Jonathan Safran Foer is “Against Meat.” What about you?

Today The New York Times published their food issue. (Mmm…) And while all of the articles are interesting (Michael Pollan talks food rules! Jamie Oliver puts Huntington, W. Va. on a diet!) the one that resonated with me the most was “Against Meat” by Jonathan Safran Foer. In it, he discusses his reasons for raising his kids (and himself) vegetarian, and I have to admit they are pretty compelling.

Foer, like me (and I’d guess many of you) originally became a vegetarian when he was an adolescent and began realizing that, yes, meat really does come from animals and yes, you really do have to kill the animals before you can eat them. Says Foer of going veg at that time,

[I stopped eating meat] because it was the extension to food of everything my parents had taught me. We don’t hurt family members. We don’t hurt friends or strangers. We don’t even hurt upholstered furniture. My not having thought to include farmed animals in that list didn’t make them the exceptions to it. It just made me a child, ignorant of the world’s workings. Until I wasn’t.

Of course, like my own teenybopper vegetarianism, Foer’s antimeat lifestyle lasted for a few years, until it became a hassle, and it didn’t seem quite that important anymore. Eventually, (and I am majorly paraphrasing a great article here, so do check out the original) he met a woman who shared his spotty meat-eating past, and the two of them became both engaged and Born Again Vegetarians. Until they weren’t. Vegetarianism can be tough.

The article (which is a chapter from Foer’s upcoming book Eating Animals) includes beautiful descriptions of past family meals of chicken and sushi that have meant much to Foer, and reasons why we as human beings love to eat meat (mostly because it tastes good, but also because of the aforementioned family meals and the ways in which food begets community). However, Foer reasons that this should not be the end-all-be-all rationalization behind our collective meaty diet. Another quote,

A vegetarian diet can be rich and fully enjoyable, but I couldn’t honestly argue, as many vegetarians try to, that it is as rich as a diet that includes meat. (Those who eat chimpanzee look at the Western diet as sadly deficient of a great pleasure.) I love calamari, I love roasted chicken, I love a good steak. But I don’t love them without limit.

It is because of this food consciousness (and darned sense making) that Foer and his wife decided to commit to vegetarianism full time, and to raise their two children in a meat-free kitchen. He makes a great case for the decision, citing statistics we’ve seen before that list meat production as the number one cause of global warming, and reminding us of how difficult it is to get actually ethically-produced meat. Again with the argument,

This isn’t animal experimentation, where you can imagine some proportionate good at the other end of the suffering. This is what we feel like eating. Yet taste, the crudest of our senses, has been exempted from the ethical rules that govern our other senses. Why? Why doesn’t a horny person have as strong a claim to raping an animal as a hungry one does to confining, killing and eating it? It’s easy to dismiss that question but hard to respond to it. Try to imagine any end other than taste for which it would be justifiable to do what we do to farmed animals.

I am sharing this article here because food is decidedly a feminist issue, and as feminists I’m sure most of us have dedicated some brain cells to this topic. I myself quit being a vegetarian mainly out of laziness (and also because well, bacon is delicious), and have felt sporadically guilty about my eating habits since. When that has happened (the guilty feeling) in the past, I’ve taken a cue from Julie Andrews and thought of a few of my favorite things: tacos al pastor, chicken salad, spicy tuna rolls, etc. I have also taken a cue from food television, where hosts like Anthony Bourdain and Ina Garten make eating meat look amazing and where they basically make fun of you through the television if you aren’t willing to go for second helpings on the tripe casserole.

Foer is giving me pause here, though. After all, there are lots of things I’d like to do (shoplifting, skipping work, telling certain people on the bus how I really feel about their decision to chew gum in my ear, etc.) that I choose not to because it would be unethical. Why don’t I subject my diet to this same scrutiny?

Of course, this is a privileged person’s problem. Many people all over the world don’t have the option of becoming vegetarian, or vegan, or eating organic, or even eating at all. I, however, do. And so does Jonathan Safran Foer, and so do many others of us who read The New York Times and write blog posts and live within a mile of about six grocery stores. Can we continue to eat meat and not think twice about it?

