The Most Important Conversation in Our Lifetimes Might Just Begin with Jonathan Safran Foer's Latest Book
Over the next weeks Huffington Post will feature a diverse range of responses to Jonathan Safran Foer's controversial new work of non-fiction, Eating Animals. But these aren't your usual book reviews. They are the start of a conversation that some powerful people in agribusiness would rather we not have.
Imagine that tomorrow scientists report that a single action, something that most of us do every day, was discovered to be the leading human cause of global warming. And one of the top two or three causes of every other major environmental problem at the local and global level. Even more, this same action appears to have been a decisive factor in the development of the H1N1 "swine flu" and continues to stimulate the growth of pathogens resistant to antimicrobial drugs. Imagine further that this action causes billions of farmed animals annually to suffer in ways that virtually all Americans say should be illegal. And, finally, that this action has lead to the decimation of American farm communities from North Carolina to central California.
This is real. It is happening. And all these facts about the effects of eating factory farmed animals are thoroughly documented in Foer's new book.
Eating Animals is part personal journey, part modern muckraking and a surprisingly candid and empathetic book on food. Foer doesn't preach but instead invites us to have a conversation with family farmers and factory farmers, animal activists and slaughterhouse workers. His book is important not because he has all the answers (he often acknowledges his own uncertainty), but because he asks the right questions and makes it impossible for us not to ask them too.
There is little dispute that our current way of eating animals sits at the intersection of some of the most pressing problems in America. And there is also little dispute that eating animals is deeply rooted in culture, bound to our national traditions (the Thanksgiving turkey, the Christmas ham), and can be a source of a great deal of human pleasure. Foer's rare accomplishment is that he flinches from neither the complexities of meat's attraction nor the realities about what, in the era of factory farming, the chickens on our plate do to the world in which we live.
It's time we have a more intelligent and reasonable discussion about the state of animal agriculture. And it's time that vegetarian advocates and omnivores who simply want animals and the environment treated with basic dignity insist that we focus our national discussion of food on a challenge we all can agree about: transforming the factory farms that now produce 99 out every 100 farmed animals in America.
Foer's Eating Animals can help open that discussion. In fact, says Natalie Portman in a revealing review that will be posted October 27, it already has. Stay tuned.
Aaron Gross is the founder of Farm Forward, a nonprofit that promotes more humane, sustainable animal agriculture and plant-based diets.