Brilliantly synthesizing philosophy, literature, science, memoir and his own detective work, "Eating Animals" explores the many fictions we use to justify our eating habits--from folklore to pop culture to family traditions and national myth--and how such tales can lull us into a brutal forgetting.
The one thing I did appreciate was the names of family-farms and organizations that support them. Now that I know more about them, I will try to be more aware of what meat I'm buying. The least I can do is not buy Perdue, Tyson, or Smithfield meat.
But then JSF tells me that even if I buy family-farmed meat whenever possible, I'm still a failure if I EVER eat factory-farmed meat, and really I'm a failure for just eating meat AT ALL. I feel like my favorite teacher just embarrassed me in front of the whole class. If you need me, I'll be crying in a stall in the girls' bathroom. (I'll get over it.)
I have a question for you, sir. If you're so against animal cruelty, why aren't you a vegan? I'm sure dairy cows and layer chickens get treated just as poorly as beef cows and broiler chickens. And if you think about it, they probably get mistreated for longer, because they are not killed when they are just a couple months old. But dairy and eggs are not even mentioned in the book. I would think that vegetarians are more open to conversion to veganism than omnivores are to vegetarianism, and thus this book would actually serve some kind of purpose.
I saw JSF once talk about this book and read from the first chapter (the first couple chapters being the only insightful part of the book), and he talked about meat-eating in moderation. I liked what I heard. How hard would it be for everyone to give up meat for ONE DAY a week? Or two days a week? And wouldn't 700 people giving up meat one day a week have a similar effect on the environment and the meat industry as 100 vegetarians and 600 people who eat meat every day? But there is NOT A WORD about this alternate solution in the book.
JSF openly admits that one vegetarian doesn’t really make a difference. (Should that have come with a spoiler alert? Oops.) The point of being a vegetarian, according to him, is to try to force the other people around you to become vegetarians as well. I may not have very strong opinions about meat-eating, but I do have strong beliefs about personal choice. I don’t think it’s right to have a GOAL of converting your friends to a cause, no matter how noble. I know that JSF will inform his son of the horrors of factory-farming. I hope that he will also inform his son that his parents will love him just the same if he one day makes the choice to eat meat in spite of those horrors, just as JSF’s grandmother, to whom meat was very important, still loved her vegetarian grandson.
I won’t describe all of the nastiness. I will describe what I think of each time I now consider eating animal protein:
- Fish. Salmon farmed in the equivalent of a bathtub full of water so foul and infested with sea lice that open lesions down to the bones on the fish’s face are common.
- Shrimp. Trawling killing 26 pounds of other sea animals, which are then tossed back into the ocean, for every 1 pound of shrimp caught.
- Chicken. The rows and rows of cages smaller than a sheet of printer paper piled on top of each other in giant windowless warehouses. Male “layer” chicks being destroyed as worthless in a macerator likened to a wood chipper filled with chicks. The U.S. poultry industry employing water-chilling in order to increase the chicken’s weight, water which some describe as “fecal soup” for all the filth and bacteria floating around.
- Turkey. The genetic engineering to maximize meat rendering the modern turkey incapable of reproducing without artificial insemination, walking normally, jumping, or flying.
- Pork. The sadism on the killing floor, incidents happening routinely which are too gruesome to repeat. Runt piglets disposed of by bashing them headfirst on the concrete floor.
- Beef. Cows oftentimes going through the slaughtering process alive: bled, skinned, and dismembered while fully conscious.
I also found these points more than sobering:
- The labels “free-range”, “cage-free”, and “organic” meaning essentially zero to all of the above.
- For every 10 tuna, sharks, and other large predatory fish that were in our oceans 50-100 years ago, only one is left.
- Animal agriculture makes a 40% greater contribution to global warming than all transportation in the world combined.
- An average slaughterhouse worker receiving low pay to kill as many as 2,050 cattle per shift; the desensitization and anger following naturally.
