Animals

 

Analyzing the flesh eaters

NYTIMES.COM | JENNIFER SCHUESSLER | 11/15/09

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Read More: carol j. adams, eating animals, jeff masson, jonathan safran foer, michael pollan, vegetarian history

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Back in 1990, when a scholar named Carol J. Adams published "The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory," it was nominated for the Diagram Prize, an annual award given to the book with the most inherently ludicrous title. It's coming back into print next March, and at the right moment, too. These days, the meaning of meat is anything but a boutique academic concern. Bookstores are full of titles like Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson's "Face on Your Plate" and Michael Pollan's "Omnivore's Dilemma," which ponder the ethics of flesh-eating, while books like Scott Gold's "Shameless Carnivore," Bill Buford's "Heat" and Julie Powell's forthcoming memoir "Cleaving" -- in which the author of "Julie & Julia" overcomes a marital crisis by training as a globe-trotting butcher (think "Chop, Flay, Love") -- explore what might be called its erotics. Rummaging around inside a pig carcass in gloves, Powell grumbles, "Now I know why men hate condoms."

For Jonathan Safran Foer, there's nothing sexy about a dead pig. He's a committed vegetarian, and he hopes that by the end of EATING ANIMALS (Little, Brown, $25.99) you will be, too. Within weeks of meeting, he and his wife (the novelist Nicole Krauss) were sharing qualms about meat. After their son was born, they gave it up entirely. But there remained the problem of the rest of the world, still waging "war" against animals, one factory-farmed burger at a time. "When I was 2," Foer writes, "the heroes of all of my bedtime stories were animals." But what kind of stories need to be told about real animals before we stop eating them?

Foer certainly digs deep into his bag of narrative tricks. "Eating Animals" is a postmodern version of Peter Singer's 1975 manifesto "Animal Liberation," dressed up with narrative bells and whistles befitting the author of "Everything Is Illuminated" and "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close." Foer mixes personal memoir, a glossary of terms ("PETA: pronounced like the Middle Eastern bread, and among the farmers I met, significantly better known"), dramatic monologues by various real-life characters ("I Am a Vegan Who Builds Slaughterhouses," "I Am the Last Poultry Farmer") and chapter titles -- "Hiding/Seeking," "Influence/Speechlessness" -- that would make Jacques Derrida (quoted more than once) proud. There are reams of meticulously gathered facts about the horrors of factory farming. In a Swiftian mood, Foer even throws in a Filipino recipe for "Stewed Dog, Wedding Style." "Can't we get over our sentimentality?" he asks. "Dogs are plentiful, good for you, easy to cook and tasty, and eating them is vastly more reasonable than going through all the trouble of processing them into protein bits to become the food for the other species that become our food." (Cats and dogs in American shelters are about twice as likely to be euthanized as adopted.)

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