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Eating Animals
Jonathan Safran Foer
read on September 1, 2013

Most of this book was sadly, very predictable. Foer condemns the way we treat animals. At one point he brings up turkeys in particular, calling out that farm turkeys are a specially bred species that we've tweaked to grow full size in 39 days (early turkey adolescence) - these things are so mutated and deformed (from us selecting turkeys with huge breasts, thighs, etc) that they literally can't survive on their own. They can't fly or hop, they can barely move. They would die from exposure if left alone. Many are "born" dead - and many more die from abnormalities/sickness, and then even more die from more horrific reasons, like being trampled, suffocating under other turkeys, etc. Foer makes this sound disgusting, but that's cheap. It's cheap to take advantage of the repulsive gut reaction that most people will have when they hear this. That doesn't mean it's wrong, but it's cheap to just rely on that and not dig in to the more complicated issues.

Isn't the holy grail of protein farming the ability for us to just outright clone animal muscle? What if we could just grow turkey breast in a lab? It's being worked on, and we're almost there. And while many folks have many reasons to be terrified of 100% bioengineered food, no one reputable seems to be calling that unethical, or immoral. But why? What's the difference between turkey parts we grow in a chemistry lab and turkey parts we grow on a turkey? Arguably it's the idea of consciousness, but I'm not sure I buy that. (And Foer doesn't really bother to approach it). Foer himself seems to admit that these farmed turkeys are barely even conscious in the first place... hell, they're only alive for 39 days. And if consciousness is what makes this immoral and disgusting, why is that so? Why does consciousness, in whatever capacity that these turkeys seem to have it, matter? And why would it matter above the needs of conscious humans? I mean - we have 7 billion people on Earth. Is it ethically wrong to propagate this synthetic species of turkey in order to feed them? (Or, even, just to allow them to live more comfortably?)

The best part of the book is actually written by someone else, a PETA member, as a counterpoint to another side letter written by a (pro-meat, duh) farmer. The PETA guy gets the closest to arguing the philosophical points, comparing the meat industry to colonial-era plantation slavery. (He also makes fantastic points about the sustainability effects of dealing with our over-populated planet). I don't think the slavery argument stands up here, but it was refreshing to finally hear someone try to get to the root of the issue.

I certainly don't have the answer to all this. I think it's a complicated philosophical question, and I doubt there really is a right or a wrong answer, though it's absolutely worth debating. But that's the question Foer needs to be asking here, and never does. Instead, he takes the lazy route of just describing factory farms in ways that any reasonable person would find repulsive.

...Still though, I've found it hard to get some of it out of my head, and I've thought twice about some of my orders when at cheap-o meat places.

Author Bio:

Jonathan Safran Foer (born February 21, 1977) is an American novelist. He is best known for his novels Everything Is Illuminated (2002), Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (2005), and for his non-fiction work Eating Animals (2009). His most recent novel, Here I Am, was published in 2016. He teaches creative writing at New York University.