'Fa tutto ciuccio gazzo!' My favorite Neopolitan slang curse word (look it up) explodes from me as I slam the book shut.
I have just finished reading “We are the Weather” by Jonathan Safran Foer. The book focuses on the human contribution to climate change and the steps we can take right now in our personal lives that can make a significant difference in whether our planet moves into demise or if we can slow the process.
Let me begin by saying that I love his books and have read them all.
Foer has written yet another engaging, well-written, impeccably-researched book that makes you sit up and take notice, just as he did in his fictional “Incredibly Loud and Incredibly Close” about 9/11 and his non-fiction, iconic book, “Eating Animals,” that makes the argument against factory farming.
Full of facts we know and some we don’t, Foer’s new book takes us on a journey that makes the case that we can’t change the course of destruction that we are on without collective action. He talks about climate change feeling big and foreign to most of us; almost abstract and so we can’t quite figure out what to do. We can’t get our heads around it. And climate change deniers simple confuse the subject.
Foer makes the argument that working for the collective good, as we have done in other times of crises, like World War II rationing; doing without so our troops could have what they needed to “defeat facism” and make the world safe for democracy shows that we are capable of affecting social change…if…and here is the important part…we want to see that change happen. He talks charmingly about other collective actions we take, like the fact that 96% of us celebrate Thanksgiving without thought. It’s just what we do. Collectively.
So why can’t we get it together to take collective actions that can save our planet for future generations?
Early in the book, he talks about why he wrote it. He wanted to write about the impacts of animal agriculture on our fragile environment. A good idea, right? He had me at ‘hello.’ He finally says, “This is a book about the impacts of animal agriculture on the environment.”
Then he writes that he had been avoiding shining a light on that subject for the first 63 pages of the book. Why? Because he saw it as a losing proposition.
You read right. He said, that for the same reason that Al Gore didn’t speak about food and how we produce it; what we consume and its impact on climate change in either “An Inconvenient Truth” or its sequel, he chose to get the reader invested in the book before speaking to the root mission of it. As he writes, “Conversations about meat, dairy and eggs make people defensive. They make people annoyed. No one who isn’t a vegan isn’t eager to go there and the eagerness of vegans can be a further turnoff.”
I guess I have to give him points for his honesty.
But he adds that there’s no hope of tackling climate change without talking about what contributes to it and our collective ability to alter the course; the one thing we can all do, proactively to affect significant change.
We must stop eating animals. Period.
He writes that this book is an argument, THE argument actually, for a collective act to eat differently; to stop eating animals. Then he advises no animal products before dinner.
He goes on to write about his research and experience writing his book, “Eating Animals.” He writes about taking three years to research the book, followed by subsequent tours and readings and interviews on the subject of factory farming. He writes about being in a bad personal space and so while on the travel legs of his book promotion, he ate meat, often burgers, often at airports, the very kind of meat he had made the case against. He writes that this food brought him comfort; he writes that he knows it sound pathetic. He knows we are saying in our heads: how can he do this after making such an effective argument against meat; how can he do this as he raises his kids as vegetarians; how can he argue so passionately and eat meat for comfort?
He is writing about how he feels and I think he is of the mind that if he cuts us off at the pass, he will take less of a hit from us vegans who might actually demand more of him, not condemn hum, but demand more of him.
I work hard in my life not to judge people for where they’re at in their life journey and everyone has circumstances that might have an impact on their decisions. I advise people to take baby steps, that every step toward eating a plant-based diet is a step forward. Any little thing we can do to make a lighter footprint on the planet is a step in the right direction.
I’m not a big fan of taking steps backward once you know better. I often say that you can’t un-know something once you are aware of facts. You can choose to ignore what you have learned but you can’t un-know it.
The hypocrisy of the book and of Foer floors me. He makes doomsday case after doomsday case and then talks about no animal products until dinner. It’s such a cop out for me. I have lived as a vegan for the last 36 years, more than half my life. It’s a lovely, compassionate, satisfying and delicious way to live. To go to bed at night knowing that I have stepped lightly on the planet and not done any harm (I hope…) fills me with gratitude daily.
But what about the planet? If we really think it’s past healing, we need look no further than the pandemic these past months where global lockdowns showed us how quickly Earth can restore herself without us trampling all over creation. In 8 weeks, the canals of Venice, free of the modern plague of cruise ships, were crystal clear blue; so clean, the swans returned to swim; India revealed clear blue skies for the first time in decades; California saw no smog clogging its skies; the air quality in my home city of Philadelphia improved dramatically. Granted, none of this was voluntary on our part (and I wonder how long it will take before we are jeopardizing our planet again as we emerge from our homes), but it showed quite clearly that we can heal the planet if we take collective action.
Look, I love all people. I keep hate out of my life, my heart and my speech. I advocate for those without voices. I’m not, however, noble. I’m human, doing my best in the world, and I confess to feeling a bit…betrayed by Foer and this new book. Or maybe I just don’t understand the disconnect for him. How can he write about the massive impact on the planet by animal agriculture with statistics that are scarier than a Stephen King novel and not bail on eating meat?
I think we are all so ‘over’ hypocrisy on every level. I know I am. It’s all too much for me now. From political leaders and experts, doctors and influencers all saying one thing, advising us on what we should be doing while they do something else.
I’m not perfect; I am painfully aware of that and it’s hard to believe that I am naïve enough to feel disappointed at my age, with all my life experience. I don’t really have too many people that I consider my heroes: Julia Child, Gloria Steinham and other activists for change. And until this book, Jonathan Safran Foer.
His arguments for not going fully vegan are weak on the best of days. And it’s almost as though he knows it. He writes a painfully long chapter on an internal conversation he is having with his soul about the inability to commit to the one collective change, not eating animals, an act that can save the planet and humanity from an apocalyptic end. Even that chapter leaves doubt that he, this advocate for change, can’t change.
It’s not like eating a plant-based diet is such a sacrifice of flavor, texture and variety that we can’t enjoy life anymore.
I’m tired of inauthenticity. I’m tired of a lack of strength and character and most of all I am tired of people who lack the fortitude to do the right thing by their families, the planet, their communities and yes, even themselves.
In the end, every single person should read this book, Foer’s weakness aside. We should read it for the information on climate change, for the actions we can take, collectively and for this quote, which says it all:
“Millions of lives might be in danger because of eating too much food, but every human life is in danger because of eating too many animal products. It’s not rocket science in the colloquial sense and the answer is not literally rocket science. If we don’t demonstrate solidarity through small collective sacrifices, we will not win the war, and if we do not win the war, we will lose the childhood home of every human who has ever lived.”