“If nothing matters, there is nothing to save.”
I picked up “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer whilst at Sydney airport on my way to visit my parents out in the country. I had heard a few people mention it, and meat has always sort of interested me as there is really a huge disconnect between turning a living animal into a heap of meat (I have a housemate that doesn’t even like to have bones in his meat as he eats it).
I have never really been that carrot wielding vegetarian that most people have in their mind when they hear that someone doesn’t eat meat. I have eaten meat most of my life, however I have had a few instances of guilt and sensitivity - my mum is a vegetarian and I have quite a few vego friends too.
“I can’t count the times that upon telling someone I am vegetarian, he or she responded by pointing out an inconsistency in my lifestyle or trying to find a flaw in an argument I never made. (I have often felt that my vegetarianism matters more to such people than it does to me.)”
Anyway what first struck me about this book is that Safran Foer is an amazing writer. He manages to sum up really very difficult concepts and emotions in such simplistic metaphors and easy to understand ideas. It is quite simply an effortless read.
Foer, whilst vegetarian, isn’t a vegetarian activist. He presents the difficulties in being a vegetarian in an objective manner and can really empathise with the average individual - they know what is right, but they choose to forget.
Onto the “Meat” of the book - where our meat comes from. Foer’s heavy fascination is with the factory farm and the treatment of animals. He states some mind boggling statistics, like the world consumes 70 BILLION chickens a year! And also the ethical / environmental and health (it is predicted that the world’s next big super virus will come from a chicken factory farm) implications.
“Just how destructive does a culinary preference have to be before we decide to eat something else? If contributing to the suffering of billions of animals that live miserable lives and (quite often) die in horrific ways isn’t motivating, what would be? If being the number one contributor to the most serious threat facing the planet (global warming) isn’t enough, what is? And if you are tempted to put off these questions of conscience, to say not now, then when?”
What I loved about this book is that Foer doesn’t just state the figures but writes about why this should all matter. I loved his story with his grandmother who survived the Holocaust:
“Then it all changed. During the war it was hell on earth, and I had nothing. I left my family, you know. I was always running, day and night, because the Germans were always right behind me. If you stopped, you died. There was never enough food. I became sicker and sicker from not eating, and I’m not just talking about being skin and bones. I had sores all over my body. It became difficult to move. I wasn’t too good to eat from a garbage can. I ate the parts others wouldn’t eat. If you helped yourself, you could survive. I took whatever I could find. I ate things I wouldn’t tell you about.
“Even at the worst times, there were good people, too. Someone taught me to tie the ends of my pants so I could fill the legs with any potatoes I was able to steal. I walked miles and miles like that, because you never knew when you would be lucky again. Someone gave me a little rice, once, and I traveled two days to a market and traded it for some soap, and then traveled to another market and traded the soap for some beans. You had to have luck and intuition.
“The worst it got was near the end. A lot of people died right at the end, and I didn’t know if I could make it another day. A farmer, a Russian, God bless him, he saw my condition, and he went into his house and came out with a piece of meat for me.”
“He saved your life.”
“I didn’t eat it.”
“You didn’t eat it?”
“It was pork. I wouldn’t eat pork.”
“What do you mean why?”
“What, because it wasn’t kosher?”
“But not even to save your life?”
“If nothing matters, there’s nothing to save.”
I’m eating meat less now. If anything, it has made me mindful of where my meat comes from and mindful about the sustainability of eating.