Wed, 16 Jun 2010 01:27:00 +0000

Dear Jonathan Safron Foer,

I suffered a lot the past two years. But it almost ended it — until you came along.

My vegetarian girlfriend and I would eat tofu dinners, and the whole time, I’d dream about steaks and burgers and bacon — oh, my sweet bacon. It got to the point that, after dinner dates, I’d run to a McDonald’s and eat a Big Mac. I didn’t care that it had 27 grams of fat, or that the cheese looked like plastic. It was animal.

So, eventually, I decided a meat conversion was necessary for my girlfriend. Slowly, I introduced the idea. We talked about it and, about a month ago, I got her to the brink of pescetarianism. She was ready.

Then she read your book, “Eating Animals.” And it all came crashing down. Now, she is a more committed vegetarian than ever.

I hate you.

But while she was reading your book, I also got my own copy. I needed to know what arguments you would make so I could counter them. But while reading your book, you caught me under your spell. Your pretty words and sound logic brainwashed me. So I fought it. I figured I had the power of meat in my brain, so I could beat your veggie-filled cranium.

So I started a list titled: “Why I am should be a meat eater.” And since you used clever subtitles in your book to catch me in your spell, I decided to do the same. But, of course, you and your book interfered with this project, too. The ghost of you, Jonathan Safron Foer, got into my mind and ruined this list.

And now I’m left with this:

Humans are omnivores

Me: In the words of Ron Burgundy, “It’s science.”

We need protein from meat. That is why we are omnivores. That is why it tastes good to us. And we’ve been eating meat since the history of man.

Ghost of JSF: You eat far more animals than you need. These days, you eat animals for pleasure — not health.

Also, studies show we can get enough protein from a meat-free diet. In addition, the factory-farmed meat you eat is not good for you — it’s a danger to your health.

Basically, I’m saying humans have been eating and producing too much meat. That has forced us to take something with feelings and emotions, like our dogs, and “grow” them — and “harvest” them. Almost all the animals you eat have had a horrible, painful life.

I don’t need to know

Me: Last year, my family went to an ostrich farm in South Africa. They sat us down at a table and fed us ostrich steaks. They were delicious.

Then, we walked outside and met ostriches — many of whom had names. And, man, that ruined the steak.

Things is, I’m a eater. I need a wall between the food and the animal, because I don’t need to think about death when I’m enjoying food.

Ghost of JSF: I know you want your ostrich steak without the death. But that’s not possible. Your ostrich friend, Jean Claude, had to die for you to eat that steak.

Now, many people know that animals and meat are the same thing. But, when they eat, they have been conditioned to forget that. In their minds, the cute animal and tasty meat exist simultaneously. Well, the Law of Conservation of Mass says otherwise.

It’s the farmers’ fault

Me: If farmers treated these animals well and stopped making this all about money, this wouldn’t be a problem. This isn’t not my fault. It’s the farmers’ fault.

Ghost of JSF: You want cheap meat. You want more of it. So their job is to make the animal-to-meat process cheaper. And that means animals suffer.

For example, slaughtering cows is an imperfect process. For one, there are often poorly trained workers — a money issue. Secondly, the line speed has increased eight-fold in the last 100 years — because we want more beef. That means cows aren’t killed instantly.

I found an affidavit of a worker saying that “thousands and thousands of cows go through the slaughter process alive. ... The cows can get seven minutes down the line and still be alive. I’ve been in the side puller where they’re still alive. All the hide is stripped out down the neck there.”

Also, as I wrote in my book, some cows are still conscious when they go to the “head-skinner.” That’s when they start kicking wildly. So workers stab the spinal cord to dispatch it, but some still survive. So a live cow is then sent to get the lower portion of its legs cut off. One line worker told me, “As far as the ones that come back to life, it looks like they’re trying to climb the walls.”

You share the fault.

Circle of life

Me: Animals eat animals. That’s how nature works. Lion King taught me: Mufasa chases down an antelope and feeds his family. I’m cool with that.

Ghost of JSF: We often raise animals with only profit in mind. That’s not natural. That’s like Scar keeping thousands of birds in cage, making them mate with each other, snapping their necks and selling them to the hyenas. Not cool.

The difference between Mufasa and Scar is simple: It’s about life, not death. That antelope lives a happy life until death. That bird lives to die.

A culture that respects life should not make it about death.

My great aunt won’t stand for this

Me: When I visit my 90-some year old great aunt in Kansas, she feeds me.

But, for her, it isn’t about the food. It’s about getting people to her apartment so she can talk to them — and make them happy.

In the 1950s, shortly after she escaped from North Korea, she lived in a poor neighborhood where most people were chronically hungry. She was poor, too, but she would make lots of food and invite friends and neighbors to eat with her. During those meals, meat was a prized portion — it represented the sacrifice she was making for you to be healthy. Turning it down was not just awkward — it was insulting.

So you’re going to make me turn it down? Not a chance.

Ghost of JSF: This is the hardest reason why giving up meat is hard — because it makes relationships more difficult. When meat is already on the table and everyone is in a festive mood, it’s hard to be the guy talking logically about why we shouldn’t eat meat. So the culture of eating meat needs to change.

Me: But I don’t have a problem with eating meat. I just have a problem with how much we eat, which causes cruel farming practices. In Korean culture, meat is often a treat — a small side dish. I think that’s how it ought to be.

I deserve meat

Me: When I was little, we ate very little meat. It was expensive. My parents were poor.

As we moved up in the world, I wanted what I couldn’t have — and lots of it.

Now I can eat it anytime. Sometimes, I feel it’s my right.


You still there, Jon?

Fish is OK

Me: Fish are fine, right?

Ghost of JSF: Thousands of dolphins, whales and other wildlife are killed while mass fishing for our fillets.

We’re doing this whole fishing thing wrong. In trying to meet demands, fishermen are doing massive damage to the environment.

Me: I guess it’s time to get my fishing pole and catch my own in the East River.

Meat satisfies me

Me: I have a hard time cooking a vegetarian meal as satisfying as a meat-filled meal. It’s just hard.

That’s not to say I haven’t had satisfying vegetarian meals. I just don’t know how to cook them because I’ve always been taught that a protein, veggie and grain make one good meal.

Ghost of JSF: Time to learn, grasshopper.

I am man. I eat meat.

Me: Pussies and PETA don’t eat meat. I eat meat — red, bloody, extra rare meat.

Ghost of JSF: So you’ve devolved to insults? You need to stop defending your way of life with blind, lazy stubbornness.

Learn about the impact your decisions make. A steak doesn’t just cost $7.99 a pound.

It tastes good

Me: OK, all your arguments make sense. But I’m gonna be entirely honest: I eat it because it taste good. Especially bacon, my sweet bacon.

For me, flavor is sacred. Don’t get in the way of flavorful foods. Because flavor makes me happy.

Ghost of JSF: Isn’t it wrong to always do what feels good? Human have the power to act outside the biological need to feel pleasure — it’s called morality.

Pleasure is not a bad thing. But how you attain that pleasure — and the consequences of it — matter.

So, JSF, you had an answer for everything. It angered me. You were asking me to limit my indulgence in something that feels just so good — something we’ve always done.

And standing up to that: It’s brave.

You’re fighting tradition and pleasure, two of the most powerful forces in today’s culture. Though you spend much of your book showing people the health detriments of eating these factory farmed meats, this isn’t just about our own health — it’s about our humanity; it’s about what’s right.

And it’s hard to do what’s right when what’s wrong feels so good. But it’s even harder to ask people to change because people, like me, will hate you for it. So thanks.


Alvin Chang