Spurred by the birth of his son, novelist Jonathan Safran Foer investigates the system that puts meat on our plates.
The birth of his first child posed a painful quandary for novelist Jonathan Safran Foer: Would he serve turkey at his son’s first Thanksgiving?
In Eating Animals, a work of nonfiction, Foer (author of “Everything is Illuminated” and “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”) confesses to a lifelong ambivalence toward eating meat. Yet he cherishes memories of childhood meals at his grandmother’s house. At what point, he wonders, should ethical decisionmaking supplement, rather than supersede, rich and important traditions at table?
Spurred by the arrival of his son, Foer set out to decide. He spoke with animal and agribusiness authorities; visited farms and slaughterhouses; and even donned his muckraking boots, breaking into a turkey warehouse along with an animal activist in the middle of the night. But what began as a silly adventure ended in heartbreak: Foer and his friend discovered a barn floor covered with tens of thousands of turkey chicks, many of them deformed, seriously injured, or expired, “as desiccated and loosely gathered as small piles of dead leaves.”
The book’s tone evolves from twee precocity to stunned outrage to profound grief as Foer acquaints himself with the suffering endured by the tens of billions of animals bred for our food each year. Should he pass this system on to the next generation?
“No turning away,” he challenges the reader before frankly confronting unspeakable but routine horrors of the factory farm, which produces 99 percent of America’s meat, dairy, and eggs. Most pigs and chickens in the United States are confined so tightly for their entire lives that they can barely move. The modern slaughterhouse “processes” over 5,000 chickens an hour, 400 cows an hour, and pigs at the rate of one every three or four seconds.