Some of you may remember that one of the few books I never finished was ‘Everything is Illuminated’ by Jonathan Safran Foer. I gave up after about 60 pages when I realised that I could neither appreciate nor even understand what on earth was going on. Happily, ‘Eating Animals’, a non-fiction work by the same author about, well, eating animals, is infinitely more readable despite its rather gruesome content.
The ‘horsemeat scandal’ currently dominating the news in the UK makes this book timely reading. I am sure that some of these ‘revelations’ will come as no surprise to Jonathan Safran Foer who describes the factory farm process in vivid and repetitive detail in this book. It is clear that nobody really likes to think about where their food actually comes from or how it ends up on their plate. I think the episode of the British sitcom ‘Peep Show’ in which Jeremy accidentally runs over a friend’s dog and then attempts to barbecue and eat it in order to hide the evidence is one of the few examples in which this taboo is explicitly dealt with even in the realm of more alternative comedy.
The author stated that he does not intend this book to be specifically a manifesto in support of vegetarianism although it does often come across like that anyway given the realities of modern factory farms which appear to have absolutely no redeeming features. However, I still think that Safran Foer could have provided a slightly more balanced argument and also a more global one which doesn’t just apply to the situation in the United States.
If you are already thinking about becoming a vegetarian then this book will probably provide the final push towards that decision. On the other hand, I still don’t believe that individuals choosing to become vegetarian will solve widespread problems such as the inefficiency of fishing or the incorrect labelling of meat content. It is not as though I can send a note to a farm asking them to slaughter one fewer chicken today just because I decide I don’t want to eat it anymore.
Overall, ‘Eating Animals’ is a very interesting book with a passionately argued case. Just don’t read it over dinner.