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I live in Charleston, SC, which a lot of people consider to be a beautiful place, but maybe not the most progressive of locales.

I disagree politely about the progressiveness (it’s improving slowly but surely!) based on upbeat things like the following (and my propensity to look on the bright side):

The book Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer was chosen by The College of Charleston for this year’s ‘The College Reads!’ program.

The College’s annual program encourages all faculty and incoming students to read a selected book and participate in related activities throughout the year, and out of all the books out there, they chose Eating Animals.

That’s downright progressive, y’all!

Happily for me, many ‘The College Reads!’ activities are open to the public, so I’ve gotten to attend a few of them, including hearing the author speak on Tuesday afternoon.

Jonathan Safran Foer, after giving a nod to Charleston’s charm, acknowledged that it was a brave move for the College to choose his book: “[Vegetarianism] is a subject that makes people really aggressive, makes people feel defensive, shaky and uncertain. It’s also a subject that provokes a certain kind of unfortunate anger.”

It does this, he said, because we’re asking the wrong questions about it. ‘Why aren’t you vegetarian? Why don’t you care about animals? Why don’t you care about your health?’ Things like that.

Accusatory questions.

When discussing vegetarianism, he argued, we should be asking the real questions that focus on the real problems in front of us. These questions spark conversations. These questions ask people to think about the true subject at hand:

  • Do you think we should have a farming system that unnecessarily causes 48 million human illnesses (that’s 1 in 6 Americans) every year?
  • Do you think we should support a farming system that unnecessarily decimates our environment and is one of the main causes of global warming?

We know factory farming does all of these things. It’s not a hypothetical. It’s a fact.

When confronted with the question really at hand – do we think we should support a farming system that causes suffering, death, and destruction – the answer is very clear for most people.

Of course not.

But unfortunately, we are supporting a farm system that does all of those things because 99% of meat comes from factory farms.

That means, Foer explained, when you eat meat out at a restaurant or buy meat at the grocery store, you can be 99% sure it comes from a factory farm.

Now here’s the dilemma. Do we, as caring, kind people, ignore these facts just to please our palate? Or do we act on our values?

It’s up to each of us to make that choice.

And it’s not all or nothing.

Anything you do to reduce your meat consumption, and therefore your support of factory farms, is to be applauded.

Meatless Monday? Hooray!

Vegan ’til 6pm? Hooray!

Vegetarian all the time? Hip Hip Hooray!

Vegan? Wahoooo!

Jonathan Safran Foer speaking about his book Eating Animals at the College of Charleston on October 23, 2012

I read Eating Animals in 2009 when it came out and subsequently read Foer’s fiction works because I enjoyed his writing and storytelling so much.

I highly recommend this book to everyone. Here’s some more info on what it’s all about, borrowed from a College of Charleston blog:

“Eating Animals employs philosophy, literature, science, countless interviews, and undercover investigations of factory farms to wrestle with the complexity of food choices, especially those that involve eating animals. Why do we eat animals? Would we eat them if we knew how they were treated? To what extent does that matter? Rather than telling you what to eat, Foer challenges you to know what you are eating and how it got on your fork and then to think carefully about the ethical, environmental, legal, and communal and decide how you feel about the choices you make.”

Anyone who cares about the environment, human health, or how animals are treated would gain a lot from reading this book.

By the way, Foer shared that he doesn’t love animals – even after meeting a bunch on a trip to Farm Sanctuary (jealous!) – but he made the point that one doesn’t have to love animals to want to prevent their needless and tremendous suffering: “It’s very basic human decency.”

Pick up this thought-provoking, intelligent, and enjoyable read at the library, and let me know what you think in the comments below.

To answering the real questions!


P.S. I got him to sign my book!

I got all star-struck and couldn’t think of what to say except “I really love your book.”

Like that kid in the movie A Christmas Story. “I like Santa. I like the Wizard of Oz.” Oh well! I got his autograph!