Jonathan Safran Foer: You don’t have to love animals, but you don’t have to hate them

did an interview with Eating Animals author Jonathan Safran Foer. The author discusses the ideas of vegetarianism and the motives that prompted him to write this book. 

He is known for his prose, but suddenly he wrote a non-fiction book describing the industrial production of meat. According to the author, he is not a scientist or a philosopher – he wrote “Eating Animals” as an eater. 

“In the forests of central Europe, she ate to survive at every opportunity. In America, 50 years later, we ate whatever we wanted. The kitchen cabinets were full of food bought on a whim, overpriced gourmet food, food we didn’t need. When the expiration date expired, we threw away the food without smelling it. The food was no worries. 

My grandmother provided us with this life. But she herself could not shake off that despair. For her, food was not food. Food was horror, dignity, gratitude, revenge, joy, humiliation, religion, history, and, of course, love. As if the fruits she gave us were plucked from the branches of our broken family tree, ”is an excerpt from the book. 

Radio Netherlands: This book is very much about family and food. Actually, the idea to write a book was born together with his son, the first child. 

Foer: I would like to educate him with all possible consistency. One that requires as little deliberate ignorance as possible, as little deliberate forgetfulness, and as little hypocrisy as possible. I knew, as most people know, meat raises a lot of serious questions. And I wanted to determine what I really think about all this and raise my son in accordance with this. 

Radio Netherlands: You are known as a writer of prose, and in this genre the adage “Don’t let the facts ruin a good story” is used. But the book “Eating Animals” is filled with facts. How did you select information for the book? 

Foer: With great care. I have used the lowest figures, most often from the meat industry itself. If I had chosen less conservative numbers, my book could have been much more powerful. But I didn’t want even the most prejudiced reader in the world to doubt that I was mentioning accurate facts about the meat industry. 

Radio Netherlands: In addition, you spent some time watching the meat products production process with your own eyes. In the book, you write about how you crawled into the territory of meat processing plants through barbed wire at night. Was it not easy? 

Foer: Very difficult! And I didn’t want to do it, there was nothing funny about it, it was scary. This is another truth about the meat industry: there is a big cloud of secrecy around it. You don’t get a chance to talk to a board member of one of the corporations. You may be lucky enough to talk to some hard-nosed public relations person, but you will never meet someone who knows anything. If you wish to receive information, you will find that it is practically impossible. And it’s actually shocking! You just want to look at where your food comes from and they won’t let you. This should at least arouse suspicion. And it just pissed me off. 

Radio Netherlands: And what were they hiding? 

Foer: They hide systematic cruelty. The way in which these unfortunate animals are treated universally would be considered illegal (if they were cats or dogs). The environmental impact of the meat industry is simply shocking. Corporations hide the truth about the conditions in which people work every day. It’s a bleak picture no matter how you look at it. 

There is nothing good in this whole system. At the time of writing this book, an estimated 18% of greenhouse gas emissions came from livestock. By the day the book was published, this data had just been revised: it is now believed that it is 51%. Which means that this industry is more responsible for global warming than all other sectors combined. The UN also states that mass animal husbandry is the second or third item on the list of causes of all significant environmental problems on the planet. 

But it shouldn’t be the same! Things on the planet have not always been like this, we have completely perverted nature by industrial animal husbandry. 

I’ve been to pig farms and I’ve seen these lakes of waste around them. They are basically Olympic-sized swimming pools full of shit. I’ve seen it and everyone says it’s wrong, it shouldn’t be. It is so toxic that if a person suddenly gets there, he will die instantly. And, of course, the contents of these lakes are not retained, they overflow and enter the water supply system. Therefore, animal husbandry is the first cause of water pollution. 

And the recent case, the E. coli epidemic? Children died eating hamburgers. I would never give my child a hamburger, never – even if there is even a slim chance that some pathogen might be present there. 

I know many vegetarians who don’t care about animals. They don’t care what happens to the animals on the farms. But they will never touch the meat because of its impact on the environment or human health. 

I myself am not one of those who longs to cuddle with chickens, pigs or cows. But I don’t hate them either. And this is what we’re talking about. We are not talking about the need to love animals, we are saying that it is not necessary to hate them. And don’t act like we hate them. 

Radio Netherlands: We like to think that we live in a more or less civilized society, and it seems that our government comes up with some kind of laws to prevent unnecessary torment of animals. From your words it turns out that no one monitors the observance of these laws? 

Foer: First, it is extremely difficult to follow. Even with the best intentions on the part of the inspectors, such a huge number of animals are slaughtered at such a huge rate! Often, the inspector has literally two seconds to check the insides and the outside of the animal in order to deduce how the slaughter went, which often takes place in another part of the facility. And secondly, the problem is that effective checks are not in their interests. Because treating an animal as an animal, and not as an object of future food, would cost more. This would slow down the process and make the meat more expensive. 

Radio Netherlands: Foer became a vegetarian about four years ago. Obviously, family history weighed heavily on his final decision. 

Foer: It took me 20 years to become a vegetarian. All these 20 years I knew a lot, I did not turn away from the truth. There are many well-informed, smart and educated people in the world who continue to eat meat, knowing full well how and where it comes from. Yes, it fills us up and tastes good. But many things are pleasant, and we constantly refuse them, we are quite capable of this. 

Meat is also chicken soup that you were given as a child with a cold, these are grandmother’s cutlets, father’s hamburgers in the yard on a sunny day, mother’s fish from the grill – these are the memories of our life. Meat is anything, everyone has their own. The food is the most evocative, I really believe in it. And these memories are important to us, we must not mock them, we must not underestimate them, we must take them into account. However, we must ask ourselves: the value of these memories has no limits, or maybe there are more important things? And secondly, can they be replaced? 

Do you understand that if I don’t eat my grandmother’s chicken with carrots, does this mean that the means of conveying her love will disappear, or that this means will simply change? Radio Netherlands: Is this her signature dish? Foer: Yes, chicken and carrot, I’ve eaten it countless times. Every time we went to grandma’s, we expected him. Here is a grandmother with chicken: we ate everything and said that she was the best cook in the world. And then I stopped eating it. And I thought, what now? Carrot with carrot? But she found other recipes. And this is the best evidence of love. Now she feeds us different meals because we have changed and she has changed in response. And in this cooking there is now more intention, food now means more. 

Unfortunately, this book has not yet been translated into Russian, so we offer it to you in English. 

Many thanks for the translation of the radio conversation

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