- The lake-sized shit lagoons (literally: as large as 120,00 sq ft, and 30 ft deep), completely unregulated. An interesting anecdote is included about a worker overcome by the stench, falling in and drowning – and then three relatives all diving in one after the other in the attempt to rescue the previous person, all dying.
The book essentially debunks the argument that today’s farmers are doing an amazing job to feed the world, which I’ve always bought. In fact, there are very few “farmers” left; they have been replaced by corporations, who often do cruel and unusual things in order to maximize the bottom line.
What brings the book down a bit is Foer’s writing. It’s amateurish. He has an annoying habit of asking question after question in the apparent belief they are thought-provoking, and worse yet, he cannot help himself from stating his own beliefs in addition to just laying out the facts. Foer does not exercise any restraint in a story that begs him to do so, as the reader is more than capable of drawing his or her own conclusions.
There are countless examples of this that I disliked; comments such as “It’s probably even wrong to sit silently with friends eating factory-farmed pork, however difficult it can be to say something.” Ch. 6 in the section “Slices of Paradise / Pieces of Shit” was complete shlop and I cannot believe it wasn’t omitted entirely during editing; the section ends with nine nearly consecutive questions, e.g. “But how far am I willing to push my own decisions and my own views about the best alternative animal agriculture?” (who cares!) I found the best parts to be those where Foer simply stated the truth, and those where frankly he got the hell out of the way and let various people he had met in researching the book speak in their own words.
However, with that said, the book remains a good read. Five stars certainly for the power of the message, two stars for the writing … and in aggregate I round up to four stars because the message is in the end so memorable, and may just change your life.
From someone who sneaks into factory farms to assist dying animals:
“Why is taste, the crudest of our senses, exempted from the ethical rules that govern our other senses?”
From Frank Reese, the “last poultry farmer”:’
“What the industry figured out – and this was the real revolution – is that you don’t need healthy animals to make a profit. Sick animals are more profitable. The animals have paid the price for our desire to have everything available at all times for very little money.”
“We’re messing with the genes of these animals and then feeding them growth hormones and all kinds of drugs that we really don’t know enough about. And then we’re eating them. Kids today are the first generation to grow up on this stuff, and we’re making a science experiment out of them. Isn’t it strange how upset people get about a few dozen baseball players taking growth hormones, when we’re doing what we’re doing to our food animals and feeding them to our children?”
From Nicolette Niman, the vegetarian farmer:
“We’re awakening to the irony of seeking out shampoo that’s not tested on animals while at the same time (and many times a day) buying meat that’s produced in profoundly cruel systems.”
“Does anyone really doubt that the corporations that control the vast majority of animal agriculture in America are in it for the profit? In most industries, that’s a perfectly good driving force. But when the commodities are animals, the factories are the earth itself, and the products are physically consumed, the stakes are not the same, and the thinking can’t be the same.”
For himself, Foer has chosen to remain a vegetarian. For others, he offers a choice. He maintains that this choice should be made on the basis of knowledge. Unfortunately, the corporate meat industry is not forthcoming with much information about the true conditions of animal being raised and slaughtered within their facilities. As wise consumers and caring individuals, we should read this book and then encourage others to do so as well. In addition, it would be worthwhile to research some of Foer’s cited sources, check out internet resources, and then really begin to consider how to make a difference in the lives of animals being raised for meat production.
Part of the charm, some would say genius of Foer's fiction, is the expansiveness of it all. The range. The flights of imagination. And then at the end, the sum of all parts yielding a satisfying whole. This approach, when applied to a work of nonfiction, is somewhat less successful. In taking on the large issues of factory farming and animal cruelty, and then encouraging a bold abandonment of traditional eating choices in favor of vegetarianism, Foer's purpose would have been better served by taking up an unwavering viewpoint instead of launching an emotionally charged raft ride.
His effort here has been inspired by the birth of his first child. His philosophy toward food has been more than a little influenced by his grandmother's Holocaust survival story. He inserts a good deal of fact, research detailed in (wait for it) approximately 60 pages of endnotes after only 267 pages of text. There are large italicized sections of the book that feature the voices of farmers and activists. And he (was thinking what?) appears to have a love/hate relationship with Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food. Are you feeling what I am feeling? Is this a lot to coherently represent in so short a book?
