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"Eating Animals," Jonathan Safran Foer 

click to enlarge Jonathan Safran-Foer
  • Jonathan Safran-Foer

At least I could sleep at night. When I finished reading Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell’s profoundly disturbing sketch of a fictional, human-constructed dystopian hell-world, I remember thinking: “Shit, glad that’s not real.” And again after reading Brave New World — upsetting, but still: not real.

With Jonathan Safran Foer’s new book, Eating Animals, I feel that same uneasiness. But it’s different this time: It’s not made up.

The lauded fiction author — who penned the popular Everything Is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close — took an unexpected turn with his third book, a nonfictional look at the act of eating animals. Along the way, he intersperses personal narratives with journalistic cross-examinations about the origins of our food. It’s a book for hunters and vegans, for hamburger lovers and animal rights activists. Eating Animals simply asks, “What are we eating, and why?”

Foer was a fair-weather vegetarian — a guy whose dinners swung pendulously from meat-heavy to meat-free for years. But in his late 20s, just before his first child was born, Foer started to look closely at his food. Where was the meat he consumed coming from? Did being a vegetarian make him more compassionate? Is it moral to raise a child as a vegetarian?

What ensues in Eating Animals is bloody and bizarre. Where vegetarian literature can be pornographic in excess, Foer’s book poses a factual set of unasked questions that, more often than not, turn up gory, disturbing answers. Put in the spotlight because of its author’s popularity, it still factually reinforces a meat-free agenda. It also poses questions that will force even the most hardcore bacon fiend to take a second look at their Egg McMuffins. Eating Animals is a book that vegetarians will cheer for.

The core of the book is facts and figures — things like how many factory-farmed animals are produced each year and how many chickens a typical American will eat each year (27). And although Foer at times delivers poignant, poetic descriptions, he really doesn’t need to do so. The facts (anchored by 62 pages of supporting information) tell a story that even Orwell and Huxley would cringe at.

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