Three to see

Self-discovery at dinner

By Hannah E. Martin
Globe Correspondent / November 10, 2009

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Should flesh be food?

In his most recent work, “Eating Animals,’’ novelist Jonathan Safran Foer takes on the issue that’s been nagging at him for most of his 32 years: meat.

For Foer it started with a baby sitter who politely refused a chicken dinner. “I don’t want to hurt anything,’’ she said. “Chicken is chicken, you know.’’ The proposition boggled young Jonathan: The chicken on his plate was the same animal that lived on Old McDonald’s farm and in the pages of his animated storybooks. Eating Chicken Little seemed less than appetizing.

Foer remained conflicted for most of his life, spending periods as an omnivore and others as a slightly hypocritical vegetarian who occasionally indulged in fish (or a burger). But when his wife, Nicole Krauss, the novelist, became pregnant with their son, he decided it was time to really think through the issue.

“As a parent, the prospect of having to explain why we kill animals for food, why we confine them or breed them or give them drugs the way we do, or never allow them to see the sun - it’s not something I would look forward to,’’ Foer said.

Thus began an exploration of the world of factory farming, a place where pregnant sows are kept in cages too small for them to turn around and where egg-laying hens inhabit cages the area of a legal-size sheet of paper. Beyond the cruelty to animals, Foer also discovered social and environmental costs.

“This is the number one cause of global warming,’’ he said. “It’s obviously the number one cause of animal suffering, of air pollution, of water pollution, the loss of biodiversity making our antibiotics not be effective; it’s a decisive factor in the creation of swine flu; and nobody’s talking about it! I haven’t encountered anyone addressing the very simple question: Should we eat [meat] or not?’’

As an unsympathetic unearthing of reality, “Eating Animals’’ is a departure from the novels of poignant self-discovery for which Foer is best known. But he does manage to weave family memories and personal anecdotes with his in-depth research. And, of course, he infuses all with his own quirky stamp of style, creating a work of nonfiction that feels just like a story. The moral: Eat less meat, or preferably none at all.

“This diet has been sold to us,’’ Foer said. “The idea that a meal isn’t a meal unless two-thirds of the plate is taken up with meat - these agribusiness corporations have shaped our cravings, they’ve shaped our sense of what a meal is, and they’ve shaped our bodies.’’

Foer will read from “Eating Animals,’’ on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., at Congregation Kehillath Israel, 384 Harvard St., Brookline. Admission is $5.

In “Drinking Problems at the Fountain of Youth,’’ journalist Beth Teitell scrutinizes our age-obsessed culture, wittily advising women to toss the wrinkle-reversing creams, injections, and serums for some all-natural self-confidence. Teitell will speak on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. at Kernwood Country Club, Salem. Advance registration required.

In his memoir, “Colored People,’’ Henry Louis Gates Jr. follows his roots back to pre-Civil Rights West Virginia, tracing his struggle as an African-American in a white world. Gates will discuss the book on Thursday at 7:30 p.m., at Sanders Theatre, Cambridge. For ticket information, visit

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