Celebrated novelist Foer (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, 2005, etc.) examines the ethics and practical realities of eating things with faces.
The author’s first book-length work of nonfiction opens with a reminiscence of a grandmother who scraped for food to stay alive during the dark years of the Holocaust, yet refused to violate kashrut law to eat a proffered piece of pork, saying, “If nothing matters, there’s nothing to save.” Against that time of want and the food insecurity his grandmother expressed for the rest of her life, Foer examines this time of too-muchness, of cupboards full of luxuries and days full of meaty meals made possible by an elaborate system of factories, stockyards and slaughterhouses. “Eating animals,” he writes, “is one of those topics, like abortion, where it is impossible to definitively know some of the most important details…and that cuts right to one’s deepest discomforts, often provoking defensiveness or aggression.” To his credit, the author is not shy of exploring his own discomforts while engaging in near-Talmudic analyses of the finer points of being a carnivore: If a pig is as smart as, if not smarter, than a dog and just as fond of playing with toys, then why aren’t they allowed to curl up next to the fire with us? Of course, Foer allows, there are cultures where eating dogs is considered a good thing, though none that come to mind where having pigs as pets is common. Given the environmental costs of eating meat—“for every ten tuna, sharks, and other large predatory fish that were in our oceans fifty to a hundred years ago, only one is left”—and the looming sense that a time of scarcity is again in the offing, Foer’s case for ethical vegetarianism is wholly compelling.
A blend of solid—and discomforting—reportage with fierce advocacy that will make committed carnivores squeal.