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Eating Animals: A Book to Digest

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Jonathan Safran Foer has burst from his comfortable cocoon in the world of fiction writing and thrown four feet into the tussle over the food we eat in America through his first work of nonfiction, Eating Animals. In just the past couple weeks, he's had major pieces in the New York Times Magazine and Wall Street Journal, appeared on Ellen, and seen his new book reviewed in The New Yorker, the Los Angeles Times, and other major media outlets.

Though just 32-years-old, he's already established as an acclaimed novelist and short story writer in American culture, best known for Everything Is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. But he's taken a three-year respite from writing fiction to probe the question of whether we should eat animals -- with this research and writing task triggered by his meditation on what to feed his first child. In bringing us into the deliberation, he's added a powerful new title to the growing body of work examining how we produce food in America and made some of the best arguments I've heard in quite a while.

His three-year quest took him across the country, visiting factory farms, talking with farmers and animal advocates alike, and learning more about the production of meat, eggs, and dairy. It's all packaged together, in a refreshing and nonlinear manner, in Eating Animals -- all of it reflecting the nuances that come from conflicting religious and cultural traditions, our personal struggles with ingrained habits, and economic factors. That said, he's making an argument here, and he skillfully addresses the problems in current thinking that accept eating animals -- including offering a tough critique of Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma) and his decision to continue eating animals as long as certain animal care standards are observed.

Jonathan takes a harsh view of what's happening to animals, and he does some great writing about the waste produced from factory farms, the public health threats of the system, and its other collateral impacts. He questions the contradictions associated with a nation that expresses a profound love of animals, yet does such terrible things to animals raised for food.

He also appropriately shines a spotlight on the fact that not all animal products are equal when it comes to animal welfare. While many people interested in eating ethically may switch from beef to chicken, for example, Jonathan points out why the poultry industry -- especially the egg industry -- is actually responsible for far more animal suffering than the beef industry.

Check out the book and see for yourself. It's more than worth your time, and it already stands as one of the most important contributions to the literature on food and animals that's come about in many years.

This post originally appeared on Pacelle's blog, A Humane Nation.