Elevate Difference

Jonathan Safran Foer (01/19/2011)

Jonathan Safran Foer spoke about the issues in his most recent book Eating Animals to a packed house at the London School of Economics. I haven’t read the book yet, or either one of his other two titles Everything Is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, so I went bracing for a preachy rally full of vegetarian dogma.

For those of you who have read the book, you probably know that I had no reason to fear. I’m a vegetarian, but both vegetarian activists and passionate meat eaters alike bother me. I tire of vegetarian propagandists shoving violent pictures of animal cruelty in people’s faces in an attempt to convert the nonconvertible. Just the same, I grow weary of telling people I’m a vegetarian and fielding questions like “No meat? What the hell do you eat?!” “Why? It’s natural to eat meat, y’know” or my favorite, “Ok, but jamon you eat, right?”

Thankfully, there were no leaflets handed out for either cause. Rather, I was captivated by Safran Foer’s social and environmental observations gained from the three years of research he put into the project. Safran points out that at this point in society’s development, everyone can recognize that eating meat is an “issue”, something we care about. However, voices from both sides are overly judgmental.

Safran Foer says vegetarian activists have helped create this strict dichotomy between meat eaters and non-meat eaters so much so that people do not see the benefits of just cutting down on meat consumption. “They have created a framework in discussing this so that they feel there are only two options: you’re a vegetarian or you’re a carnivore. And, most people cannot condition themselves to become a vegetarian… I think most people can condition themselves to eat less meat.” According to Safran Foer, if Americans can attempt to not eat meat for just one meal every week, the influence on the environment would be the same as taking five million cars off the road.

Vegetarians are often teased that they have canine teeth because humans are meant to eat meat naturally. Perhaps that was true during times when food was simply putting calories in our bodies. But Safran Foer points out that the huge social discourse surrounding the meat industry and the great lengths they take to create an idealistic picture of factory farms plays a much larger part in what we eat than we realize. According to Safran Foer, the animals in factory farms in the U.S. consume eight times more antibiotics than humans. Safran Foer asks “Is it natural to eat these kinds of animals that are raised in these ways? What’s natural about eating an animal that cannot survive without antibiotics? What’s natural about eating food that most nutritionists biologist and doctors I’ve spoken with say is probably the reason why girls are going through puberty at ages nine and ten?”

The system in which meat is produced is so distanced from consumers that we aren’t conscious of the externalized costs to the environment. Safran Foer says fast food “is presented as the cheapest food that’s ever been produced, when in fact it’s the most expensive food that’s ever been produced.” Indeed, the cost rung up at the supermarket does not include the destruction done to the environment. Safran Foer says the Global South has paid a huge price for this. Africa, South America, as well as parts of Eastern Europe all export food that they grow themselves but don’t eat to American and European companies. Their natural environments are destroyed in the process. Safran Foer asks “For what? Only for burgers. Not to solve the healthcare problem. Not to create peace in the Middle East. It’s for cheap burgers that make us fat.” Safran Foer also found that ninety-nine percent of the world’s soy crop is fed to animals concluding that, “No one eats tofu like meat eaters.”

Safran Foer claims that Eating Animals exists to begin a discussion about how people eat meat. He was not trying to create a book to persuade readers to become vegetarians, which is why he approached it journalistically, relying on the industry’s statistics and using two fact checkers. Even if you’re a die hard carnivore who scoffs at anything coming from the Kingdom Plantae or if you’re a vegan who refuses to swat a malaria carrying mosquito or somewhere in between, you should read Safran Foer’s book, if for no other reason than to learn about the affect the foods you choose to eat have on the rest of the world.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

An mp3 recording of the event can be accessed here.

Written by: Sara Custer, February 9th 2011