Book Review - Eating Animals

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Jonathan Safran Foer essentially started thinking about the concepts in his book Eating Animals as a young child, while eating meat-filled meals at his grandmother's house. Throughout his adolescence and early adulthood, he became a vegetarian, started eating meat again, and went back-and-forth for several years until finally sticking with strict vegetarianism. Part of his journey involved the research that went into this book, which focuses on the treatment of animals involved in factory-farming.

The book is chock full of interesting anecdotes about Foer's experiences infiltrating factory farms and interviewing farmers. He does an excellent job presenting an unbiased point of view about the topic, often showing the perspective of factory farmers side-by-side with people opposed to the practice, including animal activists and members of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

Although I've consumed a lot of information on this topic and it's not the most exciting (or even palatable) thing to explore, I found Eating Animals to be a great read. Some of the most interesting facts that I learned include:

  • The average distance that meat travels to arrive at your local supermarket is 1,500 miles.
  • The percentage of meat that is factory-farmed is: 99.99% of chickens, 97% of eggs, 99% of turkeys, 95% of pigs, and 78% of cattle.
  • Due to subsidization practices which harm the environment while lining the pockets of agribusinesses, during the last 50 years: the average cost of a new house increased almost 1,500% and new cars skyrocketed more than 1,400%. However, the price of milk is only up 350%, and eggs and chicken meat haven't even doubled. Adjusting for inflation, animal protein costs less today than at any time in history!
  • 99% of all land animals that are killed for human consumption are farmed birds.
  • There are literally not any turkeys for sale in a supermarket that could walk normally, much less jump or fly. They aren't even able to have sex. It doesn't matter if they are antibiotic-free, organic, or free-range—they all have the same genetics that have crippled their physical bodies over time solely for human pleasure.
  • Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) kills its baby chicks at a mere 39 days-old.
  • On average, Americans eat roughly 21,000 entire animals in a lifetime.
  • Virtually all (up to 95% of) chickens become infected with E. coli and between 39-75% of chickens sold in retail stores are still infected with the disease.
  • In fishing trawling operations, 80-90% of animals that are caught as "bycatch" are thrown overboard, dead. The least efficient operations throw more than 98% of captured sea animals back into the ocean. This practice is one of many involved with causing a truly tragic loss of aquatic life, which has a negative impact on land life as well.
  • Victims of fishing operations universally experience suffering. Before the animals die, they are crushed together, gashed on corals, bashed on rocks—for hours—before being hauled from the water, causing excruciating decompression (which can often cause the animals' eyes and other internal organs to pop out). Whereas it is possible that some land animals can be killed in a way that will not cause suffering, all farmed fish have experienced tremendous suffering in their journey to your plate.
  • By 2050, the world's farmed animals will eat as much food as four billion people.

Beyond all of the above facts (which are somewhat outdated now—the book was published in 2009, seven years ago) and the others included in the book, I found Eating Animals to be really thought-provoking with regard to the dilemma of eating animals. Foer does not attempt to present one side of an argument; rather, he presents multiple sides of a conversation, including a heavy dose of facts and figures throughout his work. This is not a book that is exclusively geared toward plant-based dieters—this is applicable to everyone willing to keep an open mind.

I think something that would enhance Foer's depiction of the devastating effects factory farming has on our world would be to highlight the nutritional effects of consuming animal products. Obviously, this book focuses mainly on the animal rights side of the plant-based diet perspective, but I believe that the nutritional component of plant-based eating greatly strengthens the overall argument, and I would have liked to see a bit more of that covered in the book.

Overall, Eating Animals is an excellent book, and I would definitely recommend it for everyone to read. Although it can be difficult for many people to meet their meat, avoiding the issue as a global society will continue to make many things difficult for all of us on the planet.

4/5 stars. 341 pages.