Tag Archives: Jonathan Safran Foer

I Have to Disagree with the Italian Fishermen


The New York Times reported yesterday that “hundreds of small Italian fishing boats from Venice to Porto Palo in Sicily drew up their nets on Tuesday to protest a European Union Council regulation regarding sustainable fishing in the Mediterranean that became fully effective on June 1.”

Although the EUC regulations impact Greece, France, Spain, and Malta as well, the Italians are protesting the loudest because of the effect this change will have on their dinner table: Regulations call for the use of larger mesh sizes in nets and ban the use of trawl nets close to the coast, which means fewer fish to offer in the market.

Oliver Drewes, a spokesman for Maria Damanaki, commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, noted that the regulation was drafted as a “call for a long-term sustainable approach so that fisherman can fish in the future, and so that they can preserve their local cultures and traditions.”

Critics of the plan, like Ettore Iani, president of Legapesca, a national fish trade association, claim they can understand if fishing quotas or number of fishing days were reduced, “but the truth is they’re shutting us down.”

Granted, I’m not a fisherman, and–even though I’ve caught my share of flounder by trawling the Atlantic and bluegills by casting on inland Michigan lakes–I certainly haven’t experienced the scope of commercial fishing. But, just like other resources in this world, if we don’t put restrictions on our harvest, they’ll be depleted.

So maybe there are fewer options for calamari on the menus in Italy? Here’s an idea: Have more pasta e fagioli.

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In Support of Animal Welfare


Thanks to California–often the first state in the nation to get on board with progressive legislature–there’s a new motion to help prevent animal abuse: an animal abuse registry.

From yesterday’s New York Times comes an article outlining a bill introduced last Friday that “would be the first of its kind in the country and is just the latest law geared toward animal rights in a state that has recently given new protections to chickens, pigs and cattle.”

Animal abusers could be listed in an online registry, just like sex offenders.  

A state with major farming interests and millions of pet owners, it’s the first one to “outlaw so-called tail-docking of dairy cows, where the tail is partly amputated to ease milking.” And in 2008, voters in the state passed Proposition 2, “which gave hens, calves and pigs more room in their crates or cages.”

If you’re a pet owner, this law might be intriguing to you–possibly one you’ve been waiting for. 

If you’re a meat eater, you might be asking: What’s the big deal about giving farm animals more space when their destiny is ultimately food on our tables?

It all gets back to the suffering. Just read Jonathan Safran Foer’s book, Eating Animals, and the picture is clear: Our factory farm food industry does not promote animal welfare. Even worse, it breeds violence towards animals because the working conditions are so stressful. Says Stephan Otto of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, which drafted the bill, “We know there’s a link between those who abuse animals and those who perform other forms of violence.”

If the bill passes, it may be one tiny step toward happier food.

A Cow’s Carbon Footprint: Why Grassfed Beef Is Carbon-Negative


Recently, I was talking with a friend about grassfed beef and the conversation moved toward carbon footprints. I found that I didn’t have a secure argument for grassfed beef being good for the environment. I thought it probably was, based on what I’ve read in Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. After all, if you feed ruminants (such as cows) grass and they fertilize the grass with their manure and you move them around, just like bison used to do on the Great Plains in our country, everyone would benefit: the cows, the grass, and the air. In essence, it makes sense.

But why do most environmentalists cut back on eating meat? I suspect it’s because they’re focused on feedlot meat, which I haven’t knowingly touched since I saw the movie Food, Inc. last summer. (If you don’t have a chance to see it but want to get a crash course in feedlot meat, watch “Meet Your Meat” or read Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals. They all have the same effect.)

Thanks to an article in the January 12 issue of Time magazine, I feel justified in my continuing carnivorous behavior (although it’s been somewhat modified toward vegetarian for a number of reasons).

According to Time, the enormous carbon footprint argument is based on the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s 2006 report, which attributed 18% of the world’s man-made greenhouse-gas emissions to livestock. However, cattleman Ridge Shinn says conventional cattle raising is like mining: “It’s unsustainable, because you’re just taking without putting anything back. But when you rotate cattle on grass, you change the equation. You put back more than you take.”

I knew there was something sustainable in the grassfed beef cycle. I’m just glad to hear a cattleman claim it since I don’t have the expertise of a farmer.

Michael Pollan supports the claim: “Much of the carbon footprint of beef comes from growing grain to feed the animals, which requires fossil-fuel-based fertilizers, pesticides, transportation. Grass-fed beef has a much lighter carbon footprint.”

And, grassfed beef is healthier than feedlot beef because it’s got less saturated fat and more omega-3s.

Wanna know more? Read the article.

Eating Animals: A Carnivore’s Review


I finally finished reading Eating Animals, the new book by Jonathan Safran Foer. As I mentioned in a blog post earlier this month, it took me awhile to plod through because it’s not good bedtime reading, which is when I do most of mine. I thought watching videos such as “Meet Your Meat” about feedlot farms was bad; this is even tougher. (It’s just like they say about books and movies….the book is usually better–or worse in this case, due to the graphic descriptions.)

