If ignorance is bliss, then making eye contact with a pig seconds before it’s slaughtered is another thing altogether. The guy having the swine face-time is novelist Jonathan Safran Foer, who, after the birth of his son, was driven to explore what “eating animals” really means.
Those animals of the title of this vegetarian treatise are humans, and, to his credit, Foer gives voice to all sides — the animal activist, the factory farmer, and those who strive to raise animals for meat as humanely as possible.
So is everything illuminated? Foer presents the cold, hard facts about what it means to eat meat (mostly animal cruelty), but this particular light has been shone before (see Schlosser, Pollan, Sinclair, etc.).
What is new here is Foer also examines what it means not to eat meat. He notes, correctly, that some omnivores feel defensive in the company of vegetarians, as if a complicit judgment is being passed. In addition, Foer laments the death of the family dinners he knew as a child and those weekly sushi dinners he had to give up with friends. That he’s found happy alternatives to these rituals makes the reader wonder why he makes it an issue in the first place. It’s breaking bread, after all, not breaking meat.