I’ll be honest; after reading Foer’s book excerpt I made myself a vegetarian dinner (which was pretty good). However, for lunch I had beef Pho (which was deeelicious), so I can’t claim to be on the wagon just yet. I’d be interested though, in hearing how others of you are responding to this piece. Do you eat meat? If so, do you feel okay about that decision? How do you rationalize your food choices when it comes to the environment and your own code of ethics? Or are you (like me, though I hope to change) too easily convinced that you should spend your time thinking about other things, like how delicious a club sandwich sounds right about now? What’s a hungry feminist to do?

by Kelsey Wallace
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Kelsey Wallace is an editor in Portland, Oregon. Follow her on Twitter if you like TV and pictures of dogs.

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15 Comments Have Been Posted

Interesting article. I

Interesting article. I personally do not eat meat and have not for about four years. My reasons are pretty simple: meat is not very healthy, and I want to be responsible for as little death as possible. Really, how many meat eaters would continue to claim they couldn't do without meat if they had to be the one to chop it out of the animal themselves?

On that note, I'd like to point out that the global warming argument, and also the animal cruelty argument, is a very slippery slope. Sure, if everyone stopped eating meat fewer animals would suffer. However, a good number of species would also become extinct as a result. And maybe this is a better alternative, but we should be careful not to imagine a vegetarian world and one with happy farm animals frolicking around in open pastures.

I think the problem that we run into when trying to argue for vegetarianism is that it is not something that could ever become public policy, no matter how logical or compelling. I find eating meat immoral, but do not ever push this ideology on the people around me. Just like any other decision of morals or values, it's a completely personal decision. I'd just rather not have it on my conscious.

vegetarianism as a "hassle"

Being a vegetarian is a "hassle." I wanted to go vegetarian when I was 15. However, my boarding school told me they would not provide me with vegetarian food other than iceberg lettuce and salad dressing (the lettuce had fingernails in it, for the record). However, once I left the boarding school (hallelujah!) , I started eating vegetarian. Of course, I am very fortunate to be able to make this decision. Because of factors like my income and location, I am able to be vegetarian. One of my friends, H, wants to go vegan (he is a vegetarian now). However, H does not have enough money to buy the necessary provisions. It's sad that there are factors that limit vegetarianism and veganism. However, I do my best to stick to a vegetarian diet (although I sometimes relent when my dad makes grilled salmon). When there's no vegetarian food available and I have to go hungry for a few hours, I just try to remind myself that this is a small price to pay for following my own code of ethics.

In my own personal

In my own personal experience, I've found that being vegan does not cost any more than being vegetarian. I still eat the same things I ate when I was a vegetarian, minus dairy and egg products. Granted, I don't know H's situation and I don't know what his budget consists of. Beans, vegetables (canned, frozen or fresh), grains are all vegan. And hey, there's always dumpster diving if you have access and/or are brave enough to go for it. Veganism does not require that you buy faux-meats, vegan cheeses, special frozen meals, etc. Ramen noodles are vegan as long as you throw away the spice packet. I will cop to eating ramen noodles with salt, lime juice and hot sauce. I have no shame.

I'm not trying to police anyone's decisions to become or not to become vegan and I also realize by me saying this that it opens a whole new issue of class and I don't mean to do it, but I am just saying that there is sometimes a misconception that being vegan versus being vegetarian costs more. I'm living proof that it's possible! (However, my going vegan was initially spurred by me self-diagnosing myself as having a dairy intolerance so what is now a choice became a necessity at the time.)

food rituals

I find the section of the article where he talks about food rituals to be interesting. Growing up, my favourite dish was my mom's spaghetti and meat sauce. I loved it and we ate it 2, maybe 3 times a week. Even after nearly 9 years as a vegetarian it is still the number one dish that I miss. The first few years of being vegetarian were a bit of a struggle, not a hassle but a challenge. It was hard to go without family traditions - turkey at thanksgiving, ham at easter, hot dogs over the fire. In the last few years it has become easier, partly because my family has stopped seeing it as a phase, and partly because we have found new favourites in place of the old. Now we enjoy a good curry, mushroom stroganoff with nuts or veggie burgers. I see embracing the challenge as a step to changing the way people think. I don't believe all people should be vegetarian and I don't go around actively trying to convert people. I am always happy to share if people ask but I try to show that vegetarian food can be delicious, nutritious and fun. If I can get some people to think about vegetarianism or about going meat free one or two days a week, that is enough to make a difference.


