Jonathan Safran Foer is my favourite writer of fiction. For years his work has earthquaked the world of storytelling for me. ‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’ is my favourite story ever told. I have found myself wandering around in the worlds he has built, in love with each of the characters so much so that ending a story feels like a death. I miss his characters like old friends stolen before their time. This is not the only time Safran-Foer’s words have, in effect, killed me.
Several years ago, at about 4AM I got to the part in ‘Eating Animals’ where he shares the stories of the pregnant cows whose calves are discovered inside of them at slaughterhouses. I’m not going to go into more detail here, because it’s the single most upsetting animal-related thing I’ve ever read. Maybe it was being alone in my dimly lit room with an angry rain pounding on the roof. Maybe it’s the way that the dark and the quiet disrobe all the defenses you cloak yourself in during the day. I found myself so sickened, the kind that makes it impossible to think of anything but the suffering you just has described to you. The room spins, your heart unable to take such pain. I remember thinking “We’re told as children that monsters don’t exist, but I’ll bet no one ever asked a farmed animal”. That night, Safran Foer’s work gutted me. A part of me truly died and in doing so, provided a thick, impenetrable layer of emotional cement over my decision to live as a vegan for the rest of my life.
The most recent time Safran Foer killed me was this morning at about 11AM, when I saw this:
Once I regained consciousness, I tried to go to my happy place, but found that it had been turned into a Chipotle commercial.
And then I just got angrier.
Even the title of his video is nauseating. An appeal from Jonathan Safran Foer? An appeal? He is now appealing to us to eat “happy” chickens?
An appeal is worth celebrating when it promotes a just alternative. An appeal is not what happens when a burgeoning, elitist, niche market wants some hooky campaign to lure in well-intentioned eaters. Out of all the things to make an appeal on behalf of, it’s the “alternative” poultry producers who deserve the benefits of your endorsements, Safran-Foer? Do you really want to be any part of a club that allows Joel Salatin as a member? How about an appeal on behalf of the billions of farmed animals who die needlessly each year? How about an appeal to support the life-saving work of groups like Farm Sanctuary Vegan Outreach or Igualdad Animal?
I get it, you want to take a gigantic swing at the factory farms (who doesn’t?). But why stop there? Instead of taking advantage of a person’s inclinations towards empathy by promoting a form of farming that is still unnecessary, and capable of the same atrocities so often only cited as being present in factory farms (e.g.: mutilations, intensive confinement, separation of mother from baby, forced impregnation, “culling”, killing off male babies, etc.), why not advocate for a healthy, just and sustainable vegan lifestyle?
But anyone who has ever seen Safran-Foer speak knows that he’s no Gene Baur. Safran-Foer never even went fully vegan. He admitted when I saw him speak that he eats cheese from “farmers’ markets”, yet another one of those meaningless umbrella monikers that evoke the imagery of idyllic pastoral farmscapes, where farmer and cow march hand in hoof through golden fields. Don’t get me wrong, food accessibility and supporting organic, local fruit and vegetable producers is important to me. But I’m also not so easily fooled anymore. I have the answers, because people helped me learn the right questions. Now what I see at farmers’ market is actually shocking. It’s like people’s brains actually stop processing information when they are standing at a makeshift wooden stall being sold something by a person in a plaid shirt with a twinkle in their eye and soil under their fingernails. Instead of star-struck everybody’s farm-struck (y’heard it here first). Who cares if they can whittle or they make their own rugs, CHEESE FROM A FARMERS MARKETS IS STILL F$*KING CHEESE!
Is it really possible that Safran-Foer, a seemingly free-agent (read: fence sitter) when it came to actually taking a position and sticking with it, is now nothing more than a particularly clever puppet for the foodies? Despite speaking so eloquently about the inherent moral dilemmas of using animals (whether under the banner of factory farming or “free-range” farming), it would appear that he can now sleep easy having recommended that well-intentioned people simply buy into a newer, shinier myth that says “humane” farming is not only possible, but apparently common enough that “there’s an app for that”.
One thing you’ve got to give them props for is their straightforwardness. “BuyingPoultry.com”. Nothing says “alternative”, and “animals are not mere production units” like BuyingPoultry.com. But seriously– doesn’t the name reveal the same distanciated, distorted relationship with farmed animals that he argued so against in ‘Eating Animals’?
At this point the question that remains is: will Safran-Foer manage to kill me a fourth time? If his shenanigans persist, it’s highly likely. My imagination is running laps. I can just imagine all the fan mail he’s getting from the backyard butchers, and the free-range hucksters. Can’t you just see Michael Pollan emailing “Hey Jon! Thanks for finally coming to your senses! Pig roast @ my place on Saturday. Don’t worry, we eat the whole pig. Bring your friends!”
*Special thanks to John Beske for the use of his image!*