Excerpt from Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Eating Animals

By Jonathan Safran Foer

Eating Animals
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  • Hardcover: Nov 2009,
    352 pages.
    Paperback: Sep 2010,
    368 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Cindy Anderson

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Print Excerpt


So who's right? What might be the reasons to exclude canine from the menu? The selective carnivore suggests:

Don't eat companion animals. But dogs aren't kept as companions in all of the places they are eaten. And what about our petless neighbors? Would we have any right to object if they had dog for dinner?

OK, then:

Don't eat animals with significant mental capacities. If by "significant mental capacities" we mean what a dog has, then good for the dog. But such a definition would also include the pig, cow, chicken, and many species of sea animals. And it would exclude severely impaired humans.

Then:

It's for good reason that the eternal taboos - don't fiddle with your shit, kiss your sister, or eat your companions - are taboo. Evolutionarily speaking, those things are bad for us. But dog eating hasn't been and isn't a taboo in many places, and it isn't in any way bad for us. Properly cooked, dog meat poses no greater health risks than any other meat, nor does such a nutritious meal foster much objection from the physical component of our selfish genes.

And dog eating has a proud pedigree. Fourth-century tombs contain depictions of dogs being slaughtered along with other food animals. It was a fundamental enough habit to have informed language itself: the Sino-Korean character for "fair and proper" (yeon) literally translates into "as cooked dog meat is delicious."

Hippocrates praised dog meat as a source of strength. The Romans ate "suckling puppy," Dakota Indians enjoyed dog liver, and not so long ago Hawaiians ate dog brains and blood. The Mexican hairless dog was the principal food species of the Aztecs. Captain Cook ate dog. Roald Amundsen famously ate his sled dogs. (Granted, he was really hungry.)

And dogs are still eaten to overcome bad luck in the Philippines; as medicine in China and Korea; to enhance libido in Nigeria; and in numerous places, on every continent, because they taste good. For centuries, the Chinese have raised special breeds of dogs, like the black-tongued chow, for chow, and many European countries still have laws on the books regarding postmortem examination of dogs intended for human consumption.

Of course, something having been done just about everywhere just about always is no kind of justification for doing it now. But unlike all farmed meat, which requires the creation and maintenance of animals, dogs are practically begging to be eaten. Three to four million dogs and cats are euthanized annually. This amounts to millions of pounds of meat now being thrown away every year. The simple disposal of these euthanized dogs is an enormous ecological and economic problem. It would be demented to yank pets from homes. But eating those strays, those runaways, those not-quite-cute-enough-to-take and not-quite-well-behaved-enough-to-keep dogs would be killing a flock of birds with one stone and eating it, too.

In a sense it's what we're doing already. Rendering - the conversion of animal protein unfit for human consumption into food for livestock and pets - allows processing plants to transform useless dead dogs into productive members of the food chain. In America, millions of dogs and cats euthanized in animal shelters every year become the food for our food. (Almost twice as many dogs and cats are euthanized as are adopted.) So let's just eliminate this inefficient and bizarre middle step.

This need not challenge our civility. We won't make them suffer any more than necessary. While it's widely believed that adrenaline makes dog meat taste better - hence the traditional methods of slaughter: hanging, boiling alive, beating to death - we can all agree that if we're going to eat them, we should kill them quickly and painlessly, right? For example, the traditional Hawaiian means of holding the dog's nose shut - in order to conserve blood - must be regarded (socially if not legally) as a no-no. Perhaps we could include dogs under the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. That doesn't say anything about how they're treated during their lives, and isn't subject to any meaningful oversight or enforcement, but surely we can rely on the industry to "self-regulate," as we do with other eaten animals.

From Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. Published by Little, Brown and Company. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

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