Does It Matter that Jonathan Safran Foer Isn't Vegan?
An Animal Rights Article from


Josh Hooten, co-owner of Herbivore Clothing
November 2009

[Josh wrote this in response to a November 2009 presentation by Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Eating Animals.]

As a messenger getting people to think about this stuff for the first time, I think he's amazing.

Foer isn't an animal rights person, he is coming from outside our community and perhaps that is why he is getting the attention he's getting for his new book "Eating Animals." I saw a lot of people I recognized at the talk, but out of the couple hundred who were there, I knew probably a dozen of them. Which means most of his talk was to people outside the AR community. The people who can actually use the information he has.

I feel like a lot of the frustration people are having with Foer is that we want him to have the AR philosophical line and tell people that animals are not for us to use under any circumstance, and he doesn't do it. But he's not an animal rights person and his book isn't an animal rights book, so I feel a bit like he's being criticized unfairly for that. As much as I want him to say animals aren't ours to use for any purpose, it just isn't what he's about. At least not yet.

This is probably why he can get a few hundred people to come see him speak and we can't consistently get a dozen people to come to AR events. What he said to the few hundred people there was about food production, mostly, and not about philosophy. And what he said to those people was probably the most radical stuff they've ever heard about the food they eat. The fact that he hasn't completely gone vegan yet seems trivial to me considering how short of a time he's had this information, how he is coming from outside of the AR community, and how despite those two things he is writing article after article and on a speaking tour perhaps reaching more people than all of us combined ever will.

He said:

  • Eggs cause more suffering than beef and if you're going to give one thing up, make it eggs.
  • Fish farms are horrible for the environment and fish always die horribly.
  • Turkeys we eat are so fucked up they can't reproduce naturally and in fact there is nothing natural about them. And that not have a turkey at all on Thanksgiving is a much better celebration and giving of thanks.
  • The "good" farms, where the farmers love their animals could never supply us with enough meat to satisfy demand.
  • There are farmers who treat their animals well. He jokingly said some treat their animals better than he treats his dog, however, he doesn't kill and eat his dog and there is something weird in there. And he still wouldn't eat those animals regardless of how nice their lives were.
  • If you still want to eat organic, "humane" meat (quotes mine, not his) you're going to have to pay a lot for it and your best bet, if you don't think you have the money, is to eat way way less.
  • He said countless euthanized cats and dogs make their way into our food supply because they are ground up and fed to the animals we then eat.
  • He described in detail the living conditions of so called "free range" and "cage free" operations and made a point that neither of those words meant cruelty free.
  • He described how little space chickens have to live in by holding up his book, and saying "they have about this much space and cannot move and have their appendages cut off." (I assume he was referring to debeaking.)
  • He said the only way to know about your animal products is to go to the farms yourself because "free range" and "cage free" and "humane" pushers are lying and taking advantage of the public.
  • He said if you eat meat you can only be an ironic environmentalist.
  • He spoke about how much global warming comes from agriculture.
  • He said how much greenhouse gas would be saved if we all went vegan one day a week and how many animals would be saved.
  • He said a lot more very informative stuff, the logical conclusion of which is veganism. He didn't advocate for it, and he didn't advocate for vegetarianism either really. He just laid out facts and ideas and let people do with it what they wanted. As self-congratulatory as I would have felt if he said "so you're all going to go vegan after this right?", I am certain his approach is far more effective.

I think sizing him up through an AR lens is a mistake. I think sizing him up as someone outside this community with a massive, massive audience who he is giving very radical information to and very clearly not preaching to, makes me think he is going to be very effective in alleviating animal suffering, be it by getting people to cut down on meat, eggs, and dairy, or going vegetarian, or going vegan, or at some point going vegan himself.

I also think he has the kind of reach none of us do. If he gets them to think about this information for the first time, many of them will look deeper. The second source of information they get will be from someone a little further down the vegan line hopefully. As a messenger getting people to think about this stuff for the first time, I think he's amazing.

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