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Does it matter that Jonathan Safran Foer isn’t vegan?

Foer is not actually shilling for the dairy industry, but should he be doing more to chase people away from it? (Original photo by David Shankbone.)

Foer is not actually shilling for the dairy industry, but should he be doing more to chase people away from it? (Original photo by David Shankbone.)

Writer Jonathan Safran Foer’s been getting a lot of media attention lately for the just published Eating Animals, his first book-length piece of nonfiction, which is very much against the eponymous activity. I haven’t read it, and I don’t expect that I (or most SuperVegan readers) will learn much from it that we don’t already know about what’s wrong with eating animals. This is not a book written for vegans. But it’s a book that vegans ought to have some understanding of.

For better or worse, an established literary novelist like Foer can get people to pay attention to what’s wrong with factory farming in a way that more academic or of-the-movement authors such as Peter Singer or Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson cannot. And Foer is relatively folksy and accessible (if not artless) compared to someone like J.M. Coetzee, whose arguments in defense of animals are unapologetically over most people’s heads, and who isn’t about to do a bunch of press interviews.

Foer finds lots of problems with industrial animal agriculture, and with eating meat in a general ethical sense, but he does not come down against non-meat or non-food animal products. This is a book about meat. That’s got a lot of vegans understandably perturbed–an influential guy sets up a strong argument for many tenets of veganism, yet fails to go there. Mainstream media may not care, but it’s important for us vegans to understand why Foer isn’t vegan, and how he feels about veganism.

Josh Hooten of Herbivore attended a talk by Foer last night at Powell’s Books in Portland, OR. Hooten is the right kind of vegan, and he wrote a great report/defense on the talk (which he posted on Facebook, and graciously allowed me to republish here.) Here’s the first and last sentences, and you can read the whole thing below.

Foer isn’t an animal rights person, he is coming from outside our community and perhaps that is why he is getting the attention he’s getting for his new book Eating Animals.

As a messenger getting people to think about this stuff for the first time, I think he’s amazing.

The only published interview I know of that specifically asks Foer why he isn’t vegan is Katie Drummond’s at True/Slant. The upshot is he’s “transitioning to veganism.” (No doubt it’s better to become vegan slowly and mean it, rather than rush into it and drop out again, as Foer’s done multiple times with vegetarianism.) The interview also reinforces that the book is a primarily a personal essay: “I was just trying to record my own thoughts – as a father, not as an activist or an expert.”

Indeed, it’s this arational approach that’s so off-putting for many committed vegans. Foer’s writing about feelings more than he’s writing about science or even ethics. It’s a loosey-goosey, touchy-feely, “truthiness” approach to coping with animal exploitation. It doesn’t appeal to me personally. But I have no doubt it’s doing good in the world.

And of course feelings are important, if only (especially for rationalist ethical hardasses like me) in how we interface with other people over these issues. An excerpt Elizabeth Kolbert plucked from Foer for her review in this week’s New Yorker (which you should read all of):

Two friends are ordering lunch. One says, “I’m in the mood for a burger,” and orders it. The other says, “I’m in the mood for a burger,” but remembers that there are things more important to him than what he is in the mood for at any given moment, and orders something else. Who is the sentimentalist?

That’s certainly a scenario I can relate to. I may no longer face a dilemma in how I relate to animals, but I bump into trouble all the time in relating to other people about animals. And this is what Foer’s book seems to be about, in addition to detailing the horrors of factory farms and all that stuff we already know about.

Here is Josh Hooten’s full take on Foer’s talk at Powell’s last night:

Foer isn’t an animal rights person, he is coming from outside our community and perhaps that is why he is getting the attention he’s getting for his new book “Eating Animals.” I saw a lot of people I recognized at the talk, but out of the couple hundred who were there, I knew probably a dozen of them. Which means most of his talk was to people outside the AR community. The people who can actually use the information he has.

I feel like a lot of the frustration people are having with Foer is that we want him to have the AR philosophical line and tell people that animals are not for us to use under any circumstance, and he doesn’t do it. But he’s not an animal rights person and his book isn’t an animal rights book, so I feel a bit like he’s being criticized unfairly for that. As much as I want him to say animals aren’t ours to use for any purpose, it just isn’t what he’s about. At least not yet.

This is probably why he can get a few hundred people to come see him speak and we can’t consistently get a dozen people to come to AR events. What he said to the few hundred people there was about food production, mostly, and not about philosophy. And what he said to those people was probably the most radical stuff they’ve ever heard about the food they eat. The fact that he hasn’t completely gone vegan yet seems trivial to me considering how short of a time he’s had this information, how he is coming from outside of the AR community, and how despite those two things he is writing article after article and on a speaking tour perhaps reaching more people than all of us combined ever will.

