Bringing Non-Human Animals into Food Justice: Review Essay of Eating Animals

By Willis, Abbey | Theory in Action, October 2014 | Go to article overview

Bringing Non-Human Animals into Food Justice: Review Essay of Eating Animals


Willis, Abbey, Theory in Action


Bringing Non-Human Animals Into Food Justice: Review Essay of Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer. New York: NY: Back Bay Books, 2009

This review essay places Foer's arguments in Eating Animals within a larger conversation about the meaning(s) of "food justice" and how the concept might be broadened in a manner that can deliberately account for the non-human world. [Article copies available for a fee from The Transformative Studies Institute. E-mail address: journal@transformativestudies.org Website: http://www.transformativestudies.org ©2014 by The Transformative Studies Institute. All rights reserved.]

KEYWORDS: Food Justice, Animal Rights, Animal Welfare, Diet, Vegetarianism, Sustainability.

Humans - who enslave, castrate, experiment on, and fdlet other animals - have had an understandable penchant for pretending animals do not feel pain. A sharp distinction between humans and 'animals ' is essential if we are to bend them to our will, make them work for us, wear them, eat them - without any disquieting tinges of guilt or regret. It is unseemly of us, who often behave so unfeelingly toward other animals, to contend that only humans can suffer. The behavior of other animals renders such pretensions specious. They are just too much like us. -Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan

Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals is an account of his journey toward vegetarianism told through several stories of his grandmother, upbringing, and trials with eating animals in the past, as well as a report on the state of factory farming in the U.S. Foer walks us through stories of animal shit, suffering, and microbes while trying to tackle why we relate so differently to domesticated house animals like dogs and cats than pigs and chickens. He ultimately attempts to account for what's at stake when we consume animals-it's not just their lives, but our own. Foer wants to put meat (and its production) back on the metaphorical table. In doing this, Foer provides scholars with an important backdrop for questions about food justice and sustainability, which I outline below in this review essay.

The introduction to this special issue makes a case for revisiting how the concepts of "food justice" and "sustainability" are defined and operationalized. Deric Shannon suggests in his essay, "Operationalizing Food Justice and Sustainability," that there are three spheres of sustainability: environmental, economic, and social. Interrogating the social sphere will lead those of us broadly working toward "sustainability" to do so, partly, by incorporating an ethic that opposes systems of domination, as well as using that ethic to help guide the creation of new participatory social institutions-ones that might yield "social sustainability." "Food justice" is defined by Gottlieb and Joshi (2013: 6) as follows:

First, and most simply, we characterize food justice as ensuring that the benefits and risks of where, what, and how food is grown and produced, transported and distributed, and accessed and eaten are shared fairly. Second, by elaborating what food justice means and how it is realized in various settings, we hope to identify a language and a set of meanings, told through stories as well as analysis, that illuminate how food injustices are experienced and how they can be challenged and overcome.

Shannon (this issue) also suggests that we might metaphorically think about food justice as a "polyculture of ideas that form a tapestry borrowing from many political traditions that stress an opposition to relations of domination and stress social relations of mutual aid and cooperation." This review of Eating Animals suggests that the definition and operationalization of "food justice" might be expanded to include an understanding of "personhood" for animals, with Foer's book specifically looking into the material lives of non-human animals who enter into conventional food systems. If we value non-human animals as having intrinsic worth, can we extend that to things like trees, rain forests, coral reefs? …

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