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Summary and book reviews of Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

Eating Animals

by Jonathan Safran Foer

Eating Animals
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  • First Published:
    Nov 2009, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2010, 368 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Cindy Anderson

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About this Book

Book Summary

Brilliantly synthesizing philosophy, literature, science, memoir and his own detective work, Eating Animals explores the many fictions we use to justify our eating habits - from folklore to pop culture to family traditions and national myth - and how such tales can lull us into a brutal forgetting.

Jonathan Safran Foer spent much of his teenage and college years oscillating between omnivore and vegetarian. But on the brink of fatherhood - facing the prospect of having to make dietary choices on a child's behalf - his casual questioning took on an urgency. His quest for answers ultimately required him to visit factory farms in the middle of the night, dissect the emotional ingredients of meals from his childhood, and probe some of his most primal instincts about right and wrong. Brilliantly synthesizing philosophy, literature, science, memoir and his own detective work, Eating Animals explores the many fictions we use to justify our eating habits - from folklore to pop culture to family traditions and national myth - and how such tales can lull us into a brutal forgetting. Marked by Foer's profound moral ferocity and unvarying generosity, as well as the vibrant style and creativity that made his previous books, Everything is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, widely loved, Eating Animals is a celebration and a reckoning, a story about the stories we've told-and the stories we now need to tell.

George

I spent the first twenty-six years of my life disliking animals. I thought of them as bothersome, dirty, unapproachably foreign, frighteningly unpredictable, and plain old unnecessary. I had a particular lack of enthusiasm for dogs - inspired, in large part, by a related fear that I inherited from my mother, which she inherited from my grandmother. As a child I would agree to go over to friends' houses only if they confined their dogs in some other room. If a dog approached in the park, I'd become hysterical until my father hoisted me onto his shoulders. I didn't like watching television shows that featured dogs. I didn't understand - I disliked - people who got excited about dogs. It's possible that I even developed a subtle prejudice against the blind.

And then one day I became a person who loved dogs. I became a dog person.

George came very much out of the blue. My wife and I hadn't broached the subject of getting a dog, much less set about looking for one. (Why would we...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Discussion Guide & Resource Guide

Questions and topics for discussion

  1. Conversations about Eating Animals - and the reasons behind the decisions we make - can be polarizing and often alienating. In "All or Nothing or Something Else," Jonathan Safran Foer writes, "We need a better way to talk about Eating Animals. We need a way that brings meat to the center of public discussion in the same way it is often at the center of our plates" (page 33). What does Foer mean by this? Do you agree with him?
  2. Why do you think that something as essential as what we put in our bodies is so often disregarded or not thought through carefully? What is the potential convenience...

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Reviews

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This is a book that everyone should read, vegetarian or not. It is didactic without being dull, it presents its arguments without preaching, it manages to be both approachable in style and appealing to educated readers, and it offers up new arguments in addition to some familiar ones... Perhaps Foer's vision is idealistic, but it is hopeful. And one of the loveliest qualities of Eating Animals is its hopefulness, not just for animals but for human beings as well.   (Reviewed by Cindy Anderson).

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Media Reviews
New York Magazine

Foer’s book is sometimes noble and powerful and brave—but it’s also deeply irritating, even to a fellow irritating vegetarian. Its polemic force is blunted by the signature JSF aesthetic: chapters tagged with cutesy titles (“All or Nothing or Something Else”), formal play to no obvious end (one section is written as a faux dictionary), and serious thought replaced by clumsy rhetorical jazz-hands (“When we lift our forks, we hang our hats somewhere”).

O, The Oprah Magazine

For a hot young writer to train his sights on a subject as unpalatable as meat production and consumption takes raw nerve. What makes Eating Animals so unusual is vegetarian Foer's empathy for human meat eaters, his willingness to let both factory farmers and food reform activists speak for themselves, and his talent for using humor to sweeten a sour argument.

Huffington Post

Eating Animals is part personal journey, part modern muckraking and a surprisingly candid and empathetic book on food. Foer doesn't preach but instead invites us to have a conversation with family farmers and factory farmers, animal activists and slaughterhouse workers. His book is important not because he has all the answers (he often acknowledges his own uncertainty), but because he asks the right questions and makes it impossible for us not to ask them too.

San Francisco Chronicle

A work of moral philosophy...After reading this book, it's hard to disagree [with Foer].

The Washington Post

Eating Animals suffers from Foer's sometimes-sanctimonious attitude and the same over-the-top writing that has always divided his readers into love-him or hate-him camps... But Foer's particular brand of modernist prose.. does serve to bring another round of scrutiny - and a new demographic of reader - to the kinds of farms that, as he puts it, "treat living animals like dead ones."

New York Times

An earnest if clumsy chronicle of the author’s own evolving thinking about animals and vegetarianism, this uneven volume meanders all over the place, mixing reportage and research with stream-of-consciousness musings and asides.

Entertainment Weekly

Stirring....compelling, earnest...Foer brings an invigorating moral clarity to the topic.

Los Angeles Times

Some of our finest journalists (Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser) and animal rights activists (Peter Singer, Temple Grandin)-not to mention Gandhi, Jesus, Pythagoras, Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, John Locke and Immanuel Kant (and so many others)-have hurled themselves against the question of eating meat and the moral issues inherent in killing animals for food. Foer, 32, in this, his first work of nonfiction, intrepidly joins their ranks...It is the kind of wisdom that, in all its humanity and clarity, deserves a place at the table with our greatest philosophers.

St. Louis Post

[Eating Animals] is extraordinarily thoughtful and intelligent, and reads more like philosophy than journalism.

Kirkus Reviews

A blend of solid - and discomforting - reportage with fierce advocacy that will make committed carnivores squeal.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Foer combines an array of facts, astutely-written anecdotes, and his furious, inward-spinning energy to make a personal, highly entertaining take on an increasingly visible (and book-selling) moral question; call it, perhaps, An Omnivore's Dilemma.

Author Blurb J.M. Coetzee
The everyday horrors of factory farming are evoked so vividly, and the case against the people who run the system presented so convincingly, that anyone who, after reading Foer's book, continues to consume the industry's products must be without a heart, or impervious to reason, or both.

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Factory Farm Alternatives
Foer suggests that meat lovers who don't want to support factory farms consider patronizing small family farms rather than buying grocery store meat, which has been produced by factory farms. The products offered by these small farmers tend to be pricey, but these producers say that their animals live most of their lives outdoors, pain-free, with access to high quality food and water. Foer, who is a vegetarian, doesn't consider them perfect (and he says that some practices, like castrating pigs, are still unacceptable to him), but he finds them to be admirable alternatives for those who choose to eat meat.

Profiled in Eating Animals, Frank Reese's Good Shepherd Poultry Ranch (Kansas) features free-...

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