To read or not to read: Eating Animals

I really like Jonathan Safran Foer. I absolutely loved Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, and I very much enjoyed Everything is Illuminated. I am interested in reading his non-fiction work Eating Animals, but I am hesitant to do so.

In my second year of college I took a contemporary moral issues philosophy course and one of the moral issues we covered was animal rights. I had to watch a horrific video made by PETA that detailed the cruel conditions associated with the meat market in the US (for those of you interested it's called Meet Your Meat). After I watched that video I didn't touch a piece of meat for three years.

After the sting wore off I began eating meat again. I've never been a big meat eater - I typically avoid red meat and eat poultry in moderation - but I do enjoy the option. Being a veggie was hard - not for me but for the people in my life. I always felt like a burden going to a friend or relative's house for dinner. Splitting appetizers while eating out didn't work out well for me, as the vegetarian apps were generally less appealing to my carnivorous friends. All in all, I felt like a liability whenever I ate with people.

I'm 95% certain that if I read this book I will go back to being a veggie, as it details the ethical issues involved with eating animals. I don't want to be an uninformed eater (which I don't think I am, especially after reading Skinny Bitch a few years back - a Nazi diet book whose agenda is to make you a vegan), but on the other hand - pardon the cliché - ignorance is bliss. Revisiting these horrendous topics will undoubtedly upset me and propel me into an indefinite state of vegetarianism and I'm just not sure I'm reading to do that again. So, to read, or not to read?


  1. I haven't read it myself, but I hope my sister won't mind if I tell you what she thought of it (what she doesn't know won't hurt her, right?):

    "I thought Eating Animals was quite thought provoking, I strongly recommend it. (Might do it for your book club, I’m sure it would offer a lot of discussion material!!). The book totally turned me off to factory farming. We don’t eat a whole lot of meat to begin with. But I would like to find a farm that provides a decent life for their livestock and either does their own butchering on the farm, or delivers to a butcher that does their own butchering, rather than going through the big industrial meat processing plants."

    Not sure if that helps you or not . . . the book didn't totally turn her off to meat, but if you don't have the sort of options she's talking about, I'm not sure how you'll react . . .

  2. Kathy, Thanks for sharing that. I don't think I would have a problem finding a farm like that (I live in the Midwest - they are everywhere) but again, it goes back to me feeling like a liability. I still wouldn't be able to order meat from a restaurant and I would have to insist whenever I ate at someone's house that they use this special kind of meat or I won't eat it. At that point it's almost easier to just say, I don't eat meat.

  3. Brenna, I completely understand how you're feeling. This is my bookclub's May selection, and I wondered if I would go back to a vegetarian lifestyle upon completion, as well. I don't necessarily think that it will, and I've stopped factory raised meat long ago, but there's still the thought that it would lead me in that direction. I've found that many restaurants these days offer meat options that aren't subjected to such horrible conditions.

    You know, I read Skinny Bitch (most of it anyway) and thought the same thing. My boyfriend's little sister recently became a vegan after becoming a nutrition major, and I just can't even imagine it. Honey- I could never part with honey. It's so golden and smooth and delicious. And so many other goodies.

    I think it's amazing that such a well-known writer published something like this, raising awareness of these issues for the general public, when it may not have been sought out before. I think you should definitely read it when you feel like it's a good time for you. And if it's around the end of May, even better! ;)

  4. Beth, I think you're right - that I should read it when I feel like it's a good time for me. Maybe I'll wait to hear your what your thoughts are after you read it in May.

  5. Having not read the book, I don't know if I can really recommend if you should read it or not. On the one hand it looks interesting, you like the other stuff from JSF and it is good to know where your food comes from. On the other hand, it doesn't really sound like you want to go totally veg again so maybe avoiding it would be good, at least for the time being.

    So I guess this is kind of a waste of a comment, but if you do end up reading it I look forward to your thoughts.

  6. Red, Not a waste of a comment! I think I will continue to avoid it - like you said - for the time being. At least until May when I can hear Beth's thoughts :)

  7. I want to read this one but I'm scared about what it might contain. I have bowel disease and eat a controlled protein & fibre diet so it would be very hard (but not impossible) for me to go veggie. I am also a burden on others when dining out :P

    I try to only buy meat where I know it has been treated humanely. I have nothing against the principle of eating meat but think we should treat animals with dignity.

  8. PETA are fucked. My father-in-law is a farmer and he told me these guys go take images in farms that have been long close for mistreatment, put a voice-over on it, and suddenly it looks new. I have been in farms and slaughterhouse even. The latter isn't pleasant, but it's not as bad as we think. Certainly nothing like what PETA shows. Follow your heart Brenna, but I don't want to read that book.

  9. I just bought this one not too long ago...my oldest has been a veggie off and on for the last few years...we live in an area of tons of factory farmed poultry plants and farms...we don't need books to make us not want to eat meat from these places :p All we have to do is get behind one of their trucks.

    We've decided to try and cut down on the amount of meat we eat first of all...a steak in any restaurant is probably enough meat for an entire day if not two days...and I agree with Beth that there seem to be more and more restaurants offering either veggie options or options I can live with. Could you live with being a part-time veggie? Veggie when it's convenient and not so veggie if it's not convenient? I buy grass fed beef, eggs and poultry whenever I can get my hands on it but sometimes in our little Mississippi town, it's simply not an option and I still have a family to feed.