He said:
– Eggs cause more suffering than beef and if you’re going to give one thing up, make it eggs.
– Fish farms are horrible for the environment and fish always die horribly.
– Turkeys we eat are so fucked up they can’t reproduce naturally and in fact there is nothing natural about them. And that not have a turkey at all on Thanksgiving is a much better celebration and giving of thanks.
– The “good” farms, where the farmers love their animals could never supply us with enough meat to satisfy demand.
– There are farmers who treat their animals well. He jokingly said some treat their animals better than he treats his dog, however, he doesn’t kill and eat his dog and there is something weird in there. And he still wouldn’t eat those animals regardless of how nice their lives were.
– If you still want to eat organic, “humane” meat (quotes mine, not his) you’re going to have to pay a lot for it and your best bet, if you don’t think you have the money, is to eat way way less.
– He said countless euthanized cats and dogs make their way into our food supply because they are ground up and fed to the animals we then eat.
– He described in detail the living conditions of so called “free range” and “cage free” operations and made a point that neither of those words meant cruelty free.
– He described how little space chickens have to live in by holding up his book, and saying “they have about this much space and cannot move and have their appendages cut off.” (i assume he meant debeaking.)
– He said the only way to know about your animal products is to go to the farms yourself because “free range” and “cage free” and “humane” pushers are lying and taking advantage of the public.
– He said if you eat meat you can only be an ironic environmentalist.
– He spoke about how much global warming comes from agriculture
– He said how much greenhouse gas would be saved if we all went vegan one day a week and how many animals would be saved

He said a lot more very informative stuff, the logical conclusion of which is veganism. He didn’t advocate for it, and he didn’t advocate for vegetarianism either really. He just layed out facts and ideas and let people do with it what they wanted. As self-congratulatory as I would have felt if he said “so you’re all going to go vegan after this right?”, I am certain his approach is far more effective.

I think sizing him up through an AR lens is a mistake. I think sizing him up as someone outside this community with a massive, massive audience who he is giving very radical information to and very clearly not preaching to, makes me think he is going to be very effective in alleviating animal suffering, be it by getting people to cut down on meat, eggs, and dairy, or going vegetarian, or going vegan, or at some point going vegan himself.

I also think he has the kind of reach none of us do. If he gets them to think about this information for the first time, many of them will look deeper. The second source of information they get will be from someone a little further down the vegan line hopefully. As a messenger getting people to think about this stuff for the first time, I think he’s amazing.

51 Comments

  1. Comment by

    susie

    on #

    “Foer’s writing about feelings more than he’s writing about science or even ethics.” I think you underestimate how many people conflate feelings with ethics.

    I think Josh is 100% correct. But Jason, you still seem ultimately annoyed by JSF. I for one am way more annoyed about all the people still eating meat — and all the patronizing vegans with their panties in a bunch about what may shape up to be the most influential mainstream veg PR in a long, long time. And that comes from someone who doesn’t even like how the guy writes.

  2. Comment by

    beanmail

    on #

    I have had just about enough of all of the attention that posers garner. There are tons of thoughtful, well-spoken vegans throughout the world and yet the media keeps latching onto half-assed almost-veg*ns. It is the food equivalent of holding a restaurant to a lower standard simply because it’s vegan. Hello! There are plenty of restaurants that are vegan AND taste delicious, just as there are plenty of vegans who are articulate AND the real deal!

    We’ve got a hamburger-inflated Al Gore not wanting to offend the big bucks behind animal agriculture.

    PETA continues to flaunt an array of celebrities who may or may not be vegan.

    Heck, we even have bonafide vegans (Zooey Deschanel) and vegetarians (Natalie Portman) going on mainstream cooking shows and making ridiculous statements like, “All I ever get to eat are raw vegetables” and “It’s hard for vegetarians to get protein”, respectively.

    We’ve all heard the same old story about how the word vegan is “scary”, “non-inclusive”, and therefore alienating. Yep, the pesky truth can be that way. And no, you don’t get to say that you’re a vegetarian AND you eat fish. FISH are NOT VEGETABLES!

    We’ve also all heard the tiresome rant/excuse of how “it’s just not reasonable to expect that [insert population generalization here] can go vegan”. Why? Because it’s not as easy as stuffing our faces as we race through a drive-through?

    Ultimately, the problem with all the media buzz about someone like JSF is that it makes omnivores feel better about themselves just for “knowing” this information, rather than doing anything about it. Next week they’ll be trying out Michael Pollan’s holiday lamb recipe.

  3. Comment by

    annamariah

    on #

    “Hooten is the right kind of vegan”

    Wow, what does this mean?

  4. Comment by

    Dob

    on #

    Foer said he’s transitioning. What more do people want from him? Most of us went through pre-vegan vegetarian periods and were largely encouraged and supported through them. Does Foer not deserve the same courtesy because he’s written a book?

  5. Comment by

    Cat Clyne

    on #

    FYI – He’ll be reading and signing his book in NYC at the Union Square Barnes & Noble on the 16th. Link: http://store-locator.barnesandnoble.com/event/60519

  6. Comment by

    joshivore

    on #

    we’re going to have a hard time growing this community if people we agree almost entirely with and are reaching countless people are called “posers” and are just not good enough for us. we’re also going to have a hard time when people outside this community think they are going to get ripped apart if they don’t get everything right.

    beanmail, read the list of things i said he said last night to a room full of non-vegans. then ask yourself, beyond your own not thinking he’s pure enough, how that can amount to a negative?

