Authors@Google: Jonathan Safran Foer

Uploaded by AtGoogleTalks on 11.11.2010

>>Female commentator: Hi, everyone.
I grew up eating meat. I still eat meat and I cook with meat, and the argument I often
make is I-I don't want my palate to be limited, what-what I, the flavors and colors and that
I put on a plate, I don't wanna be limited by.
I'm also a Mom and I have a beloved dog. I still use the present tense. I had a beloved
dog, Barney, and who I sometimes confused with my son who often looked at me and would
go, "Mom, I'm the two-legged one."
So I have this completely chaotic relationship with animals and I welcomed when I was handed
Jonathan Safran Foer's book, Eating Animals, I-I welcomed somebody who could, was maybe
going to make an argument about vegetarianism. And that is what the book is not.
It is a subjective, starting from his childhood he describes his relationship to animals and
to eating animals and goes from there to a very big view about what maybe our relationship
and our responsibilities are and should be.
It's a different argument than Michael Pollan's argument. Michael Pollan is some, is somebody
who we on the food team refer to often and we-we often refer to Food Rules, his book,
as-as our bible.
So I-I-I really enjoyed reading Jonathan's book very, very much and-and I can't wait
to hear more from him.
So here he is.
>>Jonathan Safran Foer: Thank you so much. It was a very thoughtful introduction and
I found that I was quite worried when I published the book or when I anticipated the publication
of the book because I thought that I would have a certain set of built in natural enemies.
And I had assumed that chefs were gonna be one kind of enemy and that farmers were gonna
be another kind of enemy.
And what I found since the book has been in the world and I've been able to talk to lots
of different kinds of audiences is that the strongest or the most enthusiastic response
has actually been from chefs and farmers; farmers in particular.
And that the most negative responses have come from where I thought the most positive
responses would come which is the animal rights movement who-who often feel as if the book
didn't go far enough.
But it means a lot to me that-that-that you would speak so generously about the book.
And I think that part of the solution to this problem and it seems to me whatever side you
come down on in terms of eating meat or not eating meat or what kind of meat, you really
have to recognize that there's a problem.
We have a serious problem and part of the solution is gonna be in making visible these
presently invisible alliances like between someone who's concerned with animal welfare
and a chef who likes to cook meat.
We're used to thinking of these people at being on opposites ends of a spectrum or a
cattle rancher and an activist at PETA. We think that these represent the extremes.
And my experience when I met these people and heard their stories was-was that I-I was
surprised to find that they're on the same end of the spectrum and opposite people who
are willfully ignorant or willfully forget that we have this horrible problem in front
of us.
Well I'm grateful to be speaking to you. It's very, you, I'm sure you take for granted how
unusual a place this is –
but it was a real revelation walking in here today.
I am a layman with computers and technology and I am I guess still under the impression
that Google is like a search engine and if you need to find something you type Google
and you enter it and you get a whole bunch of responses. And I can't for the life of
me imagine why this requires so many people --
and so many buildings.
But as I walked the campus I say, "Oh a lot bicycles. They're very colorful." And the
person who was walking me said, "Oh, Google provides us bicycles."
And in the lobby there was a-a-a drink, a cooler filled with drinks and it was unlocked
and it didn't have any place to insert money --
and he said, "Oh, Google provides those."
I started getting this image of a place that is really nice to work until I went into the
men's room and I noticed that there were toothbrushes on shelves. And suddenly I understood everything
that was going on here.
That it's all down payments on your time. And toothbrushes at work. What an absolutely
horrible, miserable thing.
My God, I'm so glad I don't have to have a toothbrush where I work.
But then again I don't work anywhere so I'm, I guess I'm unusually lucky.
So I thought what I would do is talk for a little bit about this book, the research that
went into it and why I decided to write it. I'm not a journalist, I'm not an activist,
I'm not a philosopher, I'm not even an animal person, I'm not really an environmentalist.
And most of the people who've become engaged with this subject in any kind of devoted way
are one of those things.
I thought I'd talk about why I did get involved with it. Give you some sense of what the book
is and some of the conclusions that I reached and then leave as much time as possible for
something resembling a conversation, because this is a-a subject that is very well served
by conversation and very poorly served by a lecture. It's, we perceive it to be very
controversial and very touchy.
As I was saying when I anticipated the book coming out I thought that, I thought it was
gonna be a really difficult and trying and maybe even dangerous experience.
I had heard stories from friends of mine who had written books about food, not even targeting
the meat industry in particular, but targeting-targeting the industrialized food system who at various
times had to have body guards when they would give readings because they got so, had so
many threatening people come up to them afterwards at the signing.
And I thought that I was really going for the bullseye of this unfortunate target and
that I had imagined many times, for some reason my mind would cling to the image of someone
throwing ground beef at me at a reading.
And I became so convinced that this would happen. It's probably just narcissism, but
I became so convinced it would happen that I would think, I go, "What's the right move
if someone should do that? Do I pretend it didn't happen and just read as if --
there weren't meat stuck to the wall behind me? Or throw it back?" Or when somebody would
inevitably in the audience say, "Hey, kick that guy out," would I then say, "No, no,
no let the guy sit. I wanna talk to this person" and try to engage this person. Anyway it never
And no one ever got angry with me and most surprisingly no one ever disagreed with me.
And I don't think this is because I'm such a persuasive arguer. I think it's because
the case against factory farming is so persuasive.
I spent three years researching it and I've spent about a year talking about it now and
I've yet to meet the person who wants to publicly stand up and defend it.
