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Jonathan Foer, Eating Animals (New York: Little, Brown, 2009), 341pp.Jonathan Foer, Eating Animals (New York: Little, Brown, 2009), 341pp.

           For much of his life Jonathan Foer was a "selective omnivore." He was mainly vegetarian, but ate meat every once in a while. He acknowledged his "conscious inconsistency" and "the confounding complexity of this issue and the forgivable fallibility of being human." But when his first child was born it caused him to think more deeply and directly about eating animals. Today he's a strict vegetarian, and his book explains why.

           There are numerous reasons to be vegetarian, but for Foer it boils down to two words — factory farms. These "Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations" (the EPA's lingo) control about 99% of the meat that we eat. The figures are staggering. Tyson Foods slaughters 2.2 billion chickens every year. And that's a mere fraction of the 50 billion factory-farmed birds worldwide. Smithfield slaughters 31 million hogs a year. These CAFOs are places of horrible cruelty, environmental degradation, contamination, and public health hazards.

           Foer lets everyone have their say. He includes first-person narratives by people from across the spectrum — a factory farmer, one of the few independent slaughter house farmers, a traditional hog farmer, Bill and Nicolette Niman, a PETA vegan, etc. He happily acknowledges the "good and extraordinary people" in the meat industry who are working hard to find alternatives to factory farms. At the end of the day, though, in the words of Michael Pollan, "eating industrial meat takes an almost heroic act of unknowing." And from that personal decision it's a small step to public advocacy.

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