Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have chosen Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals as the summer reading book for their incoming freshman for 2011. Rarely would summer reading for a college’s new students be newsworthy, but this one is. For a book that so carefully and comprehensively uncovers animal agriculture and meat-eating to be selected among all others as the one every entering freshman must read tells us something important. Factory farming, on land and sea, is no longer simply a trendy topic for middle and upper middle class foodies or committed activists, and hard-hitting books about our food system don’t need to extol the virtues of “small” and “local” and “pasture-raised” as the only alternatives to a system of destruction and cruelty, because in Foer’s book, it’s hard not to conclude that vegetarianism (more commonly marginalized in popular food-critique books) comes out as a moral winner. This is new.

Eating Animals is a beautifully written book. It is both personal and painstakingly researched. There is no proselytism in its pages, though it would be difficult not to want to make more conscientious and compassionate food choices after reading it. It is a book that digs deep and wide where most popular authors about our food system problems fall short. It also offers a voice to different approaches to an ethical diet so that the reader can choose for her/himself.

This is a book everyone should read, and that two major universities have chosen it as summer reading is a testament to both its importance and to the changes that have taken place in our society. We are finally seriously talking within our universities about what we eat and how our food is produced, and with that conversation comes both the recognition that the complex and far-reaching effects of food choices are important for our students to learn about and provides hope for changes in our food system.

Zoe Weil
Author of Most Good, Least Harm, Above All, Be Kind, and The Power and Promise of Humane Education
My TEDx talk

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