And there's been absolutely no response from the industry itself which is perhaps the most
shocking thing I've encountered in-in-in the process of researching and writing this book.
I mean it's insane if you think about it.
If I wrote a book about Google and said, "Google is an evil company for these reasons. Here
are 80 pages of ed notes citing facts about Google's horrificness and here are testimonies
from former Google employees explaining why it's a horrible company and here's why we
need less Google in the world."
If I were do that rest assured Google would respond somehow or someone would respond on
Google's behalf. I'd probably be sued into oblivion first of all, and secondly people
would say, somebody would say, "Either you've got it completely wrong or you're not telling
the full story and here's the rest of the story."
And that never came. There was no response from a meat industry that has one of the most
powerful lobbies in the world.
And so this suggests one of two things: either I got it all right, all of my facts are right;
my argument is right and they are effectively raising the white flag and submitting, which
is not the case.
Or they are recognizing that the expansion of this conversation will-will, is-is against
their interests. That the more people think and talk about this and examine what's going
on, what we have, and what our choices are, the less inclined they will be to eat meat.
Now I-I've been a little bit sloppy so far in speaking about meat and speaking about
factory farming as if they were perfectly interchangeable, and they're not.
Everybody knows what meat is. Factory farming is-is quite hard to define because it's not
any particular set of technology so much as a mindset that I think is most simply described
as farming that takes nature as an obstacle to be overcome, rather than any kind of guide.
So the idea that sick animals are better than healthy animals. The idea that environmental
destruction is-is better in a business model than sustainability; the idea that human health
is of no great regard.
So 99% of the animals that we eat in this country now come from factory farms; less
than 1% come from the kinds of farms that probably everybody in this room holds an image
of in his or her mind when thinking about farming.
We imagine a barn and animals on grass and sunshine and soil and hay and fence posts
and a farmer and his wife and so on.
And that has no correlation to reality or at least it represents the tiniest little
sliver of reality.
Reality is animals being raised in extreme concentrations; almost always indoors; almost
always fed antibiotics and other drugs from birth until death; almost always kept in conditions
that would be illegal if they were dogs or cats; environmental destruction is built into
the business model.
A company like Smithfield had 7,000 violations of the Clean Water Act in one year. So if
they'd had 10 we would say, "That's regrettable." If they'd had 100 we would say, "Someone needs
to keep a better eye on this company." But 7,000 starts to seem like it's on purpose;
like it's as much as they can get away with. And as it turns out they can get away with
really anything.
Animal agriculture is the number one cause of global warming. The U.N. has said it's
one of the top two or three causes of every significant environmental problem on the planet
locally and globally: air pollution, water pollution, deforestation, loss of biodiversity.
The Climate Chief of the United Kingdom said in an interview a couple of months ago, and
this is not a henchman of PETA and this is not a vegetarian. He said, "That the only
way to save the planet is a global movement toward vegetarianism."
Al Gore now talks about the need to reduce meat consumption.
We're at a point where we know that we cannot continue to think of ourselves as environmentalists
while eating factory farm meat regularly.
And it's a very strange subject because as I was saying we perceive it to be divisive.
We think that there's gonna be an argument. We think people are gonna feel aggressive
or defensive whenever we talk about meat, despite the fact that it represents our most
important relationship to animals. And there's not a person in this room or not a person
in where ever these other rooms are who is indifferent to animals. Such people don't
exist. Ninety-six percent of Americans think that animals deserve legal protection. Seventy-six
percent of Americans think that farmed animals deserve strict protection from cruelty.
It's pretty wild to think of anything that 95% or 75% of Americans agree on at this point.
Whether or not you believe in global warming or not, you believe it would matter if the
globe was warming, and you believe that it matters that the quality of the air that we
breathe and the quality of the water that we drink matters.
And so as I was saying we're in this odd position where we have this daily act. And for most
people it's two times a day and for some people it's three times a day that is our most important
relationship to the environment and our most important relationship to the animal world.
And yet so many of us find ways not to think about it.
So when writing this book I wanted to find a way to think about it and find a way to
encourage other people to think about it. It's not any kind of straight forward case
for vegetarianism, but it is a very strong case for engaging with this problem.
So I thought what I would do is read a tiny bit so you get a sense of what-what the book
is like; the ways in which it is sort of journalism and sort of philosophy, but not really either
of those things and much more of a story.
And then, and then we can have a kind of conversation about it.
So I'm gonna read, begin by reading a letter that I wrote near the beginning of the research
that I did. I thought that this research would take me a month or two months and that I would
do it through Google and a little bit of reading and maybe a couple of short trips.
It ended up taking three and a half years in part because it's such a complicated subject
and in part because of letters like this.
"To Whom It May Concern at Tyson Foods.
I'm following up on my previous letters of January 10th, February 27th, March 15th, April
20th, May 15th, and June 7th.
To reiterate, I'm a new father eager to learn as much as I can about the meat industry in
an effort to make informed decisions about what to feed my son.
Given that Tyson Foods is the world's largest processor and marketer of chicken, beef, and
pork, your company is an obvious place to start.
I'd like to visit some of your farms and speak with company representatives about everything
from the nuts and bolts of how your farms operate to animal welfare and environmental
issues. If possible, I'd also like to speak with some of your farmers.
I can make myself available at just about any time and on relatively short notice and
I'm happy to travel as is needed.
Given your family centered philosophy and recent, 'It's what your family deserves,'
advertising campaign, I assume you'll appreciate my desire to see for myself where my son's
food comes from.
Thanks so much for your continued consideration.
