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Book and Film Reviews, Philosophical Meanderings

Educating About Eating Animals

Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have chosen Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals as the summer reading book for their incoming freshman for 2011. Rarely would summer reading for a college’s new students be newsworthy, but this one is. For a book that so carefully and comprehensively uncovers animal agriculture and meat-eating to be selected among all others as the one every entering freshman must read tells us something important. Factory farming, on land and sea, is no longer simply a trendy topic for middle and upper middle class foodies or committed activists, and hard-hitting books about our food system don’t need to extol the virtues of “small” and “local” and “pasture-raised” as the only alternatives to a system of destruction and cruelty, because in Foer’s book, it’s hard not to conclude that vegetarianism (more commonly marginalized in popular food-critique books) comes out as a moral winner. This is new.

Eating Animals is a beautifully written book. It is both personal and painstakingly researched. There is no proselytism in its pages, though it would be difficult not to want to make more conscientious and compassionate food choices after reading it. It is a book that digs deep and wide where most popular authors about our food system problems fall short. It also offers a voice to different approaches to an ethical diet so that the reader can choose for her/himself.

This is a book everyone should read, and that two major universities have chosen it as summer reading is a testament to both its importance and to the changes that have taken place in our society. We are finally seriously talking within our universities about what we eat and how our food is produced, and with that conversation comes both the recognition that the complex and far-reaching effects of food choices are important for our students to learn about and provides hope for changes in our food system.

Zoe Weil
Author of Most Good, Least Harm, Above All, Be Kind, and The Power and Promise of Humane Education
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About zoeweil

I'm the co-founder and President of the Institute for Humane Education (IHE). IHE works to create a world in which we all live humanely, sustainably, and peaceably. We do this by training people to be humane educators who teach about the pressing issues of our time and inspire people to work for change while making healthy, humane, and restorative choices in their daily lives. We also work to advance the field of humane education, and to provide tools and inspiration to people everywhere so that they can live examined, meaningful lives. I'm also a writer. So far I've written six books and several articles.

Discussion

4 thoughts on “Educating About Eating Animals

  1. What are those universities’ food services doing this Fall?

    As someone who routinely commits the venal sins of consumerism, but who’s trying to keep with his new plant-based diet, I will follow along with interest.

    I wonder, non-rehtorically, how the information age will shift the balance of fiction and informational texts taught in middle and high school classrooms. I love a good misanthropic yarn in the heather, but I wonder how relevant a book like Wuthering Heights can be compared to a book like this. Do we still teach that one?

    All the best,
    C

    Posted by Chad Sansing | March 14, 2011, 8:24 am
    • Great question. My son read Zeitoun in English (American Lit). I was thrilled. But I wouldn’t be happy if these kinds of books were the only ones he read in English, and in the same course he’s reading: Puddnhead Wilson, Beloved, The Great Gatsy, Middlesex, and The Lacuna. What a line up!

      Very interesting question about what the food service is doing at Duke and UCN!

      Posted by Zoe Weil | March 23, 2011, 1:49 pm
  2. I’m a huge fan of Safran-Foer’s fiction so can only imagine the power of the language in this book. As someone who strives not to eat animals, I will definitely read this.

    My partner, Erin, has taught Fast Food Nation in her urban Kansas City high school classroom. It was an eye-opening and I would say empowering experience for her students to read about the agribusiness machine that leads to the burgers they so readily consume, sometimes every day. Another book I’m eager to read is “Free For All: Fixing School Food in America,” by Janet Poppendieck.

    Thanks for this post.

    Posted by Paul Oh | March 15, 2011, 12:55 pm

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