On Saturday night, right in the middle of a fairly miserable long weekend, I dragged a semi-interested David to the Opera House for the annual Festival of Dangerous Ideas. The speaker? Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Eating Animals (as well as two novels, Everything is Illuminated and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close).
I read Eating Animals a couple of months ago and thought it was great. Safran Foer has a way with storytelling which made the book so much more than a fact-based vegetarian diatribe. This kind of even-keeled rationality carried into his discussion with the Opera House audience. While his stance is clearly “pro-vegetarian” (and while Eating Animals was similarly working towards such a forgone conclusion), he was in no way a sanctimonious, preachy git or a raging, hate filled vegan (don’t get me wrong, I know some amazing vegans, but some are blatantly batshit insane). Instead, he relied on the numbers and the facts to speak for themselves. 99% of meat in the USA is factory farmed. Over 95% in the European Union. Americans eat 180 times more chicken per year than they did a year ago. The number one factor in climate change is meat consumption. Smithfield, the largest pork producer in the USA, had 7000 violations of the Clean Water Act in one year.
In addition to the facts, that were slowly but surely guilting half the audience, he also talked about the language and the discourse of our relationship with food, specifically meat. One of the things that struck me most was his comment (heavily paraphrased!): ‘We need to eat less meat. We cannot expect everyone to go vegetarian, but we can expect everyone to eat less meat. For me, less meat happens to be no meat. For writers like Mark Bittman, it means being vegan until 5pm. Think of each meal as an opportunity to make a choice‘ I liked that sense of flexibility, that avoidance of labels that means that one meal with meat does not mean that we have fallen off the wagon, that we must berate ourselves for failure.
One way or another, it was a good enough talk that my avowedly omnivorous partner is speaking of reducing his own meat consumption, If you ever have the chance to see Safran Foer speak, or if you can get hold of a copy of Eating Animals, I would definitely recommend it.
For an interesting review of Eating Animals, I’d recommend this article by Peter Singer in The Monthly