Jonathan Safran Foer"
And so Tyson Food is not any worse than any other company in the meat industry in America.
It's not any better either.
I sent dozens of these letters. I made dozens of phone calls and I was met always with evasion
or silence or, "We'll get back to you," or "It's not a very good time for us," or "Because
of this biosecurity risk we're actually not able to have visitors."
And I-I-I basically wasn't able to see anything this way. There was a way that I was able
to see things which I'll get to in a minute.
Now this is a quick aside, small and family farmers that less than 1% of the industry
responded very, very differently. When I would ask to see a farm they were enthusiastic to-to-to
host me and they would answer any questions I had even when they knew the answers were
not flattering.
I was always forthright about who I was and what I was interested in finding out and what
I might write about it.
But it's-it's a worthwhile little test if-if you or somebody who eats meat open your refrigerator
and look at the label on the first thing you pull out and just for fun call the company
or write a letter to them. Just because why not?
Because in life we feel like we deserve such answers especially when we're giving a lot
of money to these places and more importantly we're ingesting their products; we're bringing
them into our bodies and feeding them to loved ones quite often.
And as far as I can tell the meat industry and the military are the great exceptions
in American business; certainly in food.
If you wanted to find out where your apple juice came from you could pretty easily get
an invitation to the orchard and the processing facility.
If you wanna know how your bagel is made they'll let you behind the counter at the bakery or
deli, but here there is just nothing to be learned.
So I investigated other ways of learning if they weren't going to make themselves available
there had to be ways of getting into these farms. And what I ended up doing was what-what
I'm about to read.
"I'm wearing black in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere."
This is, by the way, not all that far from here.
"There are surgical booties around my disposable shoes and latex gloves on my shaking hands.
I pat myself down quintuple checking that I have everything: red filtered flashlight,
picture I.D., 40 dollars cash, video camera, copy of California Penal Code 597e –
bottle of water, not for me, silenced cell phone, and blow horn."
"We kill the engine and roll the final 30 yards to the spot we scouted out earlier in
the day on one of half dozen drive bys. This isn't the scary part yet."
I'm accompanied tonight by an animal activist who I refer to as C in the book.
"It wasn't until I picked her up that I realized I'd been picturing someone who inspired confidence,
but C is short and wispy. She wears aviator glasses, flip flops, and a retainer."
I could be describing half of the people in the room actually.
"'You have a lot of cars I observed.'" I could be describing myself to be frank.
"'You have a lot of cars I observed' as we pulled away from her house.
'I live with my parents for now,' she said.
As we drove down the highway known to locals as Blood Run, both because of the frequency
of accidents and the number of trucks that use the road to transport animals to slaughter,
she explained 'that sometimes entry is as simple as walking through an open gate, although
this has become increasingly rare given concerns about biosecurity and trouble makers.
More often these days fences have to be hyped. Occasionally lights and alarms go off. Every
now and then there are dogs; every now and then unleashed.'
She once encountered a bull that was left to roam among the sheds waiting to impale
snooping vegetarians. 'Bull' I half echoed, half asked with now obviously linguistic intent.
'Male cow,' she said brusquely --
as she, as she sorted through a bag of what appeared to be dental equipment. 'And if you
and I should tonight encounter a bull,' 'we won't' she said.
A tailgater forced me behind a truck packed tight and piled high with chickens on their
way to slaughter. 'Well hypothetically.' 'Stand very still,' she advised, 'I don't think they
see stationary objects.'
If the question is if things ever gone seriously wrong one of C's night visits the answer is
a resounding, 'Yes.'
There was the time she fell into a manure pit a dying rabbit under each arm and found
herself up to her neck, literally, in literally deep shit.
And the night she was forced to spend in construction paper blackness with 20,000 miserable animals
and their fumes, having accidentally locked herself in the shed. And the near fatal case
of campylobacter one of her cohorts picked up from picking up a chicken.
Feathers were collecting on the windshield. I turned on the wiper and asked, 'What's all
that stuff in your bag?' 'In case we need to make a rescue.'
I had no idea what she was referring to and I didn't like it.
'Now you said you don't think bulls see stationary objects. Wouldn't this qualify though as one
of those things you absolutely need to know? I don't mean to belabor the point, but --
but what the hell have I gotten myself into? I'm not a journalist, activist, veterinarian,
lawyer, or philosopher, as to my knowledge have been the others who have made such a
trip. I'm not up for anything and I'm not someone who can stand very still in front
of a guard bull.'"
I imagined, this is if I imagined the meat coming at me many times, I also imagined what
would actually happen if I did face down this bull knowing that I had to stand still and
what would I think about? Baseball or my parents having intercourse, or --
something that-that would completely paralyze me.
"We come to a gravelly stop at the planned upon spot and wait for our synchronized watches
to click over to 3:00 a.m., the planned upon time. The dog we'd seen earlier in the day
can't be heard, although that's hardly a comfort.
I take the scrap of paper from my pocket and read it one last time."
And then I give the text of California Penal Code 597e which says basically if you come
upon an animal that is impounded and without proper access to food and water you are allowed
to take it upon yourself to provide food and water and you're not liable for trespassing
or any other laws you might break in the process.
So this is how animal activists get on to farms they-they use this in California. They
use this law, this loophole. And it's pretty interesting why there are laws that, the particular
laws that forbid one from having access to farms are quite extreme.
After September 11th the government passed an Animal Terrorism Act which makes trespassing
onto a farm not an act of trespass but an act of terrorism. And it's worth investigating
what is meant by that.
The most generous interpretation I guess is that the government was legitimately afraid
that some terrorist would come and I don't know poison our food supply.