  7. Comment by

    veglib

    on #

    He’s raising his kid as a vegetarian, and he and his wife are vegetarians. Yes, it’s bothersome that with such a high-profile book from a well-known novelist, that he’s not vegan himself. But it’s also bothersome that T. Colin Campbell, who IS vegan, has spent his entire career experimenting on animals. He’s no animal rights advocate either. But I still like what he has to say about plant-based living.

    There’s no point in being a veg snob and expecting absolute ethical purity from people, because if you do, you’ll spend your life depressed and hating humanity.

    Look, it took me 50 years to commit to being a vegan, after many transitory experiments in veggie living. I can only hope it doesn’t take Foer as long as it took me.

  8. Comment by

    amber15

    on #

    I am very glad more people are talking and thinking about the rights of animals. We have 6.5 BILLION people on this planet and the AR approach simply won’t work for all 6.5 billion people. I believe many people will come with many differing approaches to reach the 6.5 billion minds that need a way to transition from meat and adapt to a plant based diet. I welcome them all, I don’t judge or choose because its the animals that matter not my ego.

  9. Comment by

    Bea Elliott

    on #

    I think it’s great that he’s getting people out of their comfort zone. It’s got to start with something… And quite frankly it’s exhausting getting people to focus on animals outside the rhelm of “food”. If the public can transition away from “meat” enough to see that animals aren’t “necessary” – the rest comes easier in our advocacy on rights. I think it’s a step in the right direction – but it’s up to us to advance the message to where it needs to go… To go vegan.

  10. Comment by

    Vegan Maven

    on #

    The journey from ovo-lacto-vegetarian to vegan works differently for each person. My route to being vegan came when I finally really understood about abuse of animals that is continually perpetrated by the egg and milk industries. Once I got to this point of “understanding”, I saw how much of a hypocrite I’d been in condemning animal abuse whilst still condoning it by my consumption of eggs and dairy products. I wrote a blog post about this journey called “Are Vegetarians Hypocrites Or Was I The Only One? (“http://veganmaven.com/blog/are-vegetarians-hypocrites-or-was-i-the-only-one”).

    As for JSF, I am about a quarter way through his book and, to me, his writing style and the evidence he provides results in a compelling argument for veganism that many in the mainstream will read and relate to. I think it has the potential to make a significant contribution for the cause of veganism. However, I agree that it is inconsistent (and a bit puzzling) that he would write this powerful stuff and then not go vegan himself.

    I’m curious, does anyone know what is he still doing/eating that makes him vegetarian rather than vegan? (Has he said that he is still consuming eggs/dairy/honey; wearing fur/leather/wool, etc?) I’m really asking, how far along his “transition” to becoming vegan is he?

  11. Comment by

    Cat Clyne

    on #

    See what he says about veganism in Drummond’s interview of him (scroll down), which Jason referenced above: http://trueslant.com/katiedrummond/2009/11/02/eating-animals-jonathan-safran-foer/

  12. Comment by

    Vegan Maven

    on #

    Thanks Cat, I see it now. In Katie Drummond’s interview, JSF says: “Even now, I still sometimes eat dairy and eggs ? never at restaurants, but at home, from a farmer I know, maybe.”

  13. Comment by

    Jason Das

    on #

    “Hooten is the right kind of vegan” means I like and respect how Josh approaches and relates to veganism and animal liberation. It’s an endorsement of his authority and the worthiness of pasting in that giant quote from him.

    To muddy this whole matter, Foer was quoted in the Globe and Mail yesterday saying “I don’t eat eggs or dairy, but my kids do. I don’t think it’s fair to ask a three-year-old not to have birthday cake at parties.” Assuming he wasn’t misquoted, he’s either oversimplifying for a mainstream press interview or has emphatically changed his diet since Drummond interviewed him. (My bet’s on the former.)

    (Thanks to reader Ryan for bringing this to my attention via Twitter.)

  14. Comment by

    Chris

    on #

    I (obviously) think it would be great if he became vegan and thus followed the logical conclusion of the powerful argument he is making (and my feeling is that he will at some point). But either way, he is reaching a lot of people and making them think about these issues for the first time, and that’s great. Ultimately, people have to draw their own conclusions from the facts, and he is giving them the means to do so in a very powerful way. I understand the frustration with his emotional and narration-based approach, but he is, after all, a writer, and he does in this book what he does best – telling a story. I appreciate someone like him putting his incredible talent to work for our cause, and I believe that he wouldn’t be anywhere near as affective in his approach if he tried to do it any other way.

  15. Comment by

    Cat Clyne

    on #

    Foer openly criticizes Michael Pollan in “Eating Animals” for doing just that – eating animals – and having little to no regard for the animals themselves (regardless of how nicely or locally raised they were). Foer distills the reasons Pollan and others eat animals down to an irrational choice of taste. So, in addition to praise from animal rights/vegan peeps for the book, Foer opens himself up to criticism from that community on the same grounds – taste and a blindspot of committed consideration for the animals used to produce eggs and dairy (no matter how nicely raised…). Asking him about veganism is a totally legitimate question.