The way this is headed, you probably think by now that I hated the book. But I did not. I loved the energy. I loved the emotionally charged aspects of the book even when they robbed the book of a richer line of reason. Even though much of the research represented things I had read before, the intended revelations provided renewed food for thought especially during the holiday season when food consumption tends to excess. I appreciated the call to mindfulness in our consumer habits. I just did not think that there was much new here, and being a fan of Pollan's elegant, clean journalistic style as well as the omnivore's viewpoint, I felt the argument was delivered without adequate persuasion.
If you are fan of Foer, and have thought about reading the book, you should definitely do so. If you have spent years oscillating between vegetarian and omnivore as the author did, I suggest that you might also draw something from this. Even if you have not given much thought to the origins of the food you eat every day, this can be a quick and engaging read. Just don't forget to check out Pollan and those who came before him too. It is time to reconsider our food sources, our social responsibility, our personal health but the solutions most practical may not be found in this highly individualized take on the situation.
Animal rights reasons are exemplified by the question: Do you eat dog and why not? Where does one draw the line which animals are deemed eatable. Most carnivorous persons, if they have thought about the issue at all, do not hold an ethically consistent preferences of eat/don't eat animals. Foer's main argument that animals share many human traits sounds reasonable but Utopian given human propensity to inflict violence on other humans. Shylock's "If you prick us, do we not bleed?" has not prevented the cruelties committed against Jews. How could the same argument, which totally relies on empathy, hold if the cruelty against non-humans is committed out of view? It is the practice of agribusiness to remove the act of killing and food processing out of the public view. My grandparents' experience of slaughtering a chicken or rabbit in the garden (often with the assistance of the children!) would be deemed highly unusual today. The food processing industry hides the cruel process that turns oink into bacon. It is always quite shocking to see this process still celebrated openly in (usually) less developed countries.
Foer's second argument about animal cruelty in food processing has a distinct US focus with its political capture of all regulation. The documentary "Food, inc." is very revealing about the extreme concentration and industrialization of the US food production. While hardly a week passes without a food scandal in Europe, the level of regulation is much tougher, and the concentration and centralization of food processing has not happened yet. Much of the worst examples that are standard practice in the US are not allowed in most of Europe (which is considered as a trade restriction by the US lobbyists and the US government in their pay). Much of the sting of Foer's arguments can be lessened by enlightened decent farming and slaughtering processes. Something many European retailers support out of naked self-interest. The US focus on ultra-cheap food might currently keep off their underclass from revolting, it does not look to be sustainable in the long run.
Foer's third and fourth reasons are connected: The current agribusiness practices are both unhealthy and ecologically unsustainable. Animal protein is expensive to produce and creates a lot of waste, which again can be limited by good market incentives and strong regulations. In my conclusion, I accept only the weaker conclusion of personally reducing the amount of meat consumed and supporting tougher regulations. But then again, I live in Europe and can, while walking the dog, personally see fully free living chickens roaming in a small scale farm. One of these fortunate chickens took an unfortunate end when it triggered the dog's blood lust. Seeing the malicious satisfaction mixed with a bit of socially expected contrition in the returning dog's blood stained face showed that deep down, we share with man's best friend a deep dark hunger for meat that requires much cultural sophistication to overcome. Foer's book certainly helps in the advancement of Elias' process towards civilization.
I was torn how to rate this book. It isn’t perfect (I noted many flaws in its comprehensiveness) but it’s amazing enough, so 5 stars it is.
I’ve read so many books such as this but none for a while, and it’s because reading about how humans use animals is so devastating for me. It’s not just the books’ contents, it’s knowing that, at most, only 1% of Americans feel as I do, that my feelings and beliefs are shared by so few (The latest statistics I have are that 3% of Americans are truly vegetarian and 1% are vegan. vegetarian = never any meat, poultry, fish, vegan adds never any dairy, eggs, honey, leather, wool, silk, beeswax, or, as much as is feasible, any product of animal origin) Also disturbing for me is that I know that others will read this book and won’t absorb what it offers but will dissociate, that even more people won’t have the courage or the interest to read it at all. (Oh, I kind of told a lie: The information in here is incredibly disturbing, whether or not you’ve known it. I don’t want to discourage readers from reading this book though, so I’ll say it’s upsetting but hope that people will want to make an informed consent about what they do. I’m hoping that’s the case because I want many, many people to read this book.)