But when you put it in the context of what it is this farm system has done, 76 million
Americans get food poisoning every year and the CDC says the prime culprit is animal agriculture.
I mean no terrorist is that ambitious.
The num, one-one of the top two or three causes of every significant environmental problem
on the planet: Swine Flu, H1N1, which moved across the United States and the world and
killed relatively few, but could have killed a hundred million people. There's absolutely
no reason it didn't, it just didn't happen to mutate in a particular way; originated
on a hog farm in North Carolina. So it's-it's possible that we have our definition of terrorism
So I read California Penal Code and I say, "which despite being State law is about as
reassuring as Cujo's silence.
I'm imagining some roused from REM sleep and well armed farmer coming upon I know the difference
between arugula and rugelach scrutinizing the living conditions of his turkeys. He cocks
his double barrel, my sphincter relaxes, and then what?
I whip out California Penal Code 597e?
Is that gonna make his finger less or more itchy?
It's time. We use a series of dramatic hand signals to communicate what a simple whisper
would have done just as well, but we've taken vows of silence; not a word until we're safely
on the way home.
The twirl of a latexed index finger means, 'Let's roll.' 'You first,' I blurt. And now
for the scary part."
So I-I ended up seeing this farm which was a turkey farm and seeing many other farms
of all of the food species and I went into lots of processing plants, slaughter houses,
and the scary part was really this veil of secrecy; just how impossible it was to learn
about food.
The-the fact that almost every door that I encountered to one of these windowless sheds
was locked and not because they were afraid of an animal turning the door knob and escaping,
and not because they were afraid of somebody stealing the animals, because that's-that's
not a real concern when it comes to chickens or turkeys.
But they're afraid of us. Afraid of the people who buy their products and eat their products
learning what these products really are; how they are brought to our tables and what the
effects are. And it's infuriating.
And there are many times in, when I writing this book that I regretted that I was writing
this book because I like to be a novelist. It's how I think of myself. It's how I like
to spend my time. I can't think of a better way to spend my time.
And yet I put aside about three years, three and a half years to write this. But whenever
I was feeling unmotivated and whenever I was feeling uninspired or when I felt that maybe
I shouldn't be working on this book, I think of those locked doors and they just made me
so angry that they would, they would provide more than enough fuel for the engine of the
So I've now given you some introduction and I think it would be best to try to have a-a
kind of conversation as I said, I would love to hear somebody stand up and say, "You've
got it all wrong," but short of that I would love to hear questions, of course, but also
any experiences you might have had with meat or farming or anything like that.
>>female in audience #1: So my name's Ann and I wanted to, oh sure.
Hi everyone.
I wanted to address a piece that I felt like you really focused on at-at the beginning
of your story, that I think is-is missing in-in this greater conversation and that's
the connection between food and meat within that and family.
And I really appreciated that that's where you started because I don't know about any
of you who, if you've made choices about what you eat or started to think about changes
that you've made, I've found that the hardest part is the family piece.
And that when you talk to your friends or co-workers or anyone else in your life they
seem to be a lot more accepting of, "Oh you've decided to do x, y, or z" and-and it can even
be considered cool or appealing or whatever.
And family's been the hard one, at least for me. And-and I-I got the impression that it
has been to some extent for you in terms of extended family. And-and I guess I'm just
wondering if, not if you have any advice, but just I feel like we need to come up with
some sort of safe way to approach some of these conversations with the people who started
to feed you. And you don't wanna make them feel guilty because they're you're Mom and
you're saying, "Mushroom soup on everything is disgusting," or whatever. [chuckles]
But I-I-I just, I wanted to bring up that that piece of it is I think an important starting
point in terms of how we educate is the-the people who are closest to home as opposed
to raging activism to these large comp-companies that-that aren't so close 'cause it starts
local, I guess.
>>Jonathan Safran Foer: Well I make no effort to educate or persuade people close to me.
At least not in any active way because I think that, I think there's a danger in making the
person the reference rather than, or the person the subject of your conversation, rather than
what you really wanna be the subject which is this problem --
>>female in audience: Um-hum.
>>Jonathan Safran Foer: that faces all of us. And I-I've just never had any success
to be honest in-in a one-on-one conversation trying to persuade somebody to eat differently
and so I don't try anymore.
But what I find is very successful is explaining when asked, waiting 'til someone asks and
then explaining honestly why I do what I do, trying to give an answer that corresponds
to the nature of their question.
>>female in audience: Um-hum.
>>Jonathan Safran Foer: Sometimes people say, "Oh why didn't you get a burger?" And they
don't wanna hear, "Do you have any idea where that burger comes from and?"
>>female in audience: Right.
>>Jonathan Safran Foer: So you can say something like, "You know I actually don't eat burgers
I read this thing now available in paperwork by Jonathan Safran Foer --
>>female in audience: [laughs]
>>Jonathan Safran Foer: about the environmental effects and I've been thinking a lot about
the environment so I'm just trying to eat less."
I think actually moving away from the binary vegetarian or not is-is --
>>female in audience: Right.
>>Jonathan Safran Foer: one of the most successful tactics and moving toward, "I'm trying to
eat less meat. >>female in audience: Yeah.
>>Jonathan Safran Foer: And for me it happens to be zero. That's how little meat I eat,
but I am just somebody trying to eat less meat. And I think that's very, it-it creates
a huge opening for –
>>female in audience: Um-hum.
>>Jonathan Safran Foer: people who care, but are not going to care ultimately. Which frankly
is most people.
