Friday, October 30, 2009

Natalie Portman on Foer's "Eating Animals"

My recently ordered copy of Jonathan Safran Foer's new book, Eating Animals, which is a departure from his usual (awesometastical) historical fiction and instead a nonfiction "exploring the fictions we use to justify our animal eating habits," can not arrive soon enough.

Actress, Activist and Harvard Alum Natalie Portman shares how her experience with the book moved her from vegetarian to vegan in a recent post on The Huffington Post:

...what Foer most bravely details is how eating animal pollutes not only our backyards, but also our beliefs. He reminds us that our food is symbolic of what we believe in, and that eating is how we demonstrate to ourselves and to others our beliefs: Catholics take communion -- in which food and drink represent body and blood. Jews use salty water on Passover to remind them of the slaves' bitter tears. And on Thanksgiving, Americans use succotash and slaughter to tell our own creation myth -- how the Pilgrims learned from Native Americans to harvest this land and make it their own.

And as we use food to impart our beliefs to our children, the point from which Foer lifts off, what stories do we want to tell our children through their food?

I remember in college, a professor asked our class to consider what our grandchildren would look back on as being backward behavior or thinking in our generation, the way we are shocked by the kind of misogyny, racism, and sexism we know was commonplace in our grandparents' world. He urged us to use this principle to examine the behaviors in our lives and our societies that we should be a part of changing. Factory farming of animals will be one of the things we look back on as a relic of a less-evolved age.

I say that Foer's ethical charge against animal eating is brave because not only is it unpopular, it has also been characterized as unmanly, inconsiderate, and juvenile. But he reminds us that being a man, and a human, takes more thought than just "This is tasty, and that's why I do it." He posits that consideration, as promoted by Michael Pollan in The Omnivore's Dilemma, which has more to do with being polite to your tablemates than sticking to your own ideals, would be absurd if applied to any other belief (e.g., I don't believe in rape, but if it's what it takes to please my dinner hosts, then so be it).

But Foer makes his most impactful gesture as a peacemaker, when he unites the two sides of the animal eating debate in their reasoning. Both sides argue: We are not them. Those who refrain from eating animals argue: We don't have to go through what they go through -- we are not them. We are capable of making distinctions between what to eat and what not to eat (Americans eat cow but not dog, Hindus eat chicken but not cow, etc.). We are capable of considering others' minds and others' pain. We are not them. Whereas those who justify eating animals say the same thing: We are not them. They do not merit the same value of being as us. They are not us.

And so Foer shows us, through
Eating Animals, that we are all thinking along the same lines: We are not them. But, he urges, how will we define who we are?"

Guess I won't be making exceptions for meat in the homes of others anymore. The more I learn, the less I can justifiably eat. Ugh. On a similar note... I sorta loved the last few moments of South Park's Whale Whores episode...

"It wasn't whales and dolphins... It was chickens and cows..."
"Great job son. Now the Japanese are normal like us." 


Becky said...

Not to argue, but the human species has been consuming meat since the dawn of time...who are we now to say that it should stop now. There are 2 sides and many in between, on this argument....I just want to point out that this is only 1.

Deborah said...

Of course. Nothing is black and white and I think it is pretty fair and safe to say that this blog tends to spend most time on this side of the discussion.

I have not received or read the book just yet so can't defend of promote his beliefs or Portmans, but I can say that the difference between human consumption of animals today versus pre-industrialization is extraordinarily different. Catching and killing.... Hunter gatherer... Raising animals for food... all natural, survivalist, human and humane actions. Factory farming and industry of meat as it stands today is a whole different beast.

Of course I can barely kill a spider so surely I have some bias, but I look at my dog and see a spirited little soul and to think that in some countries, he'd be slaughtered and served for dinner is heartbreaking.

It's just like... Why is it that we, myself included, are okay with eating one animal over another? Why is it that I ate (and enjoyed) chicken recently but had the host offered horse or whale, I would have politely declined and probably posted about the cruelity? Why have we let the industrialized food world dictate which animals matter less? And been so content with the complete disconnect?