I’m not someone who cared much about food.
It didn’t play a terribly important role in my life. I didn’t have any cultural or nostalgic attachment to certain foods. I never dieted. Insofar as I thought about food at all, it was as a practical necessity, a way to get energy so that I could keep doing things other than eating.
When I did eat, I’d wolf down pretty much whatever was put in front of me, regardless of whether it was tasty, healthy, or ethical. This, along with my tendency to eat a lot, gained me a reputation as a human garbage disposal among my friends, a title I often reinforced by eating an entire rotisserie chicken for lunch.
Perhaps due to this overall indifference to food, I never did the ethical calculus to justify my choice to eat meat. It wasn’t that I’d done the math and decided meat was okay. It was a non-choice, something I just literally never considered, a default. Whenever I was forced to consider it, I just sort of shrugged it off.
I knew (and know) firsthand how meat is made. As part of my work during undergrad, I went to turkey processing plants and confinement sheds. I toured the kill room of a few slaugherhouses. I saw the cruelty involved in factory farming and my response was not to think about it too much.
But Eating Animals forced me to do the ethical math. It forced me to weigh my choice to eat meat against my own principles and ultimately made me realize the two weren’t compatible.
That’s the power of this book. Not that it exposes factory farming (though that’s important), but that it exposes the logical inconsistency of claiming to be ethical while still eating meat. It exposes the hypocrisy of blindly (or willfully) participating in a system that actively undermines the ideals most people (myself included) claim to hold. There’s just no current way to ethically consume meat or most animal products.
I really struggled with that conclusion. Not because I couldn’t give up meat, but because it made me feel awful about my past behavior. It’s hard to be confronted with the consequences of eating years worth of $5 rotisserie chickens all at once.
But that’s the other genius part of this book; it’s empathetic and relatable because Safran Foer has clearly walked down the exact same path. He doesn’t guilt you about your meat-eating past. He’s not preachy or in your face. He just presents the consequences and trade-offs involved in eating meat, describes how he acted upon the same information, and then leaves you to make a choice.
Ultimately, I made the choice to stop eating meat. Eating Animals shocked me out of my indifference toward food and made me live according to my own values. I’ve become more thoughtful about what I put in my body and more considerate of the potential consequences of my purchases. I suspect most people would have the same reaction if they gave Eating Animals a chance. I can only hope that they do.