>>female in audience: Right.
>>Jonathan Safran Foer: Most people are not going to become vegetarian any time soon,
but I do think that confronted with these realities most people are ready to eat one
serving less a week. I mean I think that's possible and I think that most people are
probably ready to eat three or four or five servings less a week. But they have to be
given that space without like a fear of being called a hypocrite.
>>female in audience: Um-hum.
>>Jonathan Safran Foer: Because the-the danger when talking about these things is to reach
right for the extremes, like the margins of the conversation, "Well you're vegetarian
but you're wearing leather shoes." But, "You're a vegetarian but I saw you swat a fly the
other day and why --
I mean it sounds ridiculous, but this is what happens in so many of these conversations.
And what we, what's happened is we've allowed the realization that we won't be perfect to
be an excuse not to try.
And we need to-to think about these things like we think about the environment. It's
no longer a sensible question to-to ask, "Are you an environmentalist or not?" I mean would
you have a good answer for that? It's a weird question. It's almost like asking if you're
a feminist or not.
>>female in audience: Sure.
>>Jonathan Safran Foer: Like, "Of course, but I guess unless you mean crazy."
I meant that, by the way, about the environment not about feminism.
>>female in audience: [laugh]
>>female in audience: Good. [unintelligible]
>>Jonathan Safran Foer: So I try to buy good appliances. I don't leave the car idling.
I turn off lights when I leave a room. And yet I flew here from New York and I know that
that's about as bad as it gets in terms of my transportational footprint.
But I didn't get off the plane, throw my hands up in the air, call home and say, "Turn the
car on. Let it idle."
Because it's not an all or nothing proposition.
Instead we recognize or we do our best to recognize, the choices that are in front of
us and then also our ability to make better choices.
And so I think it's the exact same thing with food. We have to get away from this idea,
"I was a vegetarian for six years but then I found myself in a bus station at two in
the morning and the only thing that was open was KFC and all they had left were chicken
things and so I ate them and that was the end of my vegetarianism." I've heard a lot
of that and you've probably heard that too.
>>female in audience: Um-hum.
>>Jonathan Safran Foer: As if like the slightest encroachment meant it's time to stop trying.
>>female in audience: Right.
>>Jonathan Safran Foer: And if you imagine applying that standard to any other realm
of decision making it's foolish; it's crazy. Like, "I used to be someone who tried to tell
the truth then my Mom came down the stairs on the way to a party and asked me if she
looked nice in a dress and I said yes, so I now I lie at every available opportunity."
>>female in audience: Right.
>>Jonathan Safran Foer: It just doesn't make any sense.
And so I think guiding the conversation toward the middle ground like, "You know what I've
been thinking about this and Jesus, it matters to me. Like it really has to matter to me
that-that this is so environmentally destructive and I'm not really all that into animals but
some things are just wrong. And this is wrong. I know what's goin' on is wrong. So I'm trying
to eat less of it."
I think that is actually a very successful approach.
>>female in audience: Yeah.
>>Jonathan Safran Foer: Because it doesn't make the-the other person the topic of your
>>female in audience: I-I guess I just think that one of the sort of fall backs is that
this is our tradition, this is our tradition, this is our culture, but it's such a short
tradition that this factory farming piece has been a part of the picture, I mean --
>>Jonathan Safran Foer: But you also have other traditions and cultures like caring,
like --
>>female in audience: Right.
>>Jonathan Safran Foer: like some people find their values in the Bible, some people find
their values in stories their grandparents taught them, but they all have, they ultimately
actually teach the same lessons--
>>female in audience: Right.
>>Jonathan Safran Foer: about like dominion and stewardship. Like what it means to be
a human and what responsibilities that entails and also what it means to be like a citizen
of the earth.
>>female in audience: Um-hum.
>>Jonathan Safran Foer: And this is, this is something that I felt as I was writing
the book and I've been very, very happy in feeling like it's been shown out in the conversations
that I've had since which is that we all already share the values that would inspire one to
stop eating --
>>female in audience: Right.
>>Jonathan Safran Foer: meat, or to eat less meat. No one needs to acquire new values.
You don't need to persuade anybody to-to care about these things only to act on the care
that they already have. And so then it's a question of well, what are the different ways
that people can act? How can you expand the action rather than contract it?
And it might be that holding a sign that says, "Meat is murder," on a street corner contracts
people's desire to act, whereas like offering them flexibility they'll say, "Ah, that might
feel good. I'll try that."
>>female voice: [unintelligible]
>>female in audience: Oh yeah, absolutely.
Thank you very much.
>>Jonathan Safran Foer: Thank you.
>>male in audience #1: Hi. Thanks for the book and reading it was quite an experience.
And then at the end I still felt that there were a few questions that seemed to me obvious
that were left unanswered and I went to your online forum and still didn't find the answers.
So the first one was you talked about factory farming of meat but not of dairy and eggs
so much and it seemed that the-the issues apply identically.
The second was somebody must have brought up the issue that crop agriculture, industrial
crop agriculture kills a lot of animals too and causes animal suffering.
And then the third one was --
>>Jonathan Safran Foer: Let's do one at a time 'cause I know I'll just forget otherwise.
>>male in audience: Okay.
>>Jonathan Safran Foer: So in terms of eggs and dairy, I didn't include them because they
just weren't in the scope of this book. But you're absolutely right that they're precisely
the same problems.
>>male in audience: Okay.
>>Jonathan Safran Foer: I mean I-I made a lot of decisions in the interest of having
this be accessible and hopefully persuasive and sometimes that meant sacrificing comprehensiveness
or one can state things in many different ways and can be equally truthful.
