Eating meat causes pain and suffering to animals. Industrial, factory farming is bad for the environment. Hormone-injected, drug-stuffed poultry is detrimental to our bodies. Been there, heard it all. So what’s different about Eating Animals, the book that turned Hollywood actress Natalie Portman from vegetarian into vegan?
While author Jonathan Safran Foer spares no detail in the by now familiar descriptions of the sad and ugly business that goes on inside slaughterhouses and nightmare barnyards, the case he makes is not against meat eating per se, but against factory farming.
Making a connection between industrial farming and swine flu, Foer fleshes out the great irony that while meat has never been cheaper, thanks to the scale economies of factory farming and the corners it cuts in the name of the bottom line, the external costs passed down to the environment and by extension, humanity, has never been higher.
The book’s greatest quality lies not in an attempt to guilt-trip meat-lovers but in its acknowledgment that for as long as humans live, they will eat meat, and thus vegetarianism is not a practical, feasible solution. Instead, he posits the possibility of having one’s cake and eating it—through a more humane, sustainable form of animal agriculture.
Of course, to get to this, you have to plough through pages and pages of stomach-turning details that take place in the slaughterhouses and the industrial barnyards, including the infamous “fecal soup” and horrific, skin-crawling accounts given by factory workers. The book also gives voice to vegans who build slaughterhouses and traditional farmers whose “heritage poultry” may hold the key to the successful reversion of factory farming to traditional animal husbandry. This is quite an enlightening, if not entirely decisive read.