I highly respect Foer. He is thoughtful and philosophical and, maybe most importantly, non-judgmental and empathetic, and he’s very funny and that helps with taking in the disturbing facts. I appreciated how he incorporates his Jewish background into the book, and enjoyed the family stories that he tells. I’m truly puzzled why he doesn’t have better communication with his dog/why he can’t interpret better his dog’s communications, but given that he started off not even liking dogs I guess he’s made great progress in dog-human relationships.
He provides little snippets of information that are so interesting. For instance: Americans choose to eat less than .25% of the known edible food on the planet. I always know I’ll learn a little with every book I read and I learned a lot, especially about some individual animals/cases.
The letter on page 84 is hilarious, if the reader is already aware that the last thing any factory farmer wants is for the public to see their operations. I laughed and laughed at this letter and I’m so grateful it was there because so much of the book’s contents caused me much emotional pain. (When I needed cheering up while reading the book I kept going back and rereading that letter.)
I’m glad he touched on the connection between animal agriculture and the existence of influenza illnesses in humans. It’s one of my perennial rants, and with H1N1 in the news (and scaring me) it’s very topical.
This book – well, it will depend on what the reader brings to it and who the reader is. For me, it’s so obviously a cogent argument for veganism, but it’s like my last stint as a juror. At the end of the case, as the twelve of us were about to go into deliberations, I said to myself, it’s obvious how we should vote, but our first vote when we got into the jury deliberation room was 6 to 6, not so obvious in the same way to everybody, and the deliberations ended up being very stressful. People feel different ways and believe different things. Foer respects that and that’s one reason why I think this book can strike a chord in anyone who reads it.
This book is very well researched, and Foer spent three years in some hands on type research. The book proper including acknowledgements went through page 270, the notes went from pages 271-331 and the index is on pages 333-341, but it reads more like the memoir it partly is; it does not read like a textbook. The writing is engaging and not at all dry.
Well, it’s good to read a book that isn’t preaching to the choir (ethical vegans) because I think more readers will be open to what this author offers. I don’t see how anyone can read this book and not be changed, whether or not they make changes.
Foer has a “beef” with Michael Pollan, as do I, but I have a bit of a “beef” with Foer: it’s his book (and there are many other books out there and they’re all doing a lot of good in my opinion) but I wish he hadn’t provided so much time to give their points of view to the 4 more humane animal farmers and the vegan who was designing a slaughterhouse. It boggles my mind even more, that those who’ve really known these individual animals could kill them, especially when one is vegetarian and one other says he knows it isn’t necessary for humans to eat meat. I have such mixed feelings, but I’m afraid their rationalizations will give permission for readers to act with the status quo. However, only 1% vegan and 3% vegetarian of the American population, the actions these individuals take can make a difference. Never will 100% of Americans go 100% vegan so reducing suffering and having less of a negative impact on the environment - well how can I argue wholeheartedly?, but I felt very uncomfortable reading these parts, although certainly not as uncomfortable reading the factory farming and slaughter parts of the book.
I’ve heard some vegans complain that Foer doesn’t go far enough and the book doesn’t promote veganism, but this book is getting more mainstream attention than most books of its type, and some people say that they are eliminating or reducing the animal products they consume because of this book. So Foer, along with a bunch of others who are my heroes, are putting more and more information out there. It makes a difference. This book will make a difference. Hopefully, many will read this book and then continue and read some of the other many books and other resources out there as well. I’m very happy that this book is getting the attention and readership that it is.
I found it very interesting reading this book in early November because Foer talks about American Thanksgiving in the book.