And I made certain choices and sometimes I regretted that I didn't state them in other
ways that are maybe more stringent or like anybody you-you feel differently about the
same thing at different times of the day and over the course of a week or month or year.
And there are passages I look back at and I regret that I didn't say something more
strongly. And there are passages that I look back and I regret having said is so strongly.
But I was trying to strike the balance. That scene of breaking into the farm I was, I was
conveying a very difficult aspect of writing this book which was getting the information
itself. But a more difficult thing was getting the tone right.
>>male in audience: Um.
>>Jonathan Safren Foer: And then crop-
>>male in audience: Yeah.
>>Jonathan Safran Foer: crop growing crops kills animals, basically.
>>male in audience: And so I'm sure people brought that up as an argument and --
>>Jonathan Safran Foer: Yeah, the goal is-is-is not to be these kumbaya, perfect, harm- well
no perhaps that is the goal, but it's not re, it's not what we're realistically aiming
ourselves toward.
There's a big difference between a tractor accidentally, and it is accidental even if
you know it's going to happen in the course of crop agriculture, killing however many
I don't know woodchucks, what lives in the ground?
>>male in audience: Um.
>>Jonathan Safran Foer: Beavers?
I have no idea --
There's a big difference between that and knowingly creating cages for pregnant animals
so small they can't turn around.
Part of this has to do with the effects on the world and part of it has to do with effects
on ourselves. And we do pay a price for making these decisions individually and as a culture.
>>male in audience: Okay.
And then the third one was somebody somewhere must have asked you how do you know plants
don't feel pain?
>>Jonathan Safran Foer: How do I know plants don't feel pain?
>>male in audience: Hasn't somebody asked you that question in your --
>>Jonathan Safran Foer: They usually ask it in a, in a, in a more annoying form which
is something like, "But you don't you hear the carrots crying?"
>>male in audience: Yeah.
>>Jonathan Safran Foer: I don't know that plants don't feel pain. I don't know that
you feel pain.
We make assumptions and our assumptions are usually based in evidence –
>>male in audience: Um-hum.
>>Jonathan Safran Foer: in science so science gives us many, many reasons to think that
other human beings experience pain in a way that's sort of similar to the ways that we
And it also gives us reasons to think that dogs care when you kick them and that a pig
cares when you kick it and that a cow cares when you kick it and that a fish on a hook
that appears to be struggling for its life and appears to be squirming in something like
pain is not just giving us false indications.
That-that chemistry of its brain, the ways that the-the nerves are organized resemble
those in humans to such an extent that we have good reason to think that they are having
experiences that include suffering or pain or whatever you wanna call it.
And we don't have any reason to think that plants experience pain. But as I said, we'll
never know so it comes down to what kind of assumptions you wanna make. And it's better
to be someone who makes generous assumptions than someone who's miserly with his assumptions.
You depend on me to believe you when you slam your thumb in a car door and say, "Ah, Jesus
Christ, that fucking hurts." You want me to say, "Hey, are you okay? Do you need to go
to the hospital?" Because I could make other assumptions about you. I could say, "Oh there
he goes again just showing me all the symptoms; exhibiting all of the pain behavior --
but I know he's not really feeling pain."
In fact humans are good at doing this. And have historically been very good about assuming
that other humans don't feel things in the same way; humans of different races or sexes.
So the goal in life is to expand I think our-our definition of pain not to contract it.
And if you're proven wrong --
>>male in audience: Yes.
>>Jonathan Safran Foer: You know if you're proven wrong and it turns out the pig actually
feels nothing, what have you lost? A bunch of pretty good meals. But if you're proven
right, then we have something very, very serious on our hands.
>>female in audience #2: Hi there. Thank you so much for coming. I love your-your fiction
and I read this book and I love your non-fiction.
It's also preaching to the choir 'cause I'm an 11 year vegetarian who doesn't wear leather.
But my question is I learned all these interesting facts that just further solidified my decisions,
but I wanted to see if you had any ideas on how we can take this to the next step and
impact the food industry, and take all these facts and make sure that this kind of these
atrocities don't happen 'cause they're not only what I perceive to be cruel, but they're
unhealthy for humans.
>>Jonathan Safran Foer: Well, farmers grow what we ask them to grow not what they want
to grow.
And if you go to any supermarket now you'll see cage-free or free range eggs and you wouldn't
have seen them in any supermarket probably five years ago. You see it in gas stations
now. I mean everywhere they have them.
And it's not because these companies woke up and said, "It's probably a, like just the
right thing to do to get them out of these cages." They did it because it's what people
asked for. It's the fastest growing sector in the food industry: cage-free and free range
eggs. Not in Berkeley and not in Brooklyn, but in the entire United States.
It's a food that doesn't taste any better and isn't any better for us, but people are
buying because it's just the right thing to do. No one needs to be persuaded that it's
wrong to keep an animal that's the size of a football in a cage about the size of this
book. It's just not right.
So as people have asked for different things they've started producing different things.
So at a certain point I think a tipping point will be reached in much the same way that
it has, was reached with smoking. Where we, there was a period where everyone had access
to the information and we all knew it but we just weren't quite acting on it and the
conversation had to cha, expand and change in such a way that if just one thing led to
another and suddenly there was legislation happening at the same time as the consciousness
was changing.
And-and now it's legal to smoke cigarettes. It will always be legal to eat meat, but I
do think that in the not too distant future the question won't be why don't you eat it,
but why do you eat it?
>>female in audience: Okay.
