Glutton for punishment, or just plain glutton?

18 Mar

I love meat: steak, bacon, chicken wings… I’m a proud omnivore.

So will someone please tell me why I insist on reading books that flip my stomach and plague me with guilt about environmental repercussions? Before I even crack the cover, I can anticipate 85% of the message. And my intention in reading these books isn’t ever to give up meat.

Yet here I am, reviewing Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, which I just recently finished reading. The horrors of factory farming aren’t news to me… I’ve read My Year of Meats, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and An Omnivore’s Dilemma (not to mention The Jungle) so I’m all too familiar with the cramped the living conditions, the engineered skeletal systems, the unnatural diets, the cruel methods of slaughter and the quantities of antibiotics and growth hormones these creatures are doused in.

Though I’m not willing to give up meat, I do generally walk away from a book like this convinced to spend however much money it takes to buy pasture-raised animals from a local family farm that doesn’t use hormones or antibiotics. The reality, however, is that I continue to pick up ground beef from Safeway and eat TGIFriday Potato Skins for breakfast. Because it is convenient. And because I love the taste.

That’s actually one of the points Foer makes: what other decisions do we make that defy knowledge and common sense with such a sweeping (and literally) gut-level justification? Not many.

As a side note, my friend Karen kicked off the new year by switching to a strict vegetarian diet. When I visited her in Chicago in February we hit an Indian restaurant and were shocked by the lack of vegetarian options. To find something she *could* eat, we had a philosophical discussion of mussels: could they be part of her strict vegetarian diet, even though she was not eating seafood? She didn’t think so, but I argued they could – creating a rule of vegetarianism that I think actually might have some legs: The Free-Will Rule.

By my logic, any creature that can’t exercise free will doesn’t really count as an animal. Since mussels can’t just “pick up and go,” I think they qualify. Clams too. (I’d imagine some of you are citing the old “feet/faces” argument, but really, I don’t think that captures it – because by my standards, you couldn’t eat an earthworm (no face but can definitely control where it goes in the world).

Anyway – back to the book. Foer makes many good points and does a good job raising awareness of the complex issues involved with eating meat. However, as a dedicated vegetarian, he weakens the book (and his message) by occasionally climbing to the pulpit and delivering a “holier than thou” lecture on the topic. He’s at his strongest when he simply cites facts and statistics and describes what he sees when visiting a factory farm.

In short, Foer should take a page from the book he preaches: sometimes, less is more.

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