Over seven years ago, I borrowed the book, Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran, from a friend and started to read it. To be honest, I was not ready to receive the message at the time. I was consuming less meat than the average Danish person, but I still ate meat. Last summer, I decided that I wanted to go either vegetarian or pescatarian, but I needed a story and some facts to lean on. This is when the unreturned book came in handy - and finally, it made sense for me to read it.
Though written in 2009, its message is still relevant and powerful today. Jonathan Safran Foer, an American novelist, is well known for his novels Everything is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. His only non-fiction work is Eating Animals. In it, he writes that his motive behind writing about eating habits and sustainability is to create a better future for his son and to feed him healthier food.
“Feeding my child is not like feeding myself: it matters more. It matters because foods matters (his physical health matters, the pleasure of eating matters and because the stories that are served with food matter.” - From Eating Animals.
Simply put, Foer wants to give his son the gift of a good and safe future with healthy and well-produced food. In a similar manner, this echoes my thoughts about leaving the planet in as good condition as possible for my future self and for the generations to come.
Foer is a vegetarian himself. You can feel the emotions he goes through - from his fear of being discovered whilst illegally visiting a bird farm with an animal activist, his sympathy for a turkey farmer raising his animals in the traditional way, and his disgust upon the discovery of how fish are being farmed. Though he disagrees with the hog and bird farmers he interviews, he still expresses, to an extent, admiration for their passionate work. The book is very well researched. He draws upon statistics, academic as well as non-academic articles, interviews and his own experiences.
Though I am now more conscious of what I eat, deciding on whether or not to consume fish has been tricky for me. In the book, Foer describes how there are far too many fish being farmed together in pools that end up biting each other. In open-water fishing, bycatch is thrown back into the water regardless of whether or not they are wounded, dead or alive.
However, he also states that food is a very social and emotional thing. If you were to tell someone to stop eating or drinking things they normally consume, you may need to be a little more mindful of their cultural backgrounds and traditions. He traces back to when his grandmother cooked for him. She had grown up in Europe during World War II, where you could only eat whatever was available. But still, decades after the 1940’s, she couldn’t give up that way of thinking - eating was a question of survival and not so much of how its production affected the environment.
Even though this book is written from an American author’s perspective and their food production may differ from the European method of producing food, it is well written with solid statistics that we can all still relate to. This also confirmed my values in the importance of eating high quality meat if I should choose to eat meat at all - it’s an inspiring and informative book that I’m glad I borrowed!
However, there’s a good news if you are too impatient to read the whole book, it has been made into a film adaptation in 2017, with Natalie Portman’s voice guiding the audience through the documentary. And so if you are curious why this book has influenced so many people in so many years, go for it.