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Eating Well: Giving Up Meat for a Better World

By: for on Aug. 27, 2010
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Jonathan Safran Foer used to love his grandmother's chicken and carrots. But after his son was born, the bestselling American author decided to give up meat.
Like German author Karen Duve, who is also writing a book about eating ethically, Foer is trying to make the world a better place.

It was a magical moment when Jonathan Safran Foer decided to find out the truth about meat.

The author had just become a father a few minutes earlier, and now he was watching his son suckling at his wife's breast. The newborn's instinct to immediately recognize the correct food source filled him with an unfamiliar sense of reverence. Jonathan Safran Foer was a man with a new responsibility, and he was determined to do everything within his power to make sure that this child would eat the right kind of food in the future.

Foer spent three years researching the subject. He knew that he would discover a different reality than the one portrayed by the animals in the picture books he would look at with his son on the sofa. But the scope of the horror that reality had in store for him was unexpected. He decided that he would raise his child without meat.

Here are five examples, five of the hundreds Foer unearthed during his research:

▪ Industrial-scale poultry farmers inject birds with "broths" and salty solutions, so that they look plump in the store and their meat is more flavorful.
▪ Hog farmers cut off the teeth of piglets and rip out their testicles -- without anesthesia.
▪ In tuna fishing, 145 other species -- fish, birds and mammals -- are also caught in the nets, where they die and are subsequently tossed back into the ocean.
▪ Factory farming accounts for between 18 and 51 percent -- depending on the study -- of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. The biggest offenders are cows, which release methane during digestion. Methane is 23 times as harmful to the climate as CO2.
▪ Some factory farms are so big that they produce more excrement every day than some major cities.

The Search for a Better Life

"As a father, I was confronted with realities that, as a writer, I couldn't keep to myself," says Foer today. The 33-year-old author wrote a book about the horrors of factory farming, which triggered passionate debates about food and nutrition in the United States. His son is now four years old and has a brother, and the rights to "Eating Animals" have been sold in 16 countries. The German-language version, "Tiere Essen," appears in bookstores in Germany on August 19.

Foer shocked hundreds of thousands of people with his book, and for a time the author received angry emails on a daily basis, from people calling him a jerk and complaining that they couldn't eat meat anymore after having read his book.

It's the author's first non-fiction book. Foer, who has published two novels, one about Jewish identity ("Everything Is Illuminated") and one about the 9/11 attacks ("Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close"), is considered an exceptionally talented young writer in the United States. In "Eating Animals," he brings together anecdotes, facts, news coverage and correspondence. He describes breaking into a chicken farm, offers accounts of organic farmers and writes about how his inquiries to major meat producers went unanswered. It is an unsettling and moving document -- the account of a man's search for a better life.

Before long, Foer was thinking about more than just his son. He was thinking about the entire world.

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