‘Win It’ Wednesday: Jonathan Safran Foer’s ‘Eating Animals’
Thanks for all of your wonderful comments on this Win It Wednesday. The winners of Eating Animals are Kim, Jenna, Brandon, Alyson, and Rachel. Congratulations!
To say that every person who picks up the latest book by bestselling author Jonathan Safran Foer walks away illuminated wouldn’t really be stretching the truth. Eating Animals, Foer’s first foray into nonfiction, hit bookstore shelves today, but the book has already influenced Natalie Portman to go vegan and has sparked intelligent conversation in the New Yorker and on NPR (to name just a few media outlets) about the moral, health, and environmental implications that most people ignore when they sit down to a steak dinner.
For this week’s “Win It” Wednesday, not only are we giving you a chance to win a copy of Eating Animals, we also have an interview with the author to share with you. I’m calling it “Four With Foer.”
Enjoy the Q&A, and then learn how you can win the book.
1) Children are naturally drawn to animals, but society often influences us into thinking that eating meat is normal and OK. How will you educate your children concerning your family’s choice to be vegetarian?
The burden of education falls to parents who feed their children meat. Killing animals for food—even when done in the most humane ways—is antithetical to everything else parents teach their children about animals. Animals are the heroes of children’s books, the stuffed toys kids fall asleep with, pets, objects of fascination and wonder. No parent would stand idly by as his or her child abused an animal.
None of this necessarily says anything about the rightness or wrongness of eating animals—we raise our children with all different kinds of over-simplicities, half-truths, and make believe. But in the three years I spent researching animal farming, I didn’t meet a single slaughterer who was perfectly comfortable with killing animals. That says something. Our taste for animals can be lost, but our discomfort with what we do to them cannot.
In any case, my son is now old enough to understand that he doesn’t eat animals, and that most of his friends do. We’ve had numerous conversations about it, but he’s never needed a second explanation for why we don’t.
2) Of all the horrible things that you witnessed on factory farms while writing this book, is there a particular instance that sticks with you?
The real horror of factory farming is not found in the instance, but the rule. It’s a shame that most people’s exposure to the meat industry comes through horror videos of slaughterhouses. While such images do correspond to very real events (which are productive and necessary to document and share), they are, even at the worst farms, the exception. And unfortunately, they can conceal something that is far more horrible: the everyday, systematized cruelty and destruction. In a way, videos of animals being tortured are a distraction that the meat industry is probably happy to have, as they suggest that the fault is with workers. The fault is not with workers, but the system itself. It is simply impossible to raise the number of animals we are currently raising for food without making their lives miserable. The misery is built into the system. Another system could take this system’s place. But a movement toward small, family farms will require people to eat much, much less meat. And that’s not going to happen any time too soon. In the meantime, the most important thing is to come to terms with the dominance and destruction of factory farming, and reject it.
3) One of our campaigns at PETA asks people, “If your dog tasted like pork, would you eat her?” In your book, you talk about your relationship with your dog and how it influenced your dietary decisions. Could you go into that briefly for our readers?
I spent the first 26 years of my life disliking animals. I thought of them as bothersome, dirty, unapproachably foreign, frighteningly unpredictable, and plain old unnecessary. I had a particular lack of enthusiasm for dogs—inspired, in large part, by a related fear that I inherited from my mother, which she inherited from my grandmother. As a child I would agree to go over to friends’ houses only if they confined their dogs in some other room. If a dog approached in the park, I’d become hysterical until my father hoisted me onto his shoulders. I didn’t like watching television shows that featured dogs. I didn’t understand—I disliked—people who got excited about dogs. It’s possible that I even developed a subtle prejudice against the blind. And then one day I became a person who loved dogs. I became a dog person.
The first full chapter of my book explores our divergent attitudes toward dogs and fish—fish being at the far end of the spectrum of our regard. I write about a simple trick that backyard astronomers use: If you are having trouble seeing something, look slightly away from it. The most light-sensitive parts of our eyes (those we need to see dim objects) are on the edges of the region we normally use for focusing. Eating animals has an invisible quality. Thinking about dogs and their relationship to the animals we eat is one way of looking askance and making something invisible visible.
4) Who do you hope will benefit from reading Eating Animals?
I don’t expect readers to come to the same conclusions that I do, but I hope that they will agree with me about the urgency and importance of the problems. I can respect those who, after reading my book, decide to move in a direction that isn’t the one I’ve chosen for myself. (I can even respect those who chose not to move at all.) But I can’t respect that all-too-common response of, “I don’t want to know about it.” Such willed ignorance—which, by the way, I have spent the better part of my life practicing, and in other areas continue to practice—sucks.
We have five copies of Foer’s newest book to give away. How do you win? This week’s contest is easy peasy. To enter, fill out the form below by November 18, 2009, and we will notify the lucky winners by November 20, 2009. Good luck!
This contest has now ended.
Written by Shawna Flavell