Wednesday, November 11, 2009

21st Century Upton Sinclair?

Mr. Foer writes that the bioengineering of chickens (to yield more meat in a shorter time), combined with horribly cramped living conditions (eight-tenths of a square foot per bird) leads to “deformities, eye damage, blindness, bacterial infections of bones, slipped vertebrae, paralysis, internal bleeding, anemia, slipped tendons, twisted lower legs and necks, respiratory diseases, and weakened immune systems.” He says that farmed fish suffer from “the abundant presence of sea lice, which thrive in the filthy water” of their enclosures and “create open lesions and sometimes eat down to the bones on a fish’s face.” And he contends that cattle are not always efficiently knocked out before being processed at the slaughterhouse, and as a result “animals are bled, skinned, and dismembered while conscious.”

The journalist Michael Pollan explored some of these issues in his 2006 best seller The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and now, in Eating Animals, the novelist Jonathan Safran Foer takes on a similar task. Because “Eating Animals” remains heavily indebted to Mr. Pollan’s book, along with Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation and the work of various reporters, Mr. Foer’s chief contribution to the subject seems to lie in the use of his literary gifts — showcased in the two novels “Everything Is Illuminated” and “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” — to give the reader some very visceral, very gruesome descriptions of factory farming and the slaughterhouse.


  1. Sounds like it's not a very good book but might be one that will have some impact. I read an excerpt earlier in the Times and it was good. But as someone who hasn't eaten meat for most of her adult life, he doesn't have to convince me.

    At Thanksgiving, though, I eat turkey if I'm at someone else's house. There's so much tradition wrapped up in it. Last year I even tried to buy one -- we have locally grown "natural" ones here -- but in the end couldn't bring myself to actually buy and cook one. Might this year. Haven't decided yet.

  2. Omnivore's Dilemma sounds better, but Foer has a nice website for his book.

  3. I read a sample of Omnivore's Dilemma. Looks pretty good.

  4. Would that Mr. Foer might consider using his very marketable name and literary gifts to promote the eradication of world hunger. There's no end to the things he could viscerally and gruesomely describe. It probably wouldn't attract many readers in this country, however, because they wouldn't be able to see what was in it for them. (But that's yet another book, I guess.)

  5. Amen to that.

    Although I certainly support it, it does seem that our latest obsession with localvore etc. is the product of plenty or even of excess.

    The excerpt in the New York Times suggested that Foer decided to go vegetarian when his child was born. As a 99% vegetarian myself, I support his choice but, as you say, there are other issues too of peace and social justice I that hope he introduces to his little one/s.

    (Whenever I write like that it reminds me of a cartoon in the New Yorker of some gray-haired guy with his pony tail and his Volvo station wagon covered with bumper stickers. That's me if the character were female -- end the occupation, save the earth, Obamanos!, etc. etc. etc.!)

  6. My wife just back from spending almost a week in Haiti. No, it was not a vacation. She stayed in Les Cayes. A god forsaken place if there ever was one. When I saw the cover of Foer's book, I thought of the young boys she witnessed "fishing" in water floating with raw sewage.

  7. Yes, even those with values that I agree with sometimes seem to not have the right priorities. For example, I've never understood how people could live with homelessness in their cities. I so hated it in San Francisco, that I finally had to move back to Montana.

    We have some of that here, too, but there's a really nice shelter that provides beds, showers and two meals and helps people get on their feet.

    And then as you say there's hunger and lack of sanitation and, worse, war ... the list goes on and on. In Foer's defense I guess you can only tackle one problem at a time --- esp. if you want to write a book about it.

  8. Wow, avrds, that one aspect of City life sent you all the way to Montana? I tend to look at things from a slightly different perspective since SF's many services public, parochial, private, combined with a mild climate, atmosphere of tolerance, etc. mean that homeless people migrate/congregate here, where they might actually be better off than elsewhere.

    Each day on the way to & from work at SF Civic Center I walk through a group of homeless, some with pets, none of whom have I ever seen solicit money or harass anyone. It's a small and perhaps not representative sample, but I feel less bad about them than I once did about the homeless in general. Here's an article about homeless in Golden Gate Park:

    That one made me think about the dangers of living in a group in the park vs. in SRO hotels in the Tenderloin.

    Here's another on the same subject by the same writer:

  9. Well, back to Montana.

    And that was almost 30 years ago now so life was probably a little less forgiving on the streets then. Plus, it was my birthday and I was walking home from work and saw a middle-class, well-dressed man walking home collapse from a heart attack.

    I guess I always look at scenes like that and think there but for fortune (see the New Yorker cartoon reference --a hopeless bleeding heart radical I'm afraid).

    Reading all the descriptions of the depression and seeing those scenes in the Hoover movie, I doubt I'd have done well in the depression either. I think that's why I ended up a writer -- too many nerve endings.

  10. So I was just looking for a film to watch on Netflix and what should pop up but Renoir's Boudu Saved from Drowning -- the perfect antidote to my Volvo and good-will bumper stickers. And really funny, too.

    I wonder if they also have Down and Out in Beverly Hills?

  11. avrds -- We don't need fewer bleeding hearts, we need less conservative Bah! Humbug-ism.