I am not in the habit of keeping abreast of politics. I have friends who are. They probably want to grab and shake me, to point and say, “Look at this,” or “Listen to this.” The way they feel about politics is the way I feel about where food comes from. And so I found Jonathan Safran Foer’s talk this past Friday, to an audience of Yalies and members of the New Haven community, a breath of fresh air.
Foer read from his latest work, “Eating Animals.” It is a book designed to catch the eye. The cover is bright green, with the provocative title and bestselling author’s name in huge capital letters. Open, and you’ll see certain pages crammed with repeated words or funny section breaks. Some are nearly bare, except for a heading and a fact. Some facts:
“Modern industrial fishing lines can be as long as 75 miles — the same distance as from sea level to space.”
“Animal agriculture makes a 40% greater contribution to global warming than all transportation in the world combined; it is the number one cause of climate change.”
“Nearly one-third of the land surface of the planet is dedicated to livestock.”
No one talks about these facts. No one knows the size of the cages that confine most chickens (67 square inches), the percentage of chickens that become infected with E. Coli (95) or the amount of waste that farmed animals excrete (87,000 pounds per second). No one mentions, over sushi, that the extra fish killed in catching that dinner would fill a plate five feet across. The realities of eating meat — ethical, sanitary and environmental — are staggering, and yet they go ignored.
On Friday, Foer spoke of the meat industry’s silence on his book. He has noticed that when he is slated to appear on television, the host also looks for an opposing view — but those in charge of producing meat never bite. Maybe, Foer joked, the bad guys have surrendered. More likely, they know the facts. And so they can guess that the more people hear about industrial meat, the less meat they will consume.
Bestselling “Eating Animals” can claim trendiness — Time named real-food defender Michael Pollan one of this year’s 100 Most Influential — as well as Foer’s celebrity. And as he uses his spotlight to reveal factory farming’s trade secrets, Foer, like Pollan and others, also reframes the debate on eating animals. The discussion, he said Friday, need not polarize. As consumers, we are all on the same side. We want to know the truth.
All of us: holier-than-thou vegans and loyal carnivores, PETA members who sling paint and parents who just want their kids to get enough protein. Foer is no radical; he is a father. He began writing “Eating Animals” to learn how to feed his son, and so the book rings true. He writes about his grandmother. He writes that he talks to his dog. He has said he feels rewarded not only when his readers turn vegetarian — but also when they choose simply to eat meat six, not seven, days a week.
Read the book: The facts are clear. The way we eat has costs. Globally, we won’t be able to sustain our farming practices much longer. Individually, we make ourselves sick by eating factory-farmed meat. Women who drink milk from cows treated with hormones are, like the cows, much more likely to give birth to twins. Pigs rescued from factory farms, where they are slaughtered at 250 pounds, can grow to a freakish 800 because their genes have been so modified.
“Eating Animals” has changed the conversation; now, we need to keep talking. When we face the facts, then we can change the factories — or, at least, stop eating so much meat.
Jacque Feldman is a junior in Davenport College.