Steven G. Kellman
by Jonathan Safran Foer
Little, Brown and Company
$25.99 List Price
In Everything Is Illuminated (2002), a character named Jonathan Safran Foer flabbergasts his Ukrainian guide, Alex Perchov. "I'm a vegetarian," the visiting American declares. "I do not understand," Alex replies. A dialogue of mutual incomprehension ensues: "'I don't eat meat.' 'Why not?' 'I just don't.' 'How can you not eat meat?' . . . 'I just don't. No meat.' 'Pork?' 'No.' 'Meat?' 'No meat.' 'Steak?' 'Nope.' 'Chickens?' 'No.' 'Do you eat veal?' 'Oh, God. Absolutely no veal.' 'What about sausage?' 'No sausage either.'" The starving traveler is forced to feast on two potatoes.
Eating Animals, Foer's first book of nonfiction, answers Perchov's "Why not?" with a more cogent explanation. An apologia pro diaeta sua, it begins in fond remembrance of his grandmother's chicken and carrots. Foer passed through vegetarian interludes throughout adolescence and consumed animal protein only occasionally after he married. When his son was born three years ago, he renounced meat entirely and began this book. Discomforting thoughts of a child gorging on flesh may have inspired Foer to make the nine-year-old narrator of his second novel, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2005), a vegan. Like Leo Tolstoy, J. M. Coetzee, Franz Kafka, and Margaret Atwood, Foer extends his empathy to nonhuman beings. "For the animals," wrote Isaac Bashevis Singer, another literary vegetarian, "it is an eternal Treblinka."
Appalled that "upwards of 99 percent of all meat eaten in this country comes from 'factory farms,'" Foer sets out to comprehend what eating animals entails in the stages leading up to