  16. Comment by

    joshivore

    on #

    i find him not being vegan puzzling too, but again, he hasn’t had this information for a long time, he’s not defending non-veganism with some argument he’s crafted, and he’s obviously open to the idea. he said it’s “where he wants to be” or something like that.

    seeing him speak, in the context of the bigger issues he was talking about, whether or not he had cut out the last eggs and dairy from the local farm he says he gets them from seemed pretty far down on the list of important things to talk about. and i think this because he has not said veganism isn’t the goal. if he was saying veganism was a bad idea or he had no intention of ever going there, i’d be way more concerned than i am with someone who is clearly on the path. weren’t we all in different places on this path?

    our concern with personal behavior (with one single person’s personal behavior) over the bigger issues he’s talking about bother me. if we ask him why he’s not vegan in a room full of non-vegans, is that a better question than “can you explain how the slaughtering of animals from the “friendly” farms varies or doesn’t vary from the slaughter of factory farms?” which one gets useful information into the room and which one scratches our personal itch?

    if NBC news did a week long special report covering exactly what foer is covering, would we be celebrating or would we be concerned whether the whole news division had given up every animal product in their diet?

  17. Comment by

    Sarah

    on #

    Thanks for this article — I’m disturbed by some of the resentment against JSF. I don’t want to see veganism remain fringe. I’d like to see it go mainstream.

    Moving people in the right direction is better than not moving them at all, or telling them it’s all or nothing. 17 years ago I went vegetarian and 1 year later I was vegan — I didn’t go from 0-60MPH and neither did most other vegans I know.

    JSF is definitely reaching a wider audience. He’s making people think about the issues. He’s making people think about their food choices. He’s making people look at a problem most can easily avoid. I wouldn’t give a fig if he was a cattle rancher from Montana — if he can can make people confront an issue that is well hidden from the spotlight, kudos to him.

  18. Comment by

    Patrick Kwan

    on #

    It took me 4 years to go vegan – I was “just” a vegetarian that time, and yes, all that time I knew that there’s more suffering in every glass of milk and every carton of eggs than a chunk of veal. Does it mean that during that 4 years I was “a poser” and shouldn’t have been speaking up for animals?

  19. Comment by

    Veganne

    on #

    While I am frustrated by what I perceive to be JSF’s initial wishy-washiness on actually committing to going veg in the first place–and now with going vegan–I gotta give him credit for taking on that blowhard Anthony Bourdain, who is the actually far more of an “enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit” than me and my fellow vegans. See the original quote here: http://veganbits.com/anthony-bourdain-is-not-a-vegan/
    And the run-in occurred on Larry King Live. Here’s an interview with JSF describing what happened: http://nymag.com/news/intelligencer/encounter/60160/

  20. Comment by

    randomkindness

    on #

    my god, some vegans are the worst nightmare of veganism. i rather have “half assed” people who have an impact than “the right kind of vegans” who just put people of with their purity and self-righteousness. when will we learn?

  21. Comment by

    sriram

    on #

    a good % of indians have been vegetarians forever and never made the jump to veganism – and i’m talking about the ones in the US so they cant claim ignorance about the cruelty going on in dairy farms. some even start eating meat (http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20261474,00.html ). so vegetarianism may not be a station enroute to veganism – the concern abt not making it is well placed. given the desi experience i’d prefer ppl advocating veganism directly

  22. Comment by

    champurrado

    on #

    It seems misguided for vegans to assume that they have the absolute moral high ground over those who are trying to be vegan but still allow their kids to eat eggs and milk, like Foer. I’m “100% vegan” but I still buy non-organic produce from South America that is grown with such high concentrations of pesticides that it kills songbirds and other living creatures (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/30/opinion/30stutchbury.html). I also still buy produce and vegan products in plastic packaging, which winds up in the ocean and contributes to the deaths of countless fish, sea-birds, and other animals (http://www.cdnn.info/news/article/a071104.html). So abstaining from animal products alone does not mean that I am not still implicated in the suffering of animals and the destruction of the environment.
    Of course it’s true that we should all work toward making the most compassionate and responsible choices possible when consuming, but I don’t think it’s fair to cast stones at someone like Foer who has done more to raise awareness about the injustices of food production than I (and many other vegans) ever have. I think the same thing applies to people like Kathy Freston, Michael Pollan, and the many veggie celebs out there. We as vegans may see them and only notice their compromises (and justifiably, wish they would be even more extreme), but the average omnivore sees them and hears a (often compelling) call for a radical change in the way they live. I count this all as progress and consider these people friends of the animal rights movement, not adversaries.

  23. Comment by

    beanmail

    on #

    Like many vegetarians, I stopped eating meat because I didn’t want to take the life of another animal. I initially didn’t understand the cruelty involved in other industries (dairy, wool, etc.), but when I did I immediately went vegan; I believe some people refer to this as an a-ha moment.

    Patrick, if as a vegetarian you were fully aware “…that there’s more suffering in every glass of milk and every carton of eggs than a chunk of veal” but still couldn’t stop yourself from consuming, then yes- I do believe you were a poser. But no, I don’t mean that you then or JSF now shouldn’t speak up for animals.

    Instead, I worry that people are falling over JSF like he is the second coming when he is merely presenting himself as someone who understands, but has yet to make a full commitment. Because, I believe, most Americans are willing to pat themselves on the back for “understanding”, yet will continue eating the standard american diet indefinitely. There is a disconnect that a “spokesperson” like JSF just can’t bridge.

