Jonathan S. Foer: Vegetarianism

“I am a hypocrite,” he announced, explaining why he wasn’t a vegan as well, but being a hypocrite was fine, as long as he did something good. It would easier, he stated, to live without opinions, but then you’d be taking the easy way out. You would simply not care. He acknowledges right off that no, everyone can’t be vegetarians. It would be an insurmountable challenge to convert the world. Then what is there to do?

Every person cares about animals—there is no one who thinks it is outright okay to kick a dog. But not everyone is willing to stop eating meat. And that’s the problem, Foer says, that there seems to be only one choice. Either you are a moral vegetarian who cares or an omnivore who does not. Eating vegetarian seems to apply an absolutist policy. He also touched on some friends who had sworn vegetarianism only to have “one bad night” and quit.

In his book Eating Animals, Foer leaves room for people like me, omnivores. The word “vegetarian” seems too all-inclusive. Everyone has “baseline decency, a minimal goodness,” so why not apply that as well as absolutist ideas? One could simply eat vegetarian meals rather than live vegetarian. If there is something you can’t live without eating, eat that, but just because you may like sushi, don’t eat a hamburger just because.

College of Charleston promotional poster

This struck me as his strongest point: there is a spectrum of what we can do to combat factory farming. We don’t all have to convert, only consider the ugly subject in a clear and honest way. Today, it’s easier than ever to live a little more ethically. Even gas stations sell “free range” eggs.

Foer went on to talk about Charleston and its remnants of slavery. We look back at slavery as this great evil, and those who didn’t try to be a solution, they were the problem. One day, he explains, we will view factory farming in those same terms.

Many questions he received accused him of the hypocrisy he admitted to in the first minute of his speech. He has eaten meat, yes, he admits, by accident. But it’s not just one choice to stop, but a series of choices. Each time we sit down to eat, we are confronted with the choice to eat animals or not eat them. The meat industry has simply betted that people find that desire to know the truth so unappetizing, they remain ignorant on purpose.

Foer supports rational thought and direct conversation about controversy. Caring is something we should do more as we grow older, not less; we need not grow complacent with what we have done, but can continue effective change that may make us proud to look back at our lives.

The speeches and the book gave me a remarkable impression and while I don’t intend to swear off meat like so many of my Charleston comrades have done, I intend to significantly cut my meat consumption. Even if you’re adverse to something like vegetarianism, ignorance should not be your reasoning to ignore the problem; read Eating Animals if ever you get the chance.

At one point, Foer told the anecdote of eating lamb after this book was published. While eating dinner at his agent’s house, he realized too late a dish she served contained chopped up bits of lamb. Just because of that experience, he couldn’t just give up—it was really okay that one that. The point, he stresses, is not that he tries to just stop eating meat. The point is for him to not choose to eat meat. That choice matters, and everyone time he makes the choice, it matters, as it can for us.


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