I've been reading Jonathan Safran Foer's book, Eating Animals, for the past couple of weeks now, squeezing in a paragraph here or there during lunch breaks and usually scribbling as many words down--shaking my head in disbelief--as actual words I've read. Around a month ago, I had a conversation with a vegan writer on Twitter about Foer's recent media darling status. She asked if I'd read the book and I told her 'no', and that the idea of actually spending money on such a thing was disconcerting to me, given all that I'd read about it. She suggested I contact the publisher to obtain a sample copy to review for my blog, and so began my slow trudge through what I'm starting to suspect may end up being the most beautifully written piece of absolute garbage I've ever read. (I'll reassess that once I get to the end, of course, when I plan to write a review of it--an autopsy, more or less.)
So Foer has been all over the news on the internet, in magazines and in newspapers. Kathy Freston, vegan cleanse diet guru (who enjoyed her own fifteen minutes of being a media darling a few months ago thanks to PETA-approved Oprah), recently called him "the Michael Pollan of a younger generation". Now, the last time I checked, Michael Pollan wasn't trying to talk anyone into going vegan. Neither is Jonathan Safran Foer, for that matter. In fact, from interviews, it seems that Foer isn't even necessarily bent on talking anyone into becoming a vegetarian, so it made enough sense that someone who made her name talking a famous talk-show host into adopting a vegan "diet"either for a month for health reasons should compare him to a guy like Pollan, who is known for promoting a trend known as "ethical" omnivorism. They're all people who seem to be cashing in on various food-related trends that, on some level or another, either directly involve or lead to the excusing away of varioius types of animal exploitation. What amazed me, however, was to hear fellow-vegans pick up on the Foer-mania and start lauding him for supposedly promoting veganism.
One such vegan is Erik Marcus, who's apparently written a couple of books about factory farming (neither of which I've read) and who happens to own the domain Vegan.com where he serves up what he refers to on Twitter as his "snark" (often just links to news stories about meat consumption, with a line or two of commentary) and where he features episodes of his podcast which is listed on iTunes as VegTalk (which, given the number of times Paul Shapiro has been a guest during the past several months might be more appropriately called HSUSTalk).
Marcus recently announced on Twitter that he'd be interviewing the non-vegan Foer and asked his followers what they'd like him to ask Foer. No surprise that many of the responses included asking Foer 1) why he doesn't promote veganism and 2) why after having done all of the research into factory farming that he did for the book, Foer is not vegan (he's on the record as being an on-again, off-again vegetarian at best). Marcus blew a gasket after Adam Kochanowicz, host of the Vegan News, offered his suggestion:
AbVegan @VeganDotCom Ask yourself why you're interviewing him. Ask Foer why he's not a vegan.To which Marcus responded, tweeting:
VeganDotCom I should ask Foer how he's already managed to accomplish a million times more for farmed animals than what you've done. @AbVeganNumerous tweets from various animal advocates imploring Marcus to elaborate upon what it was, exactly, that Foer had supposedly accomplished that was a million-fold better than Kochanowicz for "farmed animals" more or less went unanswered (albeit with Marcus' repeated insistence that Foer's having merely appeared on "Martha and Ellen" was somehow concrete evidence of his having made a difference in the lives of the animals we enslave to slaughter and eat). Other ignored tweets pointed out that on his own website's main page, Foer directs people to where they can buy locally raised turkeys to eat. Why indeed, as Kochanowicz asked, would a vegan who claims to be pro-veganism get excited over interviewing someone who exploits animals and enables and assists others in exploiting them?
So on with the interview...
Marcus starts the interview off gushing over how much he and Foer have in common, particularly since they've both written about factory farming (Marcus returns to this gushing state several times in his interview, but in the interest of not overstating what was already embarrassingly overstated, I'll refrain from revisiting it myself). They talk about the wrongful vilification of farmers, described by Foer as being mostly people who "care" about the animals they raise for food, but who are somewhat helpless when it comes to whatever technology they use to confine and kill and who are ultimately driven by consumer demand. Where demand driving exploitation is concerned, they get it right. Unfortunately the portrayal of helpless and caring farmers gets carried a bit far by Foer as he goes on about all of the farmers he met who were bona fide members (or former members) of PETA. He then goes to talk about what he calls "values" these farmers apparently share with "animal rights activists", citing this as the reason there is a need for animal activists to move "away from obsession with the divisive questions which, frankly, right now, in America, are not the relevant questions".
At this point, I wondered how much coaching Marcus did before this interview. I don't recall Foer ever using the term 'divisive' before, but it's been volleyed at abolitionists (and particularly at Prof. Gary L. Francione) innumerable times to silence differing opinions (usually when those abolitionists' opinions involve rejecting regulationist welfarism--which perpetuates the continued exploitation of nonhuman animals--and insisting on vegan advocacy that has as its goal the end of the exploitation of nonhuman animals). It's no wonder that Foer would conflate animal advocates with farmers, or confuse animal rights advocates with animal welfare advocates, given that throughout the interview, Marcus himself refers to the animal movement as the "vegetarian movement" and sometimes seems to use 'vegan' and 'vegetarian' interchangeably. But I'm getting sidetracked when there's so much more to cover...
I'll be doing that in Part II of my Marcus/Foer love-in review tomorrow.