  24. Comment by

    beanmail

    on #

    “You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do” – Henry Ford

  25. Comment by

    Veganfist

    on #

    Oh beanmail, I absolutely love the fact that you concluded your argument with a quote from a Nazi sympathizer.

  26. Comment by

    Rick Taannenbaum

    on #

    Reality is that no matter how much people prefer veganism, most folks are not there yet. That does not mean that vegans should sit back and absent themselves from efforts to reform factory farming. In New York, there is an important bill before the New York Assembly (A.08163)that would ban hen battery cages, veal crates and pig gestation crates on New York farms. Everyone, vegan, vegetarian or meat-eater should support this bill. The Farm Bureau and agribusiness oppose the bill and are doing everything they can to make sure the bill never gets out of the Agriculture Committee. So far, they are doing an excellent job. New Yorkers need to reach out to their assemblyperson and demand that they support the bill. Read more about it at http://www.ab8163.com. Contact the chair of the agriculture committee (William Magee) and demand the committee hold hearing and vote the issue on to the full assembly. Time is short.

    Rick Tannenbaum
    The Hilltop Initiative
    http://www.ab8163.com

  27. Comment by

    Jason Das

    on #

    Twenty-five comments to Godwin time! Let’s see if we can beat that record next time.

  28. Comment by

    beforewisdom

    on #

    Cognitively as well as ethically, Foer is being inconsistent by being a vegetarian and not a vegan.

    His book getting as much popularity as it is by the mainstream is a significant improvement over that same mainstream limelight going to Pollan and Schlosser.

    Those two well informed authors go right up to the edge of the issue of meat and stop short of it. That sends a bad message to the public.

    Foer wrote a book similar to their books and is getting a similar audience. He is bringing meat consumption up and is still open to veganism.

    A huge improvement. Lets not string him up just yet.

  29. Comment by

    beforewisdom

    on #

    Ever hear that saying:

    The perfect is the enemy of the good ?

    I’m glad that in reading these comments I am seeing calls to restrain passing a harsh judgment on Foer.

  30. Comment by

    beforewisdom

    on #

    @amber15 post #8

    Amber, you are wrong. The population of the Earth is not 6.5 billion people. It is 6.9 billion, as in almost 7 billion. Wow, that happened fast:

    http://www.populationconnection.org

    According to the United Nations, the global population could be as high as 11 billion in 2050 or as low as 8 billion, if the right programs are put in place now.

  31. Comment by

    alfredo

    on #

    he is a hypocrite who will make MILLIONS off of this book by rehashing vegetarian ideals, that have been rehashed in a million zines..this is not anything NEW at all. at all.

    he is also , aside from NOT being a vegan, a zionist.

    his contributions to israel have directly/indirectly led to the deaths of Palestinian men/women and children. crimes against humanity still trump crimes against animals.

    yet he doesn’t comment on this.

  32. Comment by

    beforewisdom

    on #

    Alfredo, I take it that you will not be buying his book?

  33. Comment by

    spenzr

    on #

    Jason, first of all…if your not going to read the book then you really should not be discussing it. I think that the animals that are suffering need all the help they can get. He did research and visited farms and is not just speaking hearsay. I think a lot of vegans are vegans because of feelings. We feel for the animals and their conditions, as well as the health issues. The more peoples understand about their food choices, the better.

  34. Comment by

    Cat Clyne

    on #

    The Godwin Law – Jason, I’d never heard of that. So spot-on! (Sadly.) Thanks for introducing me to that.

  35. Comment by

    tofu_hunter

    on #

    I’m still waiting for mr. soulveggie to pipe in and tell us how much disgusting fat JSF contains.

  36. Comment by

    veganfateater

    on #

    @tofu_hunter, post #35

    I had to laugh at your post. I’ve seen that dude pull that shtick on several vegan/vegetarian forums, blogs and lists. Apparently, he never got the memo that not everyone thinks of his opinion as a gift and that they are entitled to have their sites to their own liking.

  37. Comment by

    Peace Loving Vegan Police

    on #

    First of all, nice article, but the “Got Pus?” image of Foer is unnecessary and not even funny. (If it were funny I’d be fine with a little parody, but it’s just lame.)

    beanmail said
    “Ultimately, the problem with all the media buzz about someone like JSF is that it makes omnivores feel better about themselves just for “knowing” this information, rather than doing anything about it. Next week they’ll be trying out Michael Pollan’s holiday lamb recipe.”

    Yes.

    As for Foer’s transitioning. My gut reaction is that if he’s still trying to get his shit straight, perhaps he shouldn’t have written a book on the subject. He could be vegan tomorrow or maybe swing to humane meat if he becomes one of those “veganism is too hard so I eat grass fed-beef” types. So pardon me if I’m not ready to throw in with Foer, he’s just not saying the sort of things that makes me think that he’s has the makings of a long term vegan especially when he’s not even vegan yet.

    He’s a smart guy and has done plenty of recent research (mostly on factory farming), but I’m bracing myself for when he says something stupid, we all do, but he’s representing all vegetarians in a public way, so it matters. He lacks long term experience as a vegan (though, arguably his naiveté is probably an asset, but it can work against vegans very quickly).

