On becoming a father for the first time, Jonathan Safran Foer started to think about the kind of food his family would be eating and determined to find out "what meat is"; where it comes from and the conditions under which it is produced. This horrifying, poignant, revelatory book is the result.
The author finds that many factory-farmed animals are routinely subjected to unutterable cruelty. He exposes the sadistic treatment that is commonplace in many factory slaughterhouses, and the debilitating effects upon animals of a cramped and unnatural environment. His research is exhaustive (there are 60 pages of notes) and for the most part, he lets the evidence speak for itself. This is no polemic, just a clear-eyed examination of how the vast majority of the world's meat is produced.
Foer is especially good when he turns to the ethical imperative this information raises, addressing what he calls the "stories" we tell ourselves about eating animals. These stories, he admits, can constitute an important part of cultural tradition – the Sunday roast, the Christmas turkey – and should not be dismissed lightly. But they also involve a sort of selective blindness: we treat our pets lovingly but by buying factory-farmed meat, we acquiesce in a system of brutality.
Foer's conclusion is disquieting: "We live on tortured flesh." Words that will give pause, surely, to even the most committed carnivore.