large foul. Foer describes several Thanksgivings of his childhood: the traditions, the foods, the memories, and the close intersection of the three. Turkey plays a central role.
Foer poses a question (a challenge, possibly): what if there were no turkey on the Thanksgiving table? Would you miss it, or would knowing that there is a reason for its absence make the lack of turkey more special? "Try to imagine the conversation that would take place. This is why our family celebrates this way."
As Foer writes, "The point of eating special foods with those special people at those special times was that we were being deliberate, separating those meals out from the others. Adding another layer of deliberateness has become enriching. I'm all for compromising tradition for a good cause, but perhaps in these situations tradition wasn't compromised so much as fulfilled."
image by donjd2
Other posts on this topic:
- The Green Fork: Eating Animals: Foer Gets The Facts On Factory Farms
- The Lantern Books Blog: Eating Animals: A Review
- The Vegan Dietitian: Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer: Some of My Favorite Reviews
- Supervegan: Does it matter that Jonathan Safran Foer isn't vegan?
- Basil and Spice: Book Review: Eating Animals By Jonathan Safran Foer