    Please don't think I'm a hypocrite...I want to be an informed consumer but I can't give up meat completely right now either.

    My comment probably is not what you were looking for at all...your original question is whether or not you should read it...I vote yes.

  10. I read this and wish, in a way, that I had not. I am not a big red meat eater to start with (and according to the book, the cows have it the best pre-slaughter, but probably the worst AT slaughter).

    I know in my heart of hearts that I cannot survive as a veggie-eater, and I eat lots of white meat, and reading this book tore me apart because I knew I would have to continue to eat it.

    I think I backed off meat for a week or two but still had to cook it for my family, so I figured if the poor thing suffered a shitty life and horrible death, I might as well make it mean something, and eat it. Otherwise so much of it was going to end up in the garbage.

    In your case, knowing that you went veggie after seeing a video in school, I would probably caution you against it. It's straight forward facts that rip your insides out...

  11. Sam, If you're already making an effort to eat ethically treated animals it sounds like you shouldn't read this book - considering how hard it would be for you to go veggie.

    Ben, I understand PETA has an agenda and will to go any means to push that agenda, and what they show is the worst of the worst, but the video I watched had a huge effect on me, even knowing the instances they showed in the video are few and far between.

    Peppermint, Your comment is helpful. I don't think you're a hypocrite at all. I guess when I think about it I'm kind of a part-time veggie now. I have a portion of meat once or twice a week. Anything more is usually around the holidays. I suppose this still makes a difference in the grand scheme of things.

    TNBBC, Yikes. Well I'm glad I got some feedback from someone who read it, and now I know I'll put it off for a little while longer. Thanks for the heads up that it will rip my insides out... I'm a little more reluctant now than when I wrote that post.

  12. Hey, do you follow Rachel at And the plot thickens . . . ? She just posted a great reveiw of this book! See here.

  13. I'm a veg already (for 8 years so far) but I really want to read this book; I think he treats the issues fairly rather than the way PETA might present themselves. I want something intelligent and thorough but not deliberately gimmicky or pushy. I also think I need to face my reading fears. I've been avoiding a lot, afraid of how it might make me feel, but in the interest of being edified, I think choosing to read it isn't a bad idea. Besides, if I don't like it, I can always put it down.

  14. I've been making the full transition into vegetarianism over the past few months, and I can completely relate to what you said about feeling like a liability :\ I'm dreading the food aspect of going home to my parents' place for ten days in May. I have no idea how it will turn out, nor how to deal with it in the long run. I think it's perfectly valid to decide you're not ready to deal with those difficulties at this time. I really wish it weren't so hard :\

  15. This book is currently sitting in my TBR pile, but I want to sample Foer's fiction first. Your post, however, made me think about the effects that the books we read--whether fiction or nonfiction--have on readers. :)

  16. I say read it. You'll never know how the book will affect you until you've turned the pages. Perhaps you'll gain a new understanding or broaden your perspective. This could lead to a life of vegetarianism, or just a new outlook. On the other hand, you may completely disagree with the book and it may not push you in the direction of being a veggie at all. Ya never know!

  17. Kathy, Thanks for sending me to that review!

    Steph, You're probably right that Foer treats the issues more fairly than PETA does. I'm so curious to read it now.

    Nymeth, If it makes you feel better, my mom and my sister were two people who supported my decision and never complained about preparing vegetarian meals. They were always very accommodating. I wouldn't worry about going home.

    Darlyn, Books and movies alike!

    Owen, After much discussion (I love my followers) I think I will read it. Sooner rather than later, but not too soon.

  18. I say yes - read the book! I switched and became a vegan almost four years ago. Then I got married and went on my honeymoon to Italy and caved to eat cheese so I've been a vegetarian for the past year and a half. Not only do I feel unhealthy again, I gained a lot of the weight back. I'm trying to switch back to being a vegan again. I cannot wait to read this book. I have heard that it deals with everything fairly, but I do need a jumpstart to getting back to the way I used to eat.

  19. I can't help - it's up to you - but I do admire you for showing a really committment to animal rights. I know myself and that I could read this, think to myself "that's is despicable" and then have a nice big juicy steak for dinner with not half as much guilt as I should feel.

    I am though trying to make a serious effort to cut down on my meat and increase my fish intake (ethically caught fish where possible) so it sounds like something I might look into.

    Have you Fast Food Nation? That book is horrifying!

  20. I have read a lot of things about this type of thing - Michael Pollan and Fast Food Nation. I've watched the documentaries and I've gone vegan temporarily.

    I think it is a useful experience and that it is important for us to think about where our food comes from. I'm comfortable eating meat sometimes and being conscientious about eating, but not beating myself up about eating a hamburger sometimes. Give it a try. You'll probably know pretty fast if it's going to be too much.

  21. I heard JSF speak about this book and he said his goal was just to make people more conscious of their choices- not going full-on vegan or vegetarian (he noted that he knew a lot of people couldn't for religious or health reasons). I was a vegetarian for about 16 months a few years back and I agree that most of the time I felt more like a burden than an animal-rights vanguard. I'm sure it's an interesting read but sometimes chicken sandwiches just taste so good...