Next week or so I’ll have been a pescetarian for a year. I quit eating meat early last summer, with the exception of fish and shellfish (which I rarely eat, but enjoy immensely). I had been toying with the idea for a few years before that; I even had an experiment at school that I told no one about, during which I tried going without meat, to see how long I could do it. I lasted about two weeks, and caved at the first sighting of a chicken patty. Chicken, I thought, would always be my downfall. I would never be able to give up chicken. And how could I ever go without Thanksgiving turkey? Then, just about a year ago, I read Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals. I’m not going to review it like I have other books, but rather I want to talk about my experiences and decisions because of it.
I read Eating Animals probably mostly because two of my favorite books, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and Everything is Illuminated, are also by Jonathan Safran Foer. Given that I’d already thought about vegetarianism, I was curious to see how one of my favorite authors would write about giving up meat. I bought the book at a Barnes & Noble in hardcover. This is a big deal for me. I rarely buy books at big name book stores (preferring Amazon’s used books or smaller stores and used book stores), and I even more rarely buy hardcover books. But I couldn’t resist.
Here I should note that I wasn’t expecting to find anything surprising. I already knew about factory farms, and about horrible slaughtering practices. I hadn’t read in detail, because I knew that detail would be upsetting. But here, I finally decided to suck it up and read about it. I learned about the looseness of terms like “free range” and about the amount of water chicken is allowed to soak up–water that could be full of all sorts of disgusting things. (This, as it turns out, made it much easier to give up chicken.) I learned even more about the risks to my health that come from our standard and legal farming practices. But Foer doesn’t just preach for vegetarianism–he allows for other perspectives as well, including that of the factory farmer.
After I finished the book, I made the decision to give up meat, barring fish. (The health risks are much lower in fish, and the health risks are ultimately what made me decide to give up other meats. I am, however, due to environmental concerns and increasingly poor fish-farming practices, toying with the idea of giving up fish as well.) My decision was made even easier when I watched Food, Inc. (available to watch instantly on Netflix) and Jamie Oliver’s TED talk on teaching children about food. Full disclosure: both made me cry.
I’ve also tried to learn more and more since reading Eating Animals. There is so much to learn and so much we aren’t told and it is horrible. The food industry and the policies that surround it are disgusting and a lot needs to be done, but that is another post for another day.
Sometimes I feel embarrassed that a book is what finally made me decide to stop eating meat–especially a book that doesn’t focus as much on the scientific technicalities of others of its kind. But Eating Animals is both accessible and tied in with real people and the real social consequences of becoming a vegetarian. Never once have I seriously considered returning to meat, although I do crave pepperoni and hot dogs here and there. (I know, I know. They are gross excuses for meats in the first place. Can’t help what I crave.) Eating Animals is beautifully written and I’ve recommended it to many of my friends. If you’re on the fence about vegetarianism, read this. It doesn’t read like a book encouraging vegetarianism over all else, but rather like a book about a father, trying to find out the best way to raise his son–which it is. If I could get everyone to read it, I would.
On a side note, I still haven’t read but very much want to read The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. I need to get on that…