"Jonathan Safran Foer is a strict vegetarian, but his most recent book, Eating Animals is not a screed against meat. It is, rather, an indictment of the corrupt, large-scale factory farming that dominates the American meat market."
In the Nov. 6, 2009 issue of Salon, Ms. Roy interviews Mr. Foer at a coffee shop near his home in Brooklyn.
JR: This is not a straightforward case for vegetarianism. What is this book making a case for?
JSF: It's an explanation of my own vegetarianism, and it's a straightforward case for caring and thinking, and for the ideas that matter. These little daily choices that we're so used to thinking are irrelevant are the most important thing we do all day long. An enormous and very destructive force -- historically, it's unprecedented how destructive our farm system is -- has taken over America and is starting to take over the world. And unlike so many other horrible systems, this one doesn't require electing a new government or raising billions of dollars or fighting a war. It can be dismantled just by people making different choices. I think there are a lot of different choices people can make that will lead to dismantling the system. It's not like everybody has to go vegetarian. There are plenty of people who feel like, for whatever reason, they just can't stop eating meat, but if they bought meat at Greenmarket, from farmers they know by name, that's as effective a rebuttal.
JR: Can you talk a little bit about America's obsession with food?
JSF: There's never been a culture that wasn't obsessed with food. The sort of sad thing is that our obsession is no longer with food, but with the price of food. Factory farming supplies a demand for cheap meat. That's it. It doesn't taste good, it's not healthy for us. The only good thing about it is that it's cheap. But the thing is that it's not cheap. It's cheap at the cash register, and it's sold as cheap -- that's the defense for factory farming, "Look, we're making affordable food for normal people and all other arguments are elitist." But in fact factory farming is like the ultimate elitism because it's the most expensive food ever produced in the history of mankind. We pay very little at the cash register, but we pay and our kids are going to pay for the environmental toll, obviously the animals are paying, rural communities are paying. And for what? So that corporations can prosper. The huge agribusiness -- companies make hundreds of millions and sometimes billions of dollars, not in the name of feeding the world, but in the name of making something that's so cheap that people become literally addicted to it.
JR: Aside from...eating locally, what are things that both vegetarians and meat eaters can do to help the transition from factory farms to something better?
JSF: First of all, they just have to say no to factory farms always. Not sometimes, not most of the time, but always, which means eating vegetarian a lot of the time. I think this issue is frankly more important than our conversation about the environment, because it is the No. 1 cause of global warning. The World Watch just released a report that showed that they thought animal agriculture was responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gases, but it turns out it's 51 percent. So to talk about the environment and not talk about this is not to talk about the environment. This conversation has to be totally mainstreamed. There has to be a consensus behind it that factory farming is bad and we're not going to support it and we're done with it. And it has to be unacceptable either to pretend these problems don't exist or not to actively engage with them. I'm not saying everybody has to reach the same conclusions, but they do have to agree on the common enemy.