    He’s delivering the same age old confusing message of “it’s the cruelty, not the use” that on the surface seems reasonable, but is the antithesis of the vegan position. It may be politically comfortable, and perhaps a few people will go vegan, but it still keeps this vegan idea as fringe.

    I’m not hating on Foer, I purchased his book and I appreciate his approach, love the Michael Pollan retorts, loved that he touched on linked oppressions (important!), loved the world table metaphor he presented at the end of the book and many other ways of his phrasing the issues. I agree that the exposure he’s getting is a good, but it’s important to remember that his book isn’t advocating veganism. I’d go so far as to say that he makes going vegetarian seem difficult and restrictive and that doesn’t bode well for us vegans. Once again, he’s a vegetarian author that holds up a symbolic “out,” by offering small farm produced animal foods as okay. He goes back and forth on this, but overall, he gives humane meat a thumbs up. We even meet a vegetarian cattle rancher who raises animals to be slaughtered, but it’s okay since it’s the right way to exploit animals.

    randomkindness said
    “my god, some vegans are the worst nightmare of veganism. i rather have “half assed” people who have an impact than “the right kind of vegans” who just put people of with their purity and self-righteousness. when will we learn?”

    Last I checked this was SuperVegan not SuperVegetarain or SuperSmallFarms so sorry if I dare comment on the scope of veganism in regards to an authors work.

    joshivore said
    “we’re going to have a hard time growing this community if people we agree almost entirely with and are reaching countless people are called “posers” and are just not good enough for us.”

    But I don’t agree almost entirely and since a major point I disagree on, is a big one. Everybody (vegan and non-vegan) thinks factory farming is horrible and stupid. All those people certainly don’t grow the vegan community, political allies sure, but that’s about it. Foer (or anyone else) is more than welcome into this vegan community (whatever it is exactly) but he needs to, you know, be vegan. He certainly isn’t eligible for Vegan of The Year, he’s not even eligible for Vegan Rookie of the Year, since he’s in a different league called Vegetarianism.

    Personally, while it’s nice to shoot the shit on the Internet with other vegans I don’t need a community for me to do what I’ve decided is the obvious thing to do, like Foer seems to have done, but then again hasn’t quite done. I live in the same city he does, the diet part of being vegan just isn’t hard, it’s hardly worth mentioning it’s so easy. Certainly some young vegans in vegan hostile areas could use Internet community support, but Foer is a very educated thirty-something year old living in Park “Vegan Pizza” Slope that has all the facts, he doesn’t need any hand-holding.

    veglib said
    “But it’s also bothersome that T. Colin Campbell, who IS vegan, has spent his entire career experimenting on animals. He’s no animal rights advocate either.”

    T. Colin Campbell doesn’t typically describe himself as a vegan and makes a point to (correctly) use the phrase whole-foods plant-based diet when describing what he’s all about. He’s always understood that a plant-based diet and veganism are not synonyms. The animal testing he did was done before he reached his decision to stop consuming animal foods the same way vegans ate meat for years before getting hip to the idea so I’m not sure it’s worth picking on that. It’s important to remember that while he may eat like a vegan, he may or may not think like one, I’m not so sure that he would be conflicted with using animals in experiments today if he thought the research was worthwhile. However, I’ve heard in a more candid interview that Campbell has become receptive to vegan ideas over the years, so it’s hard to know for sure. Assuming he’s not vegan, but just eating a plant-based diet, if he were to be persuaded by some data that meat or milk or eggs or fish or some animal food was indeed beneficial for health, he wouldn’t advocate against consuming it, and as a nutritionist and a scientist that just trying to deliver straight advice as he sees it, I wouldn’t hold that against him.

    I don’t consider health advocates of plant-based diets as vegans because we know that nutritional science is complex and is constantly in flux. (Yes, yes, they save animals just the same, I get it.) There’s not that much evidence to suggest that veganism is the most optimal diet EVAR, and there’s decent evidence to suggest that being vegan is fine and if done appropriately holds certain benefits but there’s evidence that animal products once and a while aren’t a big deal as far as health is concerned and may even be beneficial as well. It’s this reason that Dean Ornish is okay with fish and eggs, going by health data alone fish seems more beneficial than not in helping to reverse heart disease, but Neal Barnard, who is vegan, doesn’t go there.

    veglib said
    “Look, it took me 50 years to commit to being a vegan, after many transitory experiments in veggie living.”

    It’s not your fault. It takes that long because straight forward vegan positions are hard to come by. It’s all health and woo, cruelty and suffering, and the very fashionable save the planet jive that never eliminates sources of pollution, only reduces it, so I’m not sure why anyone would expect someone to stop eating meat entirely. All good stuff to build upon, but it’s a very rare event when mainstream media has a serious discussion about the unquestioned exploitation of animals.

    champurrado said
    “So abstaining from animal products alone does not mean that I am not still implicated in the suffering of animals and the destruction of the environment.”

    Which is why I’m not all rah rah about vegan arguments for health, environment, and suffering. It’s all bound up in degree not in the moral questioning of animal exploitation. Song birds dying from pesticide use is an everybody issue, not an exclusive vegan issue. Sure vegans probably care more, but you don’t need to be vegan to think that poisoning wildlife with pesticides if you can avoid not doing so is something that should be addressed. Catching or raising songbirds to be sold as pet stores or to use their feathers for hats or whatever is something that takes a vegan mindset to question.