So, now I feel incredibly sad and very angry (I know anger is a distancing emotion and I don’t want to others to withdraw from me, but I have a lot of compassion for myself right now and I have a reason to feel that way and that’s how I feel) and I definitely need some lighter reading materials, pronto.(Edit: Re the compassion for myself, blah blah: I'm not a new age type person at all and I don't remember ever saying anything like this with regard to myself, but I was very distraught after reading this book.)
Please go read other reviews of this book. Don’t let my distress dissuade you from reading this important book. I can guarantee that if you get even remotely as emotionally involved as I did while reading this book, you’re either already vegan or you’ll be grateful for the information.
I do have a fundamental disagreement with Foer, who seems to think it's okay at some level to use and kill animals if done humanely. I don't feel that way. Maybe because I'm already vegan and knew so much of the information in this book, my favorite parts were when Foer wrote about his (holocaust) survivor grandmother.
This book is about the toll we place on the animals we eat, on the environment we live in, on the worker's who provide the food for our families and on ourselves. We wonder why we get sick and why our nation's waterways are polluted... our decisions are the answers. One person's choice to change influences another and another and eventually we can make a difference.
To me, being vegetarian is about choosing not to sustain my life with the suffering of other sentient beings. Only bad can come from that. This book reminded me about the health impacts, but also introduced me to the massive environmental and worker safety implications as well.
Please read this book. Looking the other way is not an option.
The author's findings led him to become a vegetarian. My only complaint with the book is that the author barely addressed the milk and eggs industries, which cause just as much animal suffering and pollution as the meat industry. If you're going to discuss the factory farm in America, why stop halfway? Regardless of that one issue, this is a great book which really makes you stop and think about the foods that you eat and where they came from before ending up on your plate.
Thinking about what you may be eating in terms of how it reached your plate---how it got there before anyone ever used it in a recipe or you had a taste--makes for lots of questions, economic, social, political, religious, etc.. Even if you are already a vegetarian, this makes for tough but fascinating reading because it shows how gigantic the problems are in trying to BE human with our food. Unfortunately, the problems are growing.
The strength of the book is its memoir-ish exploration of Foer’s path to committed vegetarian. In childhood, he’d been happily force-fed an omnivore’s diet by a grandmother who had survived starvation and WWII by hiding and foraging in the European forests. In adolescence, he’d internalized the kosher dietary laws (“…a compromise: if humans absolutely must eat animals, we should do so humanely, with respect for the other creatures in the world and with humility. Don’t subject the animals you eat to unnecessary suffering, either in their lives or in their slaughters”) but learned that violations occur even on approved farms. In adulthood, having grown to love his dog and, by extension, all animals, he became a sometimes-vegetarian. But when he became a father, he finally had to decide: What should he feed his son?
Readers at all familiar with factory farming will glean little new information here. Fans of Foer will find some interesting personal narrative and a remarkable chapter of definitions. The book is sketchy, however, roaming and repetitive, its accessibility leading to superficiality, and with some dead ends (for example, Foer’s night-time trespass on a farm, which was exciting in a police-ride-along kind of way but had little payoff on-topic; and a glaring omission of veganism, which Foer surely must support, given today’s industrially operated egg and dairy farms.) Eating Animals is best for readers who are new to the topic ... or those desiring a surge of motivation to change their diets.
I appreciated the outlook from the small farmers. My grandparents were small farmers too, and small farmers are not horrible people. There is a necessity for death in raising animals for food--it's par for the course.
At any rate, what I mean to say is that this book is not preachy and examines the question of farming and vegetarianism from several angles. Foer makes an effort to remain unbiased, although he did become a vegetarian somewhere in the course of his life before this book was written.
This book explores the world of the factory farms that produce the chickens, pigs, fish and cattle that humans eat. He he made a couple of his own surreptitious trespasses onto farms but primarily relies on interviews he conducted with people who work or worked there and in the slaughterhouses. He vividly details the cruel conditions the the animals must experience before they end up on our tables (although he mostly leaves out any description of the conditions under which cattle are farmed and just wants us to accept his judgment that those are not so bad.
