Jonathan Safran Foer forgets his wealth

Jonathan Safran Foer at the 2007 Brooklyn Book...

Image via Wikipedia

Jonathan Safran Foer will be reading and discussing his new book, “Eating Animals“, at the Harold Washington Library tonight. Foer has been on a media blitz lately, from appearing on Ellen, to writing a piece in the Washington Post about eating dogs, to name a few.  “Eating Animals” is solidly pro-vegetarian, and rehashes the well-known evils of factory farming:

The treatment of animals in today’s factory-farm system is so horrifying, it’s enough simply to know it exists to want it to end. Fittingly, long stretches the book chronicle the unhappy lives of chickens, unable to walk, unable to fly, unable even to reproduce; pigs — intelligent creatures — confined, beaten, and slaughtered; fish gaffed in the eye or the side, writhing gills slit. Vast fields of pig manure seeping into the water table. A million different viral threads stuck in the sick bodies of doped-up chickens just waiting to make the species jump.

via Flavorwire

While it’s all well and good that Foer wants animals to be treated more ethically, he doesn’t seem to offer a solution to feed the poor and hungry that consume these factory farm meats.  When asked on Ellen how he would respond to families struggling to put food on their tables, who resort to buying chicken nuggets off the dollar meal at McDonald’s, these  very families who can’t afford to eat any other way, Foer responded with “We can’t afford to eat this way”. Great. Has Foer lost touch with reality? Natalie Portman wrote a piece on the Huffington Post about “Eating Animals” and how reading it converted her into a vegan, and she opens her post stating she hates when people criticize each others choices. I love you Natalie Portman, and you may deny the ivy tower you live in all you want, but please keep in mind that you are far removed from the stink of every day living, of the foreclosures, lay-offs, and lack of health insurance. Not eating meat is the last thing people are worried about right now.

Foer does make some good points, like how the American dream of what a farm looks like in our minds  is far removed from reality, that factory farming is a main contributor to global warming, our drugs aren’t as effective now that our meat is injected with anti-bodies, and H1N1 is the result of factory farming. And it is a tragedy that Americans are so disconnected from their food. When I visit my family overseas, I feed the rabbit I will eat later, I collect eggs from a chicken coup, and I cuddle both animals. I tend to think they live a nice life with my Hungarian relatives, and it’s depressing that eating meat has different “consequences” in America.

Jonathan Safran Foer’s highlighting of America’s problem with meat could be called noble, but this is a problem that will take years to rectify. Everyone knows we should be driving fuel efficient electric cars, but we’re not. Electric cars are not able to serve the needs of all or the majority of consumers, and the same applies to organic and sustainable farming. Until someone who is earning minimum wage can afford the products from these organic farms, we really haven’t done anything of consequence.  The goal of these organic sustainable farms should be to lower their prices and make themselves accessible to the general public. Not everyone has access to land and the time to tend to their chickens and rabbits, nor do they have the time to go to the “organic” farms highlighted on Foer’s website.

But yeah, go hear Foer read and lecture at the Harold Washington Library tonight, to heckle him, be converted into a vegan, or  to get a copy of one of his other books signed.

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6 Comments on “Jonathan Safran Foer forgets his wealth”

  1. Caitlin Kelly says:

    Thanks for this perspective. It gets a bit old hearing from rich white people how everyone else should eat and live when, as you point out, they’ve got plenty of choices and many others do not.

  2. Megan Cottrell says:

    Good post, Fruzsina.

    You’re absolutely right. Those of us who can worry about animal cruelty and vegetarianism forget that it’s a luxury to be able to worry about that. It’s a luxury to be able to not shop at Walmart and to be able to afford something else.

    It’s a luxury to have the time and energy to be concerned about those things. It doesn’t mean they’re not important. It just means when someone is worried about how to put food on the table, how to ward off bill collectors, how to stay in their apartment and not being evicted – they don’t have the mental room to be concerned with chicken coops, not to mention the money to buy organic/vegan/cage-free, etc.

    It’s Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. You can’t take care of higher needs until you get the lower ones taken care of.

    It would be wonderful if all the poor families could be worried about this. The chemicals and hormones in our food certainly don’t help them. But if Foer wants to do something about it, he needs to work on not just letting people know, but making it cost efficient for all families to do. That’s a big job.

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  4. Matthew says:

    i think it’s possible to live a vegetarian lifestyle on minimum wage. you would probably be healthier if you avoided the cheap frozen meats anyhow. i went vegetarian for a couple months to see what it was like, and it wasn’t bad, except for being harassed by everyone over why im not eating meat, haha. also, people who earn minimum wage aren’t the majority… so while this doesn’t solve the problem, i wouldn’t say that it’s a pressing issue to bring into the mix. i would say that a small number of american workers who make minimum wage are living on their own, over 25, and have no other source of income.

    that being said, i also get turned off by how touchy vegetarians, and especially vegans are about eating. they seem to be preaching and its annoying.

    also, the luxury response isn’t a very good argument. just because it’s true that it’s a luxury, doesn’t make it a good reason to turn away from the problem. vegans and vegetarians are trying to do something about it by not buying those food products, which i think is respectable. they’re also writing books and articles about it help to get people to be more knowledgeable about the foods they eat.

    so, i do believe that all the problems with the animal factories starts with the consumers. i think that the only solution is to eat less meat, and it will never get any better unless less meat is consumed.

  5. wbleibs says:

    Excellent post. If I may, there is one more element to throw into this difficult equation, access. I grew up in an affluent NW burb and had easy access to multiple grocery stores and fruit markets. When I worked on the S.Side of the city, I lived in the Hyde Park neighborhood. Choice does not exist on 63rd. Without a car you are left with one option: shop at Co-op foods or walk 1.5 miles to Moo and oink. There is no luxury of choice. Living on the North side of the city is vastly different: Do I shop at Jewel, Dominicks, Whole foods, Trader Joes, or Sunflower Market…to name a few. Access.

    Yes, prices will lead to change, exposure will lead to change, but when a large portion of our population does not have the markets to shop at, what change can occur.

  6. Marc Flores says:

    I don’t understand why some vegetarians and vegans think that respecting animals and eating meat have to be mutually exclusive. One of my chef instructors in school said to all the vegetarian students in class, “We don’t raise these animals as pets, we raise them for food.” People have to eat.

    This same chef took us to his private ranch to watch a cow get slaughtered, skinned and quartered for refrigeration and aging. It was a pretty sad experience. There were only two cows present at the time, and when the selected cow was being walked over to the where it would be shot, one of the foreign students said, “The other cow look like it cry.” Indeed, it looked like the other cow was getting teary eyed. When the selected cow was shot between the eyes with a rifle, it fell right to the ground and the other cow ran around in hysterics. I’ll spare all the gory details, but when it was over and the chunks of meat were hanging and ready to be hauled to refrigeration, it looked like any other piece of meat in a meat locker. After about 45 minutes, I almost forgot that that thing was just walking around earlier. It was sad, and I still eat meat, but I have respect animals in the sense that they should be happy (insofar as an animal can be) until they die – whether it’s for food or of natural causes.

    Oh, children were present and they looked far more fascinated than disgusted. Not the response I was expecting.


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