    Oh, and by the way, I’m not “abstaining” from animal products since “to refrain deliberately and often with an effort of self-denial from an action or practice” (Merriam Webster) is not what my veganism is.

    champurrado said
    “We as vegans may see them and only notice their compromises (and justifiably, wish they would be even more extreme),”

    Yeah, because veganism is “extreme.” See, this is the kind of language that is really annoying, and it’s even more annoying from vegetarians and “100% vegans.” I don’t want vegans to be “extreme” or even “100% vegan,” I’d prefer to hear about questioning the culturally accepted exploitation of animals. Foer doesn’t go there. Pollan objects to the idea. Mark Vegan-Plus Bittman thinks not eating meat twice a day is a good idea so long as you don’t bring up that ethics mumbo-jumbo. Kathy Freston is too new agey for me to figure what her motivation is. Health? Reducing toxins? Aligning her chakras? Cleansing her spirit? What does her gluten-free diet have to do with veganism exactly? (I haven’t read her book , so perhaps I’m being unfair). That’s great that they are out there doing their thing (and the list of people I left off is long), but they don’t represent a vegan position. A serious vegan conversation is still alien in the mainstream.

    Is it great that Foer is out there? Sure. Does it matter that Jonathan Safran Foer isn’t vegan? Of course it does. As a citizen of the United States and the planet Earth, I’m glad that people are being confronted about factory farming in Eating Animals, but as a vegan, I feel that a vegan perspective isn’t being represented, not thoroughly anyway. There are more than enough public figures and media sources like documentaries and such beating factory farming and small farms to death, it would be great to have some major media players (that I could be agree almost entirely with) out there advocating veganism.

  38. Comment by

    al oof

    on #

    while i do think more attention could be paid to people who are already vegan, there are a few things about jsf that bear mention.

    one – he was famous before this book, and it’s not his vegetarianism that is getting him attention. so it’s not really fair to compare his notoriety to less well known vegan writers as if he’s exploiting vegetarianism.

    two – a lot of people struggle with their food choices. there are a lot of reasons people eat what they eat -before- they start considering ethics. a lot of us have to work through those things before we can go all the way. seeing that you can struggle, lapse and still eventually -be- vegan (which he seems to be implying is his goal), is important for people at large. i know too many folks who broke down and ate something and decided to just give up on the whole thing.

    and the last thing i want to mention is, so far as i can tell, this book is totally unreadable. i guess there is a certain literary audience for it, but it’s certainly not going to be terribly influential.

  39. Comment by

    Rachel

    on #

    Thank you for posting this. Its so intelligent and thoughtful. At the end of the day, whether Foer is vegan or not, he is in the inquiry and reaching people who otherwise are not open to the vegan message. And that can only help create a compassionate world for everyone. If we attack people in the movement who are not perfect, we will keep driving people away from the message until we have two people on a message board somewhere yelling at eachother that they’re not vegan enough. And one guy in a hut in the woods thinking the two of them aren’t vegan enough. So what is more important – your ego, and getting to be better than someone else or having a world that works for the animals? We may disagree on how to get there, but I hope our goal is the latter.

    The New Yorker had a good book review on “Eating Animals” which ended with “Vegetarianism asks people to give up real and irreplaceable pleasures. And to his credit Foer isn’t afraid to ask.”

    But all pleasures are real and irreplaceable to some extent and subjective and replaceable to another. And our tastes do shift. I used to love eating meat, it was a complete pleasure for me to suck on saucy ribs and pull the fragments of flesh off the bones, but even typing that now makes me gag. Its easy to replace your pleasures, if you are willing to do so.

    And besides, there are plenty of things we all crave we can’t have. Why is a craving so special? Its a short-term physical or emotional pull that may feel strong in the instance, but it passes. No one says that you should give into your craving to buy something you can’t afford, so why is meat any different? You have to balance the short term craving against long term commitments. Those long term commitments are what makes us who we are. I am organized as a vegan. It is what gives my life its structure. I have vegan friends, I read vegan literature, I go to vegan restaurants, I eat amazing vegan food, I make every decision in function of it – where to shop, what to wear or carry or drive. And its because I am committed to something and that is a compassionate world that works for every being in it. How can that not trump a slice of cheese?

    Our whole consumerist culture is about “spend to satisfy your cravings.” And so we think that cravings mean something. They don’t. We have no understanding of “need” versus “want.” Another problem with cravings is because they aren’t really real – they are quickly satisfied and the next thing pops up. So you bought those shiny red boots. Two days later, they are in your closet and the next pair of boots beckons. And so you are focused so hard on what you don’t have that you don’t bother to see all that you do. And you only ever see yourself. Even when you look at others its always through the prism of yourself and your needs.

  40. Comment by

    Melissa Bastian

    on #

    I have read the entire book, and I’m posting dissections of each chapter on the Vegan Etsy blog as well as on my own blogs, one per week. I don’t think it’s a perfect book, but I think it’s a good book. More importantly, I think it will be very influential.