The savage conditions in which the animals must live are only part of the case presented by Foer, but it constitutes the prime focus of his polemic. He also relies on the contribution of animal production to global warming, the depletion of the world's great fisheries, the overall waste of food and water caused by feeding animals, etc.
Early on in the book Foer presents a case for the eating of dogs, to demonstrate how those who are willing to eat other animals should think more carefully about the choices they make. It reminded me of Swift's A Modest Proposal.
By the end of the book, he has made a most convincing case that no caring person, no one who thinks at all about the issue of how the food has ended up on the plate, should continue to eat meat the way it is produced today (even that meat produced by ethical farmers) if they agree with this statement: “Well, I have no ethical objection to eating meat, but the animals should at least be treated humanely.” Because the animals on factory farms are treated cruelly, even often sadistically, and they experience great suffering from birth to death.
Eating Animals is well-written, fact-filled, and fascinating. Foer tries to present our culture of eating meat from many angles, but does conclude that virtually all of the meat and eggs we consume are the product of factory farms, which are horrible for our environment in many ways and cruel to animals. Eating animals bred and slaughtered in the factory farm system is also detrimental to human health. For instance, chicken and turkey are routinely given antibiotics, and this has become a contributing factor in the evolution of resistant pathogens. This has been a concern since the early 1960's, but it was a new factoid to me.
The facts in Foer's book are downright scary and appalling. I have already read Fast Food Nation, by Eric Schlosser, which was eye-opening, but had a different focus. Schlosser detailed the plight of the humans who work in the meatpacking facilities and went after corporations that put profit above human welfare. Eating Animals focuses more on animal welfare and the global environment, which in turn affects the lives of all people and animals.
Foer successfully made me angry about what the farm factories have done and also shocked me with statistics of how animals are treated. I was also surprised to learn that there are vegans and vegetarians who are working to help the few small animal husbandry farms compete with the factory farms. That is, there are plenty of people who have made the personal decision not to eat animal products but who are working to change the way people eat for the sake of health, environment, and animal welfare.
I would say, read this, and then pass it on. We should all think about what our country's corporations are doing to us and the rest of the world.
He makes his point at the end of the first chapter:
Yet this book is not perfect. Its main error, in my opinion, is the one that many vegetarian tracts fall into: it emphasizes only the negative aspects of vegetarianism---the side of vegetarianism that sees it as defined by what we don't do: that is, vegetarians don't eat animals. Yet this leaves out the more important positive aspect of vegetarianism---all the new joys we find in our diet and way of life, all the things we do that everyone else doesn't. (For instance, an omnivore's salad is not a vegetarian's salad, and they have no idea what they're missing.) In this way, I think vegetarians have a much richer story to tell than Foer gives them credit for. Moreover, this is further worrisome because convincing people to stop eating animals without educating them about how to do that is dangerous and ultimately won't work in the long term. You can't simply cut meat out from diet and continue on as before, sans meat. Vegetarianism is about informing oneself, not just about why you're not eating animals, but also about what you need to be eating now, without them.
Foer deserves praise for what he's done in this book, and it should compel everyone to take their first steps to going veg. Just don't let it be your last. There's more to vegetarianism than not eating animals.
I think this is a must read for everyone. The author makes no attempts to turn people into vegetarians and he spends times getting accounts from many different perspectives. The reason it's a must read is that he shares a lot of information that most of us don't know - or don't care to know - about what goes on with the animals we eat. It's not that we eat animals, though he is admittedly a vegetarian, but the way they are treated in factory farms and the way it effects our environment (it causes a lot more pollution than cars on the roads).
There were quite a few unpleasant moments in the book, but I think they are necessary. And I have to say that this book has made me rethink my own way of viewing meat - not only slowly cutting meat out of my diet, but becoming an advocate for alternative ways to provide meat for people that don't involve horrible suffering for the animals.
Truly recommend this book, but warn it has gruesome bits.
Eating Animals also led me to read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver which is another very worthwhile book about food and how we eat and another must read for every American with an appetite.