I too became a vegetarian in my mid teens and for very similar reasons: I just happened to be on a relatives farm the day 20 or more cattle where shipped to slaughter. Unlike Foer and Wallace I stayed true to my vegetarianism. I began to do research about factory farms and piece together memories of watching baby calves cry when they were taken from their mothers (same farm) and 3 years later cut out all animal products left in my diet.

I must admit, these days my reasons for my veganism have changed. I love to grown my own food and try to eat as local as possible (which is VERY difficult in Chicago). I compost, I ride my bike everywhere (even in the winter), make clothes out of recycled fabrics, buy everything possible in bulk and so on. If I'm taking all of these steps to decrease my carbon footprint why wouldn't I try to eat at the lowest and most efficient trophic level?

The bottom line is for me, food is a feminist issue. Its all come down to ethics - domestic violence is wrong (I think we can all agree on this) so why kill animals? I don't want to see anyone suppressed, no matter how many legs they walk on.

I think you explained

Stop making excuses

I truly do not understand the "Vegetarianism is hard" complaint. How so? It's extremely easy in today's society to walk into ANY restaurant and find at least one vegetarian dish. I will admit that it is mildly more difficult as a vegan, but to me, there's no other option. I refuse to be lazy and lamely argue "But it tastes gooood!" when I know the unspeakable horrors committed against farm animals. It is savage and selfish to merely eat something just because it's "deeelicious" while blindly ignoring the effects your meal has on other living creatures and the environment.

Also, the argument regarding food ritual is completely ridiculous. I strongly disagree the implication that vegan food cannot beget community. I have found the exact opposite to be true. This article seems to have been written as a lame attempt at making the author feel better about her own food choices, as clearly there is some guilt there.

Other alternatives?

I find that vegetarianism is often a (perfectly natural) reaction to the appalling state of our industrial meat production. I wonder, if we treated animals better within the context of our food chain, if people would necessarily feel that vegetarianism was the only ethical option. Personally, I don't see an inherent problem with killing and eating animals, but I see a MAJOR problem with the way we do it, with no respect and so inhumanely. But I'd like to see the reaction to industrial meat production be about trying to change it, and to get back to a more humane way of raising and eating animals, rather than a blanket condemnation of meat-eating.

Of course, part of humanely and respectfully raising and eating animals involves not eating so damn much of them. While I see no inherent problem with eating animals, I also think we're not meant to eat meat everyday. Not even close.

Ok, off soapbox now. :-)

and time goes by so sloOwly

Wow. These comments are so fantastic and detailed, I'm not sure how much I can add that hasn't been said.

In terms of my own experience with vegetarianism, I stopped eating meat for the first time when I was 13. That lasted about a year -- I had a hard time finding vegetarian options at the time. That has since changed a great deal -- and I decided to take the plunge again around age 18. Ten years later I haven't looked back. I think, in the beginning, the leap was difficult because I was so used to having certain types of meals, and favorite foods, and taking meat out of the equation felt like losing something. But as time went by it got easier and easier. I found new favorite foods (lots of them!) and I continuously get to try things I never would have tried if I kept eating what was being marketed to me.

Now, I can't even imagine going back to eating meat. And I think if you want to go vegetarian, you should absolutely try to find a way to make it work for you. But don't feel bad if you fall off the wagon a few times. At least you're thinking about it, and making an effort. And believe me, it absolutely gets easier as time goes by.

