I’ve developed quite a healthy respect for Jonathan Safran-Foer. I’ve never read any of his novels, but from what I gather, he’s a critically respected writer who could probably carve out a profitable niche churning out books in the vein of Franzen and other contemporary “literary” novelists.
So it must have been somewhat risky, career-wise, for Safran-Foer to write a nonfiction book–about factory farming and vegetarianism no less! (A really good one, as it turns out.)
And he hasn’t stopped there. Safran-Foer has gone on to become a low-key but (in my view) quite effective spokesman for the vegetarian cause. Here’s a recent interview, for example, where Safran-Foer manages to be firm in making the moral case against factory farming without ever coming across as shrill and self-righteous.
Here’s a snippet:
…at the end of the day we need to eat a ton less meat. I have yet to meet the person who disagrees with that statement. Anthony Bourdain agrees with that statement. Can I imagine half the planet going vegetarian? Not anytime soon. Can I imagine half of the meals on the planet being vegetarian. I can—a kind of lifestyle shift in which people might say “I won’t have it at lunch.” And finally can I imagine the government doing anything that would bring about that level of reduction of meat consumption? Impossible. I can imagine them saying “cage size should be increased by three inches,” but to bring about real change, I just can’t see it happening.
But the shift in consciousness that would require half of our meals to be vegetarian doesn’t seem that out of reach. It’s a question of reframing the conversation toward the agreement that we need to eat less meat. The more we know about effects on the environment and on human health and on rural communities, the greater an appreciation we have for why it matters. It’s not that hard to imagine things changing really dramatically, really quickly.
I like this message of “eat a ton less meat.” It’s not going to please hard-core vegans, but it has the advantage of being simple and potentially having a big impact. Buying “humane” meat (and other animal products) can be surprisingly difficult since it means navigating a variety of competing (and often meaningless) labeling schemes, or alternatively, buying directly from a farm where you can observe the conditions the animals are raised under. And, in a lot of cases, it’s also not clear how much better off the animals actually are.
By contrast, virtually anyone can reduce the animal products in their diet, which is less onerus than demanding immediate and total abstention. And yet, people who cut back on meat, etc. may find that they want to go all the way, or nearly so. From the animals’ point of view, the more we reduce meat consumption, the less suffering there is, even if people don’t become total, 100% vegetarians or vegans. (Not to mention the environmental and other benefits.) So, I’m really glad to see Safran-Foer out there making his case.
Link via Vegan.com.
(p.s. I am going to make a point of reading one of Safran-Foer’s novels.)