Eating Animals

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer makes a powerful case for vegetarianism and against modern factory farming. The writing style is smooth, the stories of cruelty to animals are gruesome and graphic, and some of the arguments are convincing.

But Eating Animals is also frustratingly sloppy, repetitive, inconsistent, derivative, and fuzzy in its philosophical thinking. There's the feel, in the final chapter, that he was scooped and knows it:

The secrecy that has enabled the factory farm is breaking down. The three years I spent writing this book, for example, saw the first documentation that livestock contribute more to global warming than anything else; saw the first major research institution (the Pew Commission) recommend the total phaseout of multiple dominant intensive-confinement practices; saw the first state (Colorado) illegalize common factory farm practices (gestation and veal crates) as a result of negotiations with industry (rather than campaigns against industry); saw the first supermarket chain of any kind (Whole Foods) commit to a systematic and extensive program of animal welfare labeling; and saw the first major national newspaper (the New York Times) editorialize against factory farming as a whole, arguing that "animal husbandry has been turned into animal abuse," and "manure ... has been turned into toxic waste."

Foer means well, no doubt — but throwing personal anecdotes against a wall isn't the best way to make a rational argument. The three big issues that form his case are crucial:

Externalizing the social costs of modern agriculture makes meat prices artificially low and encourages massive waste in multiple dimensions. That's simple economics; everyone (except those immediately profiting) can likely agree that it needs fixing. The larger questions of animal rights and justice to fellow living creatures are important and deserve deep examination. Eating Animals doesn't provide that. It's a thin book, and could have done better.

And yes, it persuaded me to turn away from my daily egg sandwich. But that's not logic!

(cf. SufferTheAnimals (2000-06-11), CompassionateCarnivorism (2002-11-19), FeedOrFeedback (2004-09-06), Franklin on Vegetarianism (2008-06-17), Omnivore's Dilemma (2009-05-16), Philosophical Vegetarian Issues (2010-07-15), Milligan on Vegetarianism (2012-11-02), Grace To Be Said at the Supermarket (2013-01-08), ...) - ^z - 2013-09-05