I've been vegetarian for 15

I've been vegetarian for 15 years (also as a "save the animals" teenager) and mostly vegan for 10. I say "mostly" because a few years ago I started eating cheese and dairy occassionly while I'm out (my partner is vegan and we keep a vegan kitchen at home). I love cheese and I love creamy desserts and don't want my diet to become an exercise in self-denial or martyrdom, it's about reducing the harm to my body, the earth and other living creatures, so I eat a little cheese now and then when I'm at a restaurant.

I've spoken to so many people who say "I think vegetarianism is great but I could never give up (chicken, bacon, turkey at Christmas etc)." So why not go vegetarian except for chicken? Or simply eat less meat/dairy/eggs etc? I think if vegetarianism was not presented as an all-or-nothing lifestyle many more people would reduce the animals in their diet.


Here is a good video on the meat industry if you are interested:


I'm really frustrated with these wishy-washy articles that treat meat-eating like a huge dilemma. What is the hard decision here? It tastes good vs. It's destroying the environment, more expensive, incredibly cruel, low quality, and unhealthy. And there's no argument more ridiculous than "we've been eating meat our lives and it's tradition so how could we stop?" You know what else is tradition? Sexism. Slavery is tradition; so are classism and homophobia. If I reject meat as part of culture, it's only one more rejection of a culture that embraces cruelty. This decision is not about you, and it is not a personal choice. It's about the countless animals that will be abused and killed because of you.

All right, I get that it's hard at first. It takes a little will power to look at a something that used to be delicious and say no. But it's not any harder than making any other change for your health or ethics. Don't admit that a decision makes absolute complete sense and then try to justify not making that change. Your only excuse is selfishness and hypocrisy.

Love him and his books. Will

Love him and his books.
Will be reading this whilst having a BLT though.

urg i am a vegan, was raised

urg i am a vegan, was raised a vegetarian till 15, had some meaty phases and I find all these arguments so annoying and frustrating.
anyone can give up meat as they say to me, oh I could never do that and I always say you can you just don't want to.
sure bacon and cheese and many things taste good, there is no doubt about that, and yes as all the people ask me i miss them and love these things taste wise but that is not the point, human baby might taste amazing but we don't and wouldn't go there, its a choice for greater reasons than just satisfying one second on the tongue of indulgent self satisfaction. your probably not going to remember on your death bed all the meals you ate, but the things you did.

its bad for you, the environment and the animals, its a lose lose situation. like you said we have supermarkets and we need to think about what we eat- where our meat comes from and how it gets to be that"tasty" dish, its not all nice free animals happy and willing to die to basically be shitted out by us a few hours later. like the butcher vans you see with a smiling cow on the side, urg. imagine a murderer with a happy kid he killed smiling on the van, possibly even eating a plate of itself as they often depict.

we have fucked up so much planet, life, etc etc by being selfish unthinking humans only thinking of yum yum our own tummies and needs and wants and money and greed and fuck it all can't be bothered, and look where it has gotten us. I cannot believe anyone who can stand the cruelty of animals that goes on, it makes me so so angry and sad and I don't know how it doesn't affect people, have we become so cold and heartless? and all the stupid lame arguments shit me to tears, at least come up with something good....

we are generally not native/indigenous peoples living a self sustaining life from long ago- leave that argument to those peoples.
we do not need meat, it is actually bad for you.
we are not part of the food chain in a hunting sort of killing to survive way, that was also long ago, we shop, we drive, we consume, we have supermarkets and computers etc etc etc.
its is not more expensive to be vego, it is less.
we are supposed to eat for health and longevity not for glutenous satisfaction at all costs. emotional/comfort/eating for reasons that satisfy some other need than to optimally fueling our body eating has led to a huge health and obesity epedemic all over the world.
we are in theory supposed to be better/ more evolved than the animals- this shouldn't mean therefor we may do with them what we wish and use them to serve/feed/etc us in any cruel or unthinking domination way we like, you are only here for our usage etc
but that we do better and are more enlightened and evolve and see the errors of our past ways and look out for them and act less impulsively than they do.
it used to be okay to give woman and other races and sexual orientations no rights, remember those days, why have we not evolved to animals rights yet, why are we still so bloody and utterly brutal and cruel? that is? is it just tasty?

go veagn, just do it........ its fun.

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