Eating Animals

As the author of two books on this subject, I couldn’t possibly be more impressed by what Jonathan Safran Foer has accomplished in Eating Animals. It’s by far the best book on agribusiness and vegetarianism I’ve ever read. In fact, had a book half this good existed fifteen years ago, there’s no way I’d have written Vegan or Meat Market: I wouldn’t have felt there was a need.

When I started reading this book, I braced myself for a big letdown. I suppose that’s a natural consequence of having read The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and watching some of my main concerns addressed in a derisive and superficial manner.

Like Pollan, Foer has a gift for fluid and engaging storytelling. But Foer’s coverage of the ethical issues associated with agribusiness is vastly superior to what Pollan can muster. Not only is Foer’s writing first-rate, the research that went into this book was a massive undertaking. I write on this subject daily, and still learned things on every page.

Foer’s research takes several forms. It’s obvious that he’s read all the key books on the subject, and has waded deeply into agribusiness journals as well. He has also sneaked into factory farms, and his accountings of these terrifying and disturbing visits are not to be missed. And, finally, he’s done an exceptional job of visiting and evaluating those few animal farms that are sincerely concerned with maintaining the highest possible animal welfare.

Eating Animals particularly excels in examining a topic I covered in Chapter 3 of Meat Market: the question of how much cruelty can be removed from animal agribusiness, and how much added expense removing that cruelty would entail. It’s clear from his book that Foer deeply admires those few people who are seeking to replace factory farms with a food system in which the animals get a life comparably fulfilling to that enjoyed by a well-cared for dog or cat. Yet, tellingly, even the best of these systems don’t inspire Foer to abandon his vegetarianism.

Foer’s ability to acknowledge and vividly describe the shades of gray that accompany various animal production systems delivers a more detailed and accurate picture of animal agriculture than any previous mainstream book. In my review of Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, I wrote, “Michael Pollan is a talented writer, and had he only put this manuscript out for proper review this book could have been a masterpiece.”

Well, in Eating Animals we have a book that was put out for proper review, and is legitimately a masterpiece. It’s honest, accurate, persuasive, meticulously researched, and beautifully written. This is a watershed book concerning the ethics of eating, and it’s a must-read for everyone who cares about the ethical dimension of our food choices.

At long last, we, and the animals, have a bestselling book that gives both veganism and conscientious omnivorism a fair hearing.