Image by B. Alter
'Eating Animals', the new book by Jonathan Safran Foer, has just been released in the UK and the author, a New Yorker, is on a book tour here. This week he spoke at Jewish Book Week, interviewed by Etgar Keret, a fellow vegetarian and novelist.
The book is about what it means to eat meat and is an investigation into the US factory farm industry. It has been reviewed widely, including by TreeHugger, so the interview was personal, informal and revealing as he talked about whether he would give up his grandmother's chicken soup and what it meant to her.
Image from the Financial Times
Entitled Extremely Bad and Incredibly Cruel, a take on his best-selling novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Saffron Foer said he was not an environmentalist. He started writing this book because he had a child and it made him think about what he would feed his son and how he would explain eating meat to him. He had been an on and off vegetarian, quoting Mark Twain: " It's easy to quit smoking, I have done it dozens of times". As a child he had been disturbed about animals and wanted to teach his children to be thoughtful.
This is the first non-fiction book that he has written and he said that it was very difficult. "Novels are useless, they can't change things so they have no task and are so liberating." He said that the exhilaration of writing comes through not knowing; but he found this subject disappointing because it was a topic and he knew the outcome.
He said that meat is the number one cause of global warming so that by endorsing the farm system, we are endorsing something that makes the world more dangerous.
Seeing as it is a Jewish Book Week event, he talked about the profound religious resonance and the notion of stewardship in Judaism. The laws of Kashrut define what Jews eat and how the meat is slaughtered. He thought kosher slaughtering was more humane; not everyone would agree with that.
Keret called himself a moral opportunist; he said that he had been a vegetarian since he was 5 years old so it was very easy for him.
Image from Amazon
Both said that they have felt aggression from others by defining themselves as vegetarians. Saffran Foer said that he is often apologetic about it so does not talk about it personally.
The book is against the factory farming system, not meat. Although he acknowledges that there is such a thing as small farmers treating animals with respect, he still wouldn't eat meat because it is endorsing an exception. It's not a question of being a vegetarian or not, in his view, he just believes that people should eat less meat. He urged people to give up eating unimportant meat, such as fast food, lunch meats. In the Financial Times interview he said "If we all had one less serving of meat a week, that would be the equivalent of taking 5m cars off the road. One serving a day - 35m cars. There is nothing that we could do that would have a greater impact on the environment."
No one asked him if he still eats his grandmother's Friday night brisket.