Since I’m a writer, I’ll cover the nuts and bolts first: Frankly, I find Safran Foer’s style difficult to follow. His language is a bit choppy. I don’t always follow his syntax–or his thoughts, for that matter. But, that’s just me.

As for content, he gives the reader a lot to digest. Maybe that’s why it took me three months to read the book. But, most impressively, he’s done his research. Safran Foer has supplied us with a ton of data about the industrialized world of feedlot farming….research we all need to know about. I admire him for taking on the challenge of interviewing people to hear their stories about maltreatment of animals. (Me, I can hardly look at road kill when I’m driving.) I guess if you want to take baby steps toward Eating Animals, try Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma first; it’ll help prepare you for the graphic depictions described by Safran Foer.

Here’s a basic synopsis of the content, which I snagged from The Huffington Post in October:

Jonathan Safran Foer spent much of his teenage and college years oscillating between omnivore and vegetarian. But on the brink of fatherhood–facing the prospect of having to make dietary choices on a child’s behalf–his casual questioning took on an urgency. His quest for answers ultimately required him to visit factory farms in the middle of the night, dissect the emotional ingredients of meals from his childhood, and probe some of his most primal instincts about right and wrong. Brilliantly synthesizing philosophy, literature, science, memoir and his own detective work, Eating Animals explores the many fictions we use to justify our eating habits–from folklore to pop culture to family traditions and national myth–and how such tales can lull us into a brutal forgetting….

That hits the nail on the head.

So why isn’t this a bedtime story? Let me provide a few excerpts from the book. (Beware: Reader discretion advised.)
Continue reading

What’s In Your Chicken?


In October I published a post about Jonathan Safran Foer’s book, Eating Animals, which I did finally buy and am about one-third of the way through.

I’ve just finished Chapter 3, called “Words/Meaning,” which is basically a glorified glossary of terms. (More about that later when I do my official review.) One “term” he cites is KFC, which most people will recognize as the shortened name for the fast food chain, Kentucky Fried Chicken. I remember my first trip west from New Jersey when I was a kid. We lived on buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken as we traversed the Great Plains, coastal highway 101, and the prairies of Canada. Today, I won’t step foot in a KFC.

As Safran Foer says in his book, “KFC is arguably the company that has increased the sum total of suffering in the world more than any other in history.” What he’s referring to is the nearly one billion chickens a year that are tortured by workers at slaughterhouses that supply KFC. This behavior doesn’t fit well with KFC’s commitment to “the well-being and humane treatment of chickens,” as quoted by Safran Foer. And he doesn’t even mention the health safety issues, which, if you don’t give a hoot about animal suffering, should at least matter if you eat factory-farmed chicken.

I had just read this part of the book when I saw Naomi Starkman’s post entitled “Two-Thirds of Chicken Tested Harbor Dangerous Bacteria” on The Huffington Post website. She reports that Consumer Reports tested fresh, whole broilers bought in 22 states and revealed that “two-thirds of birds tested harbored salmonella and/or campylobacter, the leading bacterial causes of food-borne disease. The report reveals that organic “air-chilled” broilers were among the cleanest and that Perdue was found to be the cleanest of the brand-name chicken. Tyson and Foster Farms chickens were found to be the most contaminated.”

The poultry industry is certainly a dirty one. To me, it only reinforces the importance of finding a local food source, getting to know your farmers, visiting the places your food is raised, and even participating in the hunting, gathering, growing, harvesting, feeding, and–yes–slaughtering of the food that you put on your table. (That last step is a tough one to stomach, I know. I’m still debating whether I can do it myself.)

Eating Animals: An Exploration of Eating Habits


Today’s Huffington Post announced that the site will be posting responses to Jonathan Safran Foer’s new book, Eating Animals. Check out the YouTube video for a peek at what’s behind this nonfiction book that Amazon sums up as follows:

“Jonathan Safran Foer spent much of his teenage and college years oscillating between omnivore and vegetarian. But on the brink of fatherhood–facing the prospect of having to make dietary choices on a child’s behalf–his casual questioning took on an urgency. His quest for answers ultimately required him to visit factory farms in the middle of the night, dissect the emotional ingredients of meals from his childhood, and probe some of his most primal instincts about right and wrong. Brilliantly synthesizing philosophy, literature, science, memoir and his own detective work, Eating Animals explores the many fictions we use to justify our eating habits–from folklore to pop culture to family traditions and national myth–and how such tales can lull us into a brutal forgetting….”

The author himself (okay, it’s really the publisher) will be hosting a discussion on his website (also called Eating Animals). The discussion goes live November 2.

I categorized tonight’s post under the topic “Good Reading for Good Eating,” but honestly, I haven’t read the book yet since I just heard about it today. I thought I’d give you all the heads-up about the discussion and I will write my own review (or send a comment to one of the above sites) as soon as I’m done with the book.

If you get to it before I do, let me know what you think!