BOOK REVIEW: Eating Animals

Eating Animals

Upon learning of the existence of some great cruelty, the natural human instinct is to share it with any who will listen. The greatest modern animal cruelty by far is the one being perpetuated right under our noses – literally: the factory farming of animals for food.

Without being holier-than-thou or judgmental, Foer challenges his readers to pull back the curtain on the story behind the fast-food burger and the Thanksgiving turkey, and wagers they won’t like what they see. As farm animals have disappeared from the countryside into industrial factory sheds, they have also disappeared from our consciousness. Consumers’ complacency has allowed hideous practices that no sane person would support, to thrive.

I found myself to be complacent in entirely the opposite way—because, as an animal advocate, I already know all about the debeaking and the gestation crates and the inhumane slaughter. The visceral reaction of horror at learning these facts is no longer there, as I’ve long since memorized them, processed them, filed them away for use during the rare times someone actually asks me about factory farming. Foer is seeing this all with fresh, startled eyes, and even the most seasoned among us can’t help but looking at the issues anew.

Unlike other writers who have looked at the factory farm system, Foer’s solution wasn’t to kill animals himself or vow to eat only so-called “happy meat.” (What a breath of fresh air!) Instead, Foer looks at the cruelty and the suffering and death all for the sake of a fleeting taste—and turns his back on meat altogether. (Way to go!)

And for those readers who conclude that replacing meat is indeed too difficult and think they’re going to shovel down only “humane” meat from now on, Foer dispassionately points out exactly how difficult that is to do. In early 21st century America,

99.9 % of ‘meat’ chickens
97 % of egg-laying hens
99 % of turkeys
95 % of pigs
78 % of cattle

are factory-farmed. If you ever obtain your meat from restaurants or mainstream grocery stores, you’re supporting the factory farm and all of its horrors. Period.

Producers know that factory farming is becoming increasingly controversial, so when they can’t hide their practices, they are setting up phony “animal welfare” regulations to reassure consumers and do little else. Foer writes:

In its Animal Welfare Guidelines, the National Chicken Council indicates an appropriate stocking density to be eight-tenths of a square foot per bird. That’s what’s considered animal welfare by a “mainstream” organization representing chicken producers, which shows you how thoroughly co-opted ideas about welfare have become-and why you can’t trust labels that come from anywhere but a reliable third-party source.

(review originally appeared at

2 Comments (+add yours?)

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