Eating Animals – Jonathan Safran Foer

'This story didn't begin as a book. I simply wanted to know – for myself and my family – what meat is. Where does it come from? How is it produced? What are the economic, social and environmental effects? Are there animals that it is straightforwardly right to eat? Are there situations in which not eating animals is wrong? If this began as a personal quest, it didn't stay that way for long...' – Jonathan Safran Foer

Genre: Non-Fiction
Year: 2009
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton
Rating: 5/5

I want to start by saying that I am a meat-eater. I am not a vegetarian, although I do enjoy vegetarian meals. I have a varied diet and did not pick up this book because I wanted to confirm any sort of decision not to eat meat, I decided to read this book because as a meat-eater, I think it is important to know what I am eating and where it comes from.

I am a firm believer that all the decisions we make in regards to how we live our lives should be well-informed, and well thought out. We should be held accountable for our choices and we should be comfortable with them. Not for any other reason than we are the ones who have to live with ourselves.

Foer explores the practices and issues surrounding factory farming and commercial fisheries. He takes an in-depth and well researched look at how these industries operate. Foer talks about fishing practices, the issues surrounding by-catch, the horrors of the factory slaughterhouse, the inhumane treatment of factory farmed animals which the US government condones by not outlawing, the environmental impact of the demand for more and more meat, and the health risks involved in eating animals that are pumped full of drugs. 

Can you say, UGH!?

This book was confronting. From learning about appalling the living conditions of these animals, to their deaths – "cows are consistently bled, dismembered, and skinned while conscious" – to the waste management issues at pig factories, and the amount of hormones and drugs that are pumped into chickens.... well, it certainly left me with a bad taste in my mouth. I do not understand how this sort of practice can be legal? I really don't.

I am glad that I live in Australia and not the US. Although we do have factory farms here, it isn't as big as in the US. We still have plenty of real farmers who breed, rear and slaughter their own animals. We also have stronger laws surrounding animal cruelty and farming practices, but that is not to say that this kind of stuff does not go on here. To think that would be naive. 

I am not going to declare that I am never going to eat meat again, after reading this book. That would be a lie and it would be hypocritical of me. I have no problem with eating meat, but I do not want to eat factory farmed animals. Like the non-factory farmers Foer interviews in this book, I believe in eating meat.. but from animals that are given good lives, are looked after properly, are healthy (not full of drugs) and are given humane deaths. But where do I find that? Where is the disclosure by meat sellers, so consumers can make informed choices about what they are eating?

How do I know which meat comes from where? Do I avoid the supermarket as they probably get their meat from factory farms, as it is cheaper? Do I shop at my local butcher more often, as he may get his meat from a farm? Or, do I stick to shopping at my monthly local farmers market, and buy my meat direct from the farmer? What about when I eat at a restaurant?

This book has raised so many questions for me and I am certainly going to look into this further.. I need to do some serious research on factory farming, and farming practices, in Australia. I want to know what I am eating. I want choice.

This book isn't all disturbing. Foer also talks about the cultural and social meaning of food, and how food often provokes memory. We relate what we eat, to family, friends and good times. That is so true. I have always been a big believer in meal time being a social occasion. For my family, get togethers always mean good food, good conversation and happy memories. It's nice to see we are not alone in that respect.

This book is a must read for all meat-eaters. Some of the practices and descriptions in this book are quite frankly, horrifying. It will certainly have you thinking twice about if you really want to eat chicken for dinner...  But I would rather know these things so I can change my shopping habits, rather than continue to eat this kind of meat in ignorance. I can also safely say, although I will not be cutting out meat altogether, I have a feeling there will be more meat-free meals in my weekly shop, while I research this issue further. 

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