>>female in audience #3: I have a somewhat similar question to the question that she
just asked. I feel really lucky that I can, that I live in San Francisco; that I have
access to all of these free-range eggs, organic meat, no hormone, no antibiotics.
And one of the things that-that changed the way I eat and I'm not, I'm not a vegetarian
but I try to limit or I try to at least know where my meat comes from, was the Monterey
Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Card for-for seafood.
So every time I go to a restaurant or I-I'm eating fish somewhere I look up to see that
fish species and it's totally revolutionized my purchasing and my consumption.
And-and again I feel in a way like this is like I'm a little bit in a, in a igloo because
I'm lucky enough to have --
>>Jonathan Safran Foer: Did you say an igloo or an emu? I didn't hear what you said.
>>female in audience: Igloo. That I, because I'm --
>>Jonathan Safran Foer: Igloo?
>>female in audience: Or like a bubble.
>>Jonathan Safran Foer: Like an Eskimo house?
Is that what you're saying? I just , I honestly can't hear what you're saying.
>>female in audience: My point is that I'm lucky enough --
>>Jonathan Safran Foer: Yeah.
>>female in audience: to be able to make these purchasing decisions about the food that I
>>Jonathan Safran Foer: Right.
>>female in audience: So I guess my question is if there were some kind of an app where
I could say, "Okay, Foster Farms, chicken. What's the condition of living for that animal
versus I don't know Petaluma Poultry or something like that?"
>>Jonathan Safran Foer: It's very difficult because these are not individual farms; they're
farm conglomerates. And even on the best farms I mean what you would really want is to be
able to trace an individual animal and to note was this animal given antibiotics at
any point in its life. And it's not always bad to give an animal antibiotics. I mean
a sick animal should be given antibiotics and a healthy animal should not.
We give eight times the amount of antibiotics to healthy animals as we do to sick people.
Not only because they've been bred in such a way that they are destined for illness,
but because it makes them grow faster. That's the real reason antibiotics are given to animals.
So the challenge would not be to identify which brands are good or bad, but which animals
are raised under what conditions and there's just too much information that we can never
Was this animal's slaughter botched? That's a really important thing to most people. Like
if you found out that the steak you are about to eat came from a cow that for two and a
half minutes experienced its own slaughter, let's just say had like its skin pulled up
over its head, you wouldn't, you probably wouldn't wanna eat it, right? I mean most
people wouldn't.
So that would be a useful piece of information to you. But you'll never get that piece of
And so what happens is when you eat meat you make a wager like, "I think this is probably
good enough," or "I don't think it's good enough." And we don't have nearly enough information
to know. I mean Temple Grandin who's the most important person in the livestock industry
did an audit of-of cattle processing plants and found that about 32% of the time during
her announced audits, her pre-announced audits, there were deliberate acts of cruelty happening
on a regular basis.
And that's a really crazy thing to hear. That when they knew someone was gonna be there
watching, about a third of the time they were not accidental acts of cruelty, but deliberate
acts of cruelty not happening rarely but on a regular basis. So numbers have improved,
I should say, since she made that audit.
But maybe should we think one out of three, one out of two, everyone has his or her own
calculus. What I know is when I don't eat meat I don't get involved with that wager.
I get it right every time.
That I don't have to worry about, was this a farm where they keep the manure in lagoons
outside and it inevitably runs off into local waterways and gets sprayed through aerosol
over neighboring fields, or was this a farm where they have proper waste management?
Was this a farm where farm workers are pushed to such an extent that they become at least
sloppy and at most sadistic? Or is this a farm where workers are treated well; get a
decent wage, are allowed to have some control over the techniques and do their job thoughtfully
and respectfully?
We just can't know all of that stuff and there is no way that we will ever know.
Fish are quite different because you're just looking to see if a species is right or not.
It's not, by the way, one shouldn't necessarily feel perfect confidence in just knowing that
a certain kind of tilapia is okay. It says nothing about how that specific fish was caught.
What the buy catch rate was.
Or what the fish itself went through which might seem like a silly or flakey suggestion
that I'm making, but we have very, very good reasons to think that they feel quite a bit
and perhaps every bit as much as like a chicken does or maybe even a cow.
And some people say, "That's regrettable. I don't care that much." Some people say,
"I care enough to order something else."
But my only point is you're always going to be largely ignorant. And that's something
I'm not comfortable with three times a day or two times a day or even once a day.
>>male in audience #2: Hey. Thanks for coming. I really appreciate it.
So I'd actually kind of like to make an argument for factory farming in some cases. I think
there's, all the cases that you've been talking about have been very easily demonizable like
beef slaughter, chicken slaughter, hard to argue with a lot of those cases.
But what about where the lifestyle of this animal in the wild is threatened by there
not being a factory farm situation.
I'm thinking in particular like, well you just brought up fish. So where tuna is becoming
extinct, certain species of salmon are becoming extinct.
And without factory farming institutions the demand is such that the fish farmers or the
fish-fisherman are driven to want to drive these-these animals into extinction. So --
>>Jonathan Safran Foer: Alright. So just to be clear we'll only talk about fish unless
you can think of an example --
>>male in audience: Well people keep that barrier set up --
>>Jonathan Safran Foer: Okay.
>>maler in audience: and we won't go into that.
>>Jonathan Safran Foer: So --
>>male in audience: Wildlife of cows.
>>Jonathan Safran Foer: Salmon farming was developed for the reason you're describing
to take pressure off wild salmon population. And it's a kind of smart idea. Like if we're
gonna fish these things into extinction, and by the way, fisheries scientists now estimate
that in the year 2048 we will have fished all wild fish into extinction. All wild fish
in every ocean; there'll be zero wild fish.
