eating animals

I love everything that Jonathan Saffran Foer has written. I first saw Everything is Illuminated as a movie, and then read the book shortly after. I'm not sure another book has had an impact on me the way it has. Foer has a way of writing that has it's own language, and because of that it makes his stories easy to relate to; it's very raw. I just got a copy of his newest book - Eating Animals. Wow. Right in the beginning he points out the fact that just by having the title, "Eating Animals" the reader would presume the book was a case for being vegetarian - but that that's not the kind of book it is at all. The introduction begins with a story about his grandmother being the greatest chef who ever lived, and her most classic dish contained meat. As Foer learns he will soon become a father, he wonders:

If my wife and I raise our son as a vegetarian, he will not eat his great-grandmother's singular dish, will never receive that unique and most direct expression of her love, will perhaps never think of her as the Greatest Chef Who Ever Lived. Her primal story, our family's primal story, will have to change.

A little later there's this dialogue:

"The worst it got was near the end. A lot of people died right at the end , and I didn't know if I could make it another day. A farmer, a Russian, God bless him, he saw my condition, and he went into his house and came out with a piece of meat for me."

"He saved your life."
"I didn't eat it"
"You didn't eat it?"
"It was pork. I wouldn't eat pork."
"What do you mean why?"
"What, because it wasn't kosher?"
"Of course."
"But not even to save your life?"
"If nothing matters, there's nothing left to save."

I've been a vegetarian for the past nine years. The last two I've been a pescetarian. I work with leather on an everyday basis, so I recognize the potential hypocrisy in this. But in all honesty these two contrasting things don't bother me much. As a former "art student", I was often reminded of how important quality materials and tools are, and I sincerely feel that it is hard to make a man-made material that is as nice to work with as leather. Kind of the way synthetic fabrics aren't as nice as cottons. It reminds me of having to use rabbit skin glue for making real gesso - I cringed at what I was doing, but I knew in order to achieve a certain effect or learn a process, I needed practice something the way it had been traditionally done.

I guess I feel like the most realistic thing to do is be willing to compromise and weigh both sides of an argument. When I was much younger I would refuse to eat something that had been sitting on top of or next to a chicken wing or burger - or got forbid if my veggie burger was cooked on the same grill spot as that steak. I kind of want to smack myself for having that attitude. Not only was I being inconsiderate to who ever the host was, but it was very pretentious. Instead, now I like to think about what Foer said about his son not being able to taste his grandmother's greatest expression of her love. I think that about hits the nail on the head.

Okay, I feel like I just wrote a book report. But I really really like this book, and recommend it, along with everything else he has written!


Hello Lindello said...

I just finished this book too! Loved it. Great stuff.

simple things said...

Thank you for the review. I have had this book on reserve at the library for about 4 months now - it still hasn't come in!! I am dying to read it.

I'm also a vegetarian, and have been for over 10 years. But I am glad to hear that the book isn't blindly pro-vegetarian. I would prefer to read something that is thoughtful and challenges the way I think.

I have the same internal struggle about using leather as you do. The environmental impacts of some synthetic materials is quite bad, and I would rather have something that is high quality and long lasting. For me, that is more important. I understand why other people might feel differently, though.

enilorac said...

I'm also a JSF fan. I read Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close around last year and it became my favorite book yet. And earlier this year I read Eating Animals and loved it too. It inspired me to be more conscious of what I eat. I'm not a veggietarian or anything but the book in itself taught me a lot more than any other book that was concerned with eating animals. I bought Everything is Illuminated a year ago but haven't gotten around to reading it yet. eek. must get on that soon.

Maggie said...

Thanks for the review. I love Jonathan Safran Foer, but I'd had some misgivings about this book. The quotes you selected are lovely, so perhaps I should give the book a try.

I also appreciated your thoughts on the "quality" of things. I had the same experience with rabbit-skin glue in art school, and I often wonder, as a longstanding vegetarian as well, where I should draw the line. Thanks for sharing.

Rūta said...

I'm in an absolutely different place if talking about the food. I'm allergic to 90% of vegetables, fruits and berries. Till I was 20, I ate very little of meat and a lot of vegetables etc. And then my disease progressed. And one of the reason's why it progresses is that I was eating too much of vegetables. If I had that balanced nutrition, maybe and probably I could have lived normal life.
I don't have anything against veganism, but sometimes people who choose that kind of life don’t evaluate other part of it like traditions, and like the same thing that our body is used to get some meet for thousands of years, and not eating it isn't healthy too, and may have consequences - maybe not on us, but on your future generations.
It sounds like a very interesting book, and that "grandmother" idea - i never thought about this simple aspect, but i totally feel it too.

Anonymous said...

I have often thought that I would like to buy your bags, if only they weren't leather.

Hannah said...

I think that people should simply eat less meat, from places that are certified 'organic/free range/whatever', rather than becoming a vegetarian straight away. It tells the meat companies that the way they treat animals is not on. Similar to the way there has been the free range revolution in eggs and chicken recently. Food Inc is a very good doco.