    Here we have a popular young author publishing book-length nonfiction for the first time on a topic that many are already interested in. He’s been on Ellen, he’s been on Martha. Moms may start to think, hey, maybe I should read that book. Maybe I should think about a vegetarian dinner or two. Or at the very least, maybe I should pay more attention to where these animal products are coming from. It’s impossible to say what kinds of seeds this book could plant, but all of them are for our cause.

    I have read this book carefully and closely. There is absolutely nothing in it that contradicts vegan ethics. Nowhere does it promote eating milk, eggs, or cheese; actually it even points out the factory farm origins of the vast majority of eggs. It is simply a book that focuses on flesh eating. There’s plenty of well-researched information about the environmental impacts of factory farming, as well as how the animals and workers are treated.

    It’s a book well worth reading, and I wholeheartedly believe that both the book and the author should be supported by the vegan community.

  41. Comment by

    sri

    on #

    hes not only not vegan(yet), he seems careless about what even being vegetarian means! why use hitler’s (non)vegetarianism to refute tolstoy on slaughterhouses and wars? irritating..

  42. Comment by

    Kenny

    on #

    Kudos to Josh Hooten and JSF. Like Josh said, JSF is reaching more people than most of us combined ever will. Whether he’s vegetarian, vegan, whatever, he’s someone we should be thankful for, not criticize.

  43. Comment by

    Adam

    on #

    “of-the-movement authors such as Peter Singer”
    HA HA HA HA, WHAT???

  44. Comment by

    Jason Das

    on #

    Good call, Adam! Would have been better if I said something like “wonky authors such as Peter Singer.”

    Singer and Foer are both doing a lot to forward the cause of animal rights/protection, but without subscribing to veganism as a specific/necessary stepping stone.

  45. Comment by

    Carnivore

    on #

    I love how beanmail is a vegan but sees no problem with keeping a animal confined to her home instead of being out in the wild like dogs originally were, what sense does that make?

  46. Comment by

    Melissa Bastian

    on #

    Carnivore – your personal comment about beanmail makes no sense. Dogs were domesticated hundreds (thousands?) of years ago. The dog that she owns could no more survive in the wild than an infant human could. I recently adopted a rabbit from a shelter in Long Island where he was about to be euthanized. Would you care to criticize me for not bringing him out to the woods, when I know full well that domesticated rabbits are not able to survive in the wild? Please don’t bother to answer that as it’s COMPLETELY OFF TOPIC.

  47. Comment by

    beek0

    on #

    These comments are way old but I want to say this:
    This book may not be what vegans want it to be, but it’s exactly what I needed and is responsible for bringing me back to veganism. I work at a public library and the waitlist for it is miles long–a lot of people are connecting with this book. It may not validate your beliefs in exactly the way you’d like, but it’s the dialogue I’d been waiting a long time for and I’m grateful to him for writing it.

  48. Comment by

    Rea Warrecker

    on #

    I read the book recently and found it very enjoyable from a literary perspective (issues aside). I was bothered by his failure to even MENTION the dairy industry, but the ethical premise in his book supports veganism as far as I could see. If he doesn’t make the final transition to veganism, he would be subject to criticism based on his own logic and would ultimately come off as a hypocrite. But, as others said, it can take time. Being vegan for a long time and trying to remember the transition is kind of like being 40 years old and trying to remember preschool – you just forget. Foer’s journey gives us insight into the thoughts/conflicts/questions that can occur during what is essentially a life-changing breakthrough (re-thinking animals in a culture that is totally absorbed in their exploitation). This gives Foer a unique advantage because he ‘speaks the language’ of a person questioning the ethics of eating animals, as opposed to the language of someone who has reached a conclusion and can come off as ‘preachy’.

    Funny how different people are…I read that some of you hated his literary style…wow, I loved it! Kinda reminded me of John Irving (Cider House Rules, A Prayer for Owen Meany).

  49. Comment by

    Carol

    on #

    Hi, I just finished the book and like the author have been on again off again with being a vegetarian. I think his book will help many people like me to begin to understand the gravity of the situation. I would strongly recommend all pro-animal groups to see this book as a victory. It will get a lot of people like me headed in the right directions. Thanks!

  50. Comment by

    Laryssa

    on #

    I appreciated reading this post and all your comments – I like your varying viewpoints. I just wanted to say that JSF’s book inspired me to try vegetarianism for the first time at age 25. I had never previously considered it. Now, almost a year later, I have completely embraced the vegetarian lifestyle and have taken a great interest in veganism. I am transitioning to veganism. Personally, I’ve never heard him claim to be anything other than a writer, and I think he’s done a great job inspiring me to make a paradigm shift and help educate others in during my journey.

  51. Comment by

    Jacen

    on #

    Everyone who is criticizing JSF disgusts me. You want animal rights, don’t you? Here is a man convincing people to become vegetarians! I was a huge meat lover and complete ignorant until I randomly picked up his book, read the first few pages and decided I would touch meat again. Just because he’s not a perfect vegan doesn’t mean he’s not doing right in this world. The people here getting frustrated with JSF for not completely campaigning for their view is why vegans get a bad wrap. Isn’t doing something better than doing nothing?

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