And if that sounds, they're not saying in about 50 years or midway into the century;
in 2048. It's based on very precise calculations.
So fisherman said just out of self interest, "We need more supply somehow; we can't, there
will be no business if we use all of these up." And so salmon farming was developed.
But it curiously happened which was that as salmon farming took off the-the pressure on
wild salmon populations increased rather than decreased, because eating is habit forming.
And as there was more supply of salmon there was a-a demand rose faster than the supply
because you'd see it on more menus and you would see someone eating it at a table next
to you.
And the way most people eat is not, does not involve lots of inquiry. Maybe people here
it does, but most people you see somebody eating salmon and you think, "That looks pretty
good. I'll get the salmon." And you don't say, "Is this farmed or is it wild caught?"
And this gets to a point that the consumer can't be responsible for asking that question.
We are, we are --
>>male in audience: Except when it tastes better. Wild typically --
>>Jonathan Safran Foer: I mean there's a –
>>male in audience: tastes better.
>>Jonathan Safran Foer: the question does it taste infinitely good?
>>male in audience: Sure.
>>Jonathan Safran Foer: I mean things can taste better and better and better but do
they taste infinitely good and is there anything that, is there anything that brings us more
pleasure than the taste of salmon? Most people would say, "Yes."
So we don't need all of the choices that we have. This is like, we don't need the choice
to buy children's toys that are painted with lead paint. It's just not a choice we need.
It doesn't make our lives richer; it doesn't make us feel more free or in touch with our
And we don't need the choice to buy Chilean Sea Bass. We just don't need it in supermarkets
or restaurants. We shouldn't have it. And this is what should happen with seafood is
certain seafood should just become illegal.
Foods where it falls upon the consumer's responsibility to be knowledgeable and make the decisions
about things that one couldn't conceivably be expected to.
>>commentator: We have time for one more question. [inaudible]
>>Jonathan Safran Foer: Oh, sure. I don't know exactly, I've never addressed the screen
before but --
>>commentator: [inaudible]
>>Jonathan Safran Foer: How do we know their actually there?
Look they're not responding when I say that.
>>commentator: Does anybody have a question from our [unintelligible] --
>>male in audience #3: Hi, we're here.
>>commentator: to prove you exist?
We have time for one last question.
>>Jonathan Safran Foer: Well, someone has one here so we might as well.
>>commentator: Okay. Last question.
>>male in audience #4: Hi. Thanks very much for coming.
If what you said near the beginning during the introduction is true, then almost everybody,
at least in the United States, knows at least some of the reasons why eating meat is the
end of a chain of causes and effects that has all sorts of bad consequences.
And so eating meat is for many people a willful act of setting aside what they think or what
they know. And that's an uncomfortable thing to think about.
It-it just seems to me that it's-it's pretty important to-to address how people feel about
eating meat in addition to how they think about eating meat. And I-I think this is the
way people invest their own sense of virtue and their own sense of personal morality into
what they do is what leads to questions like: why are you wearing leather shoes if you're
a vegetarian? It's this feeling that there-there are virtue points to be scrabbled over and-and
that you can't let the other person have all of them.
And so I just, I just wanted to get more of your thoughts on how to make thinking about
that less uncomfortable, less-less of something that people want to run away from not because
of what they think but because of their emotions.
>>Jonathan Safran Foer: I guess I would just return to what I said before and-and finding
a way to make it participatory and inclusionary rather than exclusionary, rather than who
is getting it more right than somebody else.
We all depend on a certain like I don't know if you call it forgiveness or generosity from
our friends not to call us out every time that we fall short, like I don't give as much
money to charity as I should. I don't volunteer as much as I should. And yet if-if my friends
were to point that out I don't think that I would do those things more. I might even
do them less.
But if my friends said, "You know what on-on Saturday I was thinking about going to this
like homeless shelter to make some sandwiches. I've just been bothered, I've just been like
feeling really guilty by how many homeless people I've been seeing in the neighborhood
recently and I thought I would do something." I would say, "I'll go too." I just would 'cause
it would be participatory and inclusionary and I know that the experience would make
me feel better.
And so the challenge is to present it in a way that it is not a deprivation but that
it is something that gives you more. Where you end, of course there's, you're gonna remove
certain choices from your life and you're also gonna remove certain pleasures from your
life. That-that's something we haven't really talked about but meat smells good and tastes
good. It does. I think, I'm glad in your introduction you said what you did, that you want to have
as full a palate as you can when performing your art.
But we don't have a full palate as it is. I mean there are foods you would not serve
ever. You wouldn't serve chimp, for example.
So humans are very good at saying no to things we want in the interest of other things we
want, and saying no to things that we want a lot more than we want meat.
So we just have to, I think it's-it's a question of getting used to it, like acclimating to
a different world. The world 50 years ago was not this world. We didn't have, there
wasn't the same urgency in the problem, we didn't have.
Also the-the knowledge that we now have entails a responsibility because like we can't plead
ignorance like people could have 10 or 20 years ago. And I-I really, I wrote this in
the book and I believe it that it will be asked of us what did you do when you learned
about this. And I would much rather say, "I withdrew" than, "I forgot about it."
>>commentator: I wanted to thank Jonathan for being here today and let you know that
we have books from Books, Inc., in the back as well as T-shirts that are, the T-shirts
are free, the books are five dollars. And Jonathan will be available to do some signing.
Thank you so much for being such a great audience too.