Jonathan Safran Foer published Eating Animals in 2009. I didn’t read it until 2015, because I had a feeling that it would be persuasive and I would have to stop eating meat, which I found delicious, especially buttery, white-bread ham sandwiches and chicken shish kebabs. It took a long time before I was ready to have my last pepperoni pizza, but in choosing to pick up a book that I knew laid out the horrors of mass meat production, it was clear that I was almost there. And when I’d finished reading it, I simply stopped eating meat. The trade-off no longer seemed worth it.
Safran Foer now aims to repeat that trick with We Are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast. Rather than focusing on the grotesque scale and inhumane practices of factory farming, he talks about the environmental impact of meat and dairy and offers practical suggestions for reducing our consumption of animal products instead. We hear again and again that in the US and the UK, to have any hope of slowing the climate emergency, we need to cut down on meat by 90% and dairy by 60%. Safran Foer’s idea is that we eat meat and dairy only in the evening. Easy.
Last week, though, steak fans everywhere were excited by a new study that concluded there was insufficient evidence that red meat is bad for our health. The problem is that, at this stage, it’s not really about us: cows are beautiful creatures and when farmed en masse to meet our enormous appetites, their methane-filled burps (not farts, contrary to popular belief) are awful for the planet. Even so, it seemed to stand as symbolic green light for filling one’s boots at the bovine buffet. The hunger for even a hint of permission shows that there is a long way to go.
Safran Foer’s new approach, measured and moderate, gives me hope. I know people who won’t read Eating Animals, because they simply like meat too much. This is stealthier. Guilt and shame are not effective tactics for changing anyone’s minds, in any field, and neither is absolute rigidity. He admits that, even after Eating Animals, he craved meat and ate burgers at airports, because they were comforting and easy. He knows this makes him sound like a hypocrite, but that kind of honesty is realistic. The vegan accounts I follow on Instagram are funny and open to people who are interested in what vegans are doing, even if they aren’t doing it themselves. They are not didactic, they are not judgmental, and those qualities, rather than shame, offer the best chance of the shift in habits that we need.