Jonathan Safran Foer
McDonald, Alyssa, New Statesman (1996)
You're a respected novelist, one of your brothers [Franklin] edits the New Republic, and the other [Joshua] is a successful science writer. What was conversation like around the Foer family dinner table?
It was all fart jokes. Um, it was very exuberant. We didn't talk about politics very much, and we never talked about literature. There's so much not to talk about in Jewish history of the past 50 to 100 years--or 5,000 years, for that matter. One use of humour is as a sacrificial substitute for things that we won't talk about otherwise. Jews didn't become very funny until after the Holocaust.
Why did you choose non-fiction as the mode in which to write about factory farming?
I guess a couple of reasons. Making a novel that had a point would feel like constraining it. When I wrote my first two books, I didn't have any idea where I would end up until I was quite far into them, and I value that. Also, I wanted the reader to know I was being truthful in a journalistic way. In this case, that really matters--it's not like with the 11 September attacks [the subject of Foer's last novel], where the images really convey the scale of what has happened.
Is it more difficult to make your case here in Britain, when your statistics are so specific to America?
There is a defensiveness. It is better here, but Britain is not good. In America, 99 per cent of chickens are factory-farmed; here I think it's 95 per cent. Merely that Americans eat as they do should cause Europeans a lot of distress. The ramifications are global.
In the book, the primary reason for your own vegetarianism seems to be animal welfare.
That's part of it. But there are farms where they kill animals, but don't hurt them. However, I can't get excited about endorsing a farm system that is so exceptional. And having been to lots of good farms, I know that mistakes do happen. The idea of an animal being accidentally tortured for a meal just doesn't justify it for me.
Is vegetarianism sentimental?
I think that meat eaters are sentimental. To say this is the worst thing we do to the environment, it's bad to animals, it's bad for us, it's bad for poverty, for world communities, for economies--those are facts. …