The prize-winning American novelist talks about why it's weird to eat meat, his move from fiction to journalism, and why eliminating ignorance will lead to more vegetarianismby Elizabeth Kirkwood / March 4, 2010 / Leave a comment
Jonathan Safran Foer is the author of the novels Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and Everything is Illuminated, which won the National Jewish Book Award and the Guardian First Book Award.
Eating Animals, his first extended work of non-fiction, is a powerful and disturbing look at the moral and environmental effects of factory farming and the devastating impact our dietary choices have, on both our health and the world around us. A combination of philosophy, science, memoir and reportage, the book examines the stories we tell ourselves to justify our eating habits and how such fictions can lull us into a brutal forgetting. The novelist JM Coetzee has said of Eating Animals: “Anyone who, after reading Foer’s book, continues to consume factory farm products must be without a heart, or impervious to reason, or both.”
Foer currently lives in New York with his wife, the writer Nicole Krauss, and their two sons.
Elizabeth Kirkwood: Even if you know about the methods of factory farming, this is still a deeply disturbing book to read. Was the writing process equally disturbing, and how did you cope with that?
Jonathan Safran Foer: Yes, it was really disturbing. I coped, probably like you did when reading it. Sometimes I didn’t want to look at it. You have to put it away for a while and come back to it—that was how I wrote it. Also, you do get used to it. If I went to a slaughterhouse now I wouldn’t recoil or find it disgusting. Frankly, I can’t say that I found it disgusting the first time round, so much as sad.
The experience I had, more often than disgust or even sadness, was surprise. So often when I was researching I would discover something and I would call my wife or a friend and say, “You’re never going to believe this…” I really feel like that is the stage our farming system is at now: this “You’re never going to believe this” place. It stretches the limits of what we can comprehend. Someone asked why I didn’t write it as novel, but I think if I had written it as a novel, people might have thought that it was fictional.
EK: Did you ever consider writing it as novel?
JSF: Not really. Firstly, I love novels and I love the way novels don’t have to do anything. There’s no function to a…