Animal rights advocates occasionally pick fights with sustainable meat producers (such as Joel Salatin), as Jonathan Safran Foer does in his recent vegetarian polemic, Eating Animals.
This is at best a gross misrepresentation of Foer’s book and at worst largely false.
Joel Salatin and Polyface Farm are mentioned exactly once in Eating Animals. And here’s what the book says,
Michael Pollan wrote about Polyface Farm in The Omnivore’s Dilemma like it was something great, but that farm is horrible. It’s a joke. Joel Salatin is doing industrial birds. Call him up and ask them. So he puts them on pasture. It makes no difference. (113)
That might sound like Foer is picking a fight, but here’s the thing: Foer is actually quoting poultry farmer Frank Reese. Foer never endorses this rhetoric. While he doesn’t shoot it down, either, he lets a lot of people with opposing views have their say.
One might point out that Pollan’s sentence might be interpreted to say that Foer was picking a fight with sustainable meat producers in general, rather than Salatin specifically. Yet this claim would hold up little better. Although he is uncomfortable with the idea of eating their products, Foer is always respectful in his discussion of these farmers. He writes,
In another direction, though, the vision of sustainable farms that give animals a good life (a life as good as we give our dogs or cats) and an easy death (as easy a death as we give our suffering and terminally ill companion animals) has moved me. Paul [Willis], Bill [Niman], Nicolette [Hahn Niman], and most of all Frank [Reese] are not only good people, but extraordinary people. They should be among the people a president consults when selecting a secretary of agriculture. Their farms are what I want our elected officials to strive to create and our economy to support. (242)
Does Michael Pollan really consider those to be fighting words?
It’s hard to read Pollan’s sentence about Eating Animals and believe that he’s read the book. Perhaps he briefly skimmed it. Maybe he got the idea that Foer was picking a fight with Salatin from the Huffington Post interviewer last month who incorrectly claimed that Foer said Polyface Farm was a joke (that interview will be the subject of another post in the near future).
Perhaps Pollan thinks he’s given vegetarianism enough consideration in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and that he therefore doesn’t need to read Eating Animals. But if he’s going to write a review of Eating Animals, he should first read the book with some attention to detail. Elementary school students have to read books before they write reviews, and so should professional journalists.