Jonathan Safran Foer - Eating Animals

Jonathan Safran Foer - Eating Animals

(Hamish Hamilton)

Jonathan Safran Foer’s new book – a thoughtful and vigorously researched survey of US farming practices – may seem at odds with his previous works, but there are striking similarities. Like his lauded novels, Everything is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, he conveys strong emphasis on family bonds and Eating Animals too is centred around a protagonist eager to investigate a mystery of sorts.

In this case, the central character is the real-life Foer who, in the face of looming fatherhood, sets out to discover what it really means to eat animals in America today. That the author is now a dedicated vegetarian after years of indecision should give readers some indication of the book’s politics but Eating Animals doesn’t simply advocate the virtues of this lifestyle. It’s also a searching look into the cruelties dealt out to animals raised for slaughter, with details so lucid they are often literally stomach-churning.

Through his paradoxically entertaining prose, Foer is more comfortable introducing us to the characters he meets on his journey – such as a vegetarian rancher and vegan slaughterhouse builder – than he is gushing out facts. And while the extensive section of notes helps to corroborate any factual claims he makes, the book straddles the awkward line between an academic work and a meditative, philosophical treatise, never quite deciding on either. These misgivings aside, Eating Animals is a riveting addition to Foer’s oeuvre, with a nuanced argument that carnivores needn’t be reluctant to approach.

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