Eating Animals
From All Creatures Book and Video Review Guide

Author: Jonathan Safran Foer

Reviewed by Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.


Little, Brown & Company Available through Amazon


Is it possible to eat animals ethically? Jonathan Safran Foer, author of acclaimed fiction novels Everything is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, carefully, thoughtfully, and compassionately addresses this question. Foer relates how his feelings about food have changed and evolved from youth to adulthood, and he compares his views and experiences to those of other people, from dedicated meat-eaters to determined vegans. Particularly revealing are Foer’s detailed accounts of the conditions of factory farms, which house 99% of animals raised for food, as well farms that raise the other 1%.

Foer rightfully condemns factory farms as cruel to animals, environmentally unsustainable, and harmful to humans. Regarding the last, he points out how routine use of antibiotics is generating “super-bugs” – infectious organisms that resist our most powerful antibiotics; how having animals crammed and stressed in intensive confinement systems provides the perfect breeding ground for zoonotic infectious that could jump the species barrier and, potentially, kill many millions of people; and how massive collections of waste from factory farms contaminate groundwater, cause asthma, and harm people in other ways.

What about the 1% of animals not raised on factory farms? Foer looks closely at several farmers and slaughterhouse operators who seem genuinely concerned about the welfare of the animals and go to considerable lengths to provide animals contented lives and painless deaths. Foer expresses admiration for their efforts, but he concludes that the food laws designed to benefit large, industrialized animal agriculture systems make it almost impossible to avoid causing pain and suffering. And of course killing animals in their adolescence, even if done painlessly, harms them.

Though Foer denounces factory farming, he does give factory farmers an opportunity to defend their practices. They assert that their industry is honorable and essential to “feeding the world.” Rather than refuting their claims one-by-one, Foer simply shows what factory farming involves. It is hard to escape Foer’s conclusion that factory farming is inexcusably cruel to animals, and ultimately it is unsustainable and self-destructive for humanity. Foer predicts, I think very reasonably, that factory farming is doomed. Either sensitive humans will dismantle the system, or its contributions to ecological devastation, resource depletion, and spread of infectious diseases will lead to its collapse. Of course, much of human civilization will collapse with it.

Though I am quite familiar with many of the specific abuses of factory farms that Foer describes, I found this book one of the most compelling and best written I’ve seen. It is an excellent book to recommend to those who claim that we are sentimental animal lovers or that eating meat raises no serious moral issues.

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