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Lit Talk: Author Jonathan Safran Foer on 'Eating Animals'

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Jonathan Safran Foer is known for acclaimed novels such as Everything Is Illuminated. Foer was an on-again, off-again vegetarian for years. But the birth of his son led Foer to ask: Was it right to feed his son meat? The result is Eating Animals, his new book on the moral, environmental and health quandaries involved. USA Today‘s Elizabeth Weise spoke with Foer.

USA: So should everyone be a vegetarian?

Foer: My book is not a case for vegetarianism. It’s a case against factory-farmed meat. Basically, that’s meat where animals are raised in enclosures, where they don’t get to see the sun, don’t get to touch the Earth, and they’re almost always fed drugs to keep them from getting sick or make them grow faster.

I think there are a lot of responsible conclusions one could reach (about whether to eat animals). There’s selective meat-eating (from responsible growers), there’s being a vegetarian.

The thing I can’t respect is the willful forgetting, the kind of people who say “I simply don’t want to think about it.”

USA: What was it that you found so morally problematic about factory-farmed pigs and chickens, the focus of your book?

Foer: The rule is animals in tiny cages where they can’t turn around, in just this very ordinary kind of misery. The just insane vastness of the industry, 50 billion animals that are factory-farmed every year. It actually just boggles the mind.

USA: What were your assumptions going in?

Foer: That raising animals for food had to necessarily involve a kind of carelessness or violence. And in the process of writing this book, I met a number of small farmers who aren’t that way. If my book has heroes, it’s some of these small farmers. I was surprised by how moved I was by those farmers. And how statistically negligible they were.

USA: How many are there?

Foer: I thought such farmers might comprise half or a quarter of American agriculture. In fact it’s significantly less than 1%. If there’s a tragedy in the book, it’s that those farmers are the exceptions. (In his book, Foer describes visiting small, boutique pig and cattle farms where animals are given ample space in conditions that at least attempt to allow them natural behaviors and social conditions.)

USA: What about people who can’t afford to buy expensive meat from small farms?

Foer: It’s exactly the opposite that’s true. Factory-farmed food is an elitist food; it’s a food that’s making hundreds of millions of dollars for CEOs of corporations at the expense of normal people. Yes, it seems cheap when we go to the supermarket, but that’s because we’re being lied to about the true costs. We pay for them in our health care costs, the destruction of the environment and our values. What we call cheap food is the most expensive food in American history.

USA: But is it realistic to expect that people will stop eating meat because of a moral stance?

Foer: Sometimes we take apart very big things because we come to terms with the ways they’re wrong. It’s easy to forget that we had slaves in this country until quite recently, we treated women as second-class citizens who didn’t have the right to vote until very recently, racism is something we’re still working with. These things that have been going on forever can change very quickly.

USA: What suggestions do you have for people who take your research to heart?

Foer: One way is to stop eating meat entirely. Another way is to say, “I don’t want to eat that kind of meat, but I still want to, so I’m going to seek out small farmers who raise the pigs and chickens outside.”

USA: What choice did you make?

Foer: Not to eat meat. It would be very hard for me to reject factory farming without not eating meat, because I don’t really have the time or energy or expertise to know where the meat comes from. (For those who have the time, Foer suggests buying at farmers’ markets from farmers themselves after visiting their farms.)

USA: Do you think eventually everyone will be vegetarian?

Foer: There’s a very good chance that there’s going to be a rejection of factory farming. I think that will happen in my lifetime. The trend has been away from meat. People are eating less meat every year.

USA: You’re a novelist. What responses have you gotten about writing a treatise like this one?

Foer: I’ve been very, very happy with the response I’ve gotten. Even if they say “I’m still going to eat meat, but you’ve given me a lot to think about.”

USA: Will you be doing more books like this?

Foer: No. Novels.

Text from USAToday.com. See the interview here.


Written by whitney teal

January 19, 2010 at 2:56 pm

Posted in Lit Talk

Tagged with ,

One Response

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  1. is it just me or does he come off a little dick-ish in this interview?!


    January 21, 2010 at 9:37 am

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