(Not) Eating Animals

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(Not) Eating Animals

By Jill Howard-Church on Animals and Society Institute

Just in time for Vegan Awareness Month comes publication of a new book about factory farming and vegetarianism. Simply titled Eating Animals, the book takes a somewhat different approach and tone in the ongoing diet wars. It was written by a novelist rather than an activist, and the difference really hit home to me when I saw him interviewed by Ellen DeGeneres on her show this week. (More on that in a minute.)

Jonathan Safran Foer, who previously wrote the acclaimed Everything Is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, ventured into nonfiction territory when the impending birth of his son prompted him to more closely examine the origins of the food he would soon be offering him. What he found was a not-so-childlike game of hide and seek: he sought the truth that meat-producers work very hard to hide.

The book examines the philosophical, cultural and emotional aspects of what we choose to eat and what we choose to believe about what we eat. Foer seems to go from the clueless public "we" to the enlightened "us" of the ethical eaters with as much fascination as horror. He helps readers understand that they – like he – can distance themselves from their grandmothe's chicken casseroles without metaphorically dumping it over the poor woman's head.

Foer doesn't drag readers into the factory farm and slaughterhouse, he accompanies them, and that can make all the difference for people whose most basic assumptions and values are being questioned. The fact that he didn't start out with a predetermined agenda means that his observations reflect an innocence that our more strident already-vegetarian friends often lack. He learns, he thinks and he discusses. And by doing so, he becomes a teacher rather than a preacher. Everything is illuminated, without the author needing to get extremely loud or incredibly close.

Back to "Ellen." Now, Ms. DeGeneres is a newly converted vegan and already sympathetic to what Foer is putting forth. But even if she wasn't, the way he relates to her Middle America audience and talks about unfamiliar, disturbing things in a way that doesn't scare them off is something veteran vegans should watch. Watch and learn.

So here you go. Below is the link to the interview clip. See what you think. And then see if you can encourage someone else to think about not eating animals.

Click here to watch the interview.


Jill Howard-Church is a writer and editor who specializes in animal issues. She serves as the part-time communications director for the Animals and Society Institute, and is the volunteer president of the Vegetarian Society of Georgia.