A few chapters of the book are aimed at beating these points home, but most of the book seems aimed at the Michael Pollan or Eric Schlosser-inspired "friendly meat" eaters--those who would try to eat mostly sustainably raised and ethically slaughtered animals--and looks at whether that makes any sense, or whether vegetarianism is the only way to go. (As an aside, I can't rule out the fact that the book does indeed spend a lot of time on the initial three ideas and I just found the more nuanced friendly meat/no meat discussion more interesting.) I found this discussion thoughtful and enlightening. I myself became vegetarian after reading a Michael Pollan NYT article (and having cows constantly poop in my water on the CDT). Even though Pollan doesn't advocate for vegetarianism, vegetarianism seemed a lot more logically consistent, and I knew if I was a grass-fed/family-farmed only guy, I'd still end up eating meat whenever I felt like it and contributing to factory farming practices. I think that's pretty much how Foer feels. Farms like those of Niman Ranch and Frank Reese (practically the only turkey farmer whose turkeys can actually reproduce on their own) are way better than those of Smithfield, but vegetarianism is even better. I've often said that if I move to Montana and my neighbor shoots his cow with a high-powered rifle after letting it live to a ripe old age after walking freely and eating natural grass on his land where it would be very inefficient to grow crops and then offered me 20 pounds to put in my freezer, I wouldn't find anything wrong with that. I still think that's basically reasonable, but I'm not looking forward to it.
I've been veg for about two and a half years, and I think it's about time I gave veganism a try. I never buy cow's milk or eggs for my own groceries, but I'm often OK with them if they get served to me or sometimes at restaurants, and I still buy butter and parmesan cheese. What would it take to change?
Eggs: no problem.
Milk: growing up without coffee I find it now makes me agitated and unable to concentrate, so fine, I can live without cream in my coffee, or coffee at all, or milk. Oh crap, milk chocolate. Suck!
Butter: bummer, this clearly tastes better than any substitute, but they make veg-oil spreads without any hydrogenated oils, so I'll have to try it. I'll miss it in baking, but I've seen shortening without hydrogenation, hopefully it works reasonably well.
Cheese: no problem.
Honey: buying honey probably increases demand for bees, which help other plants grow, so I'm still eating this.
Leather: After reading The World Without Us, I'm of the opinion that I don't like plastics and anything nuclear, because they essentially never go away. So I'm not convinced that a little animal use is worse than the polyester/petroleum alternative. I have no stats to back that up, but that's how I feel. Obviously, go with the plant-based alternative if one is available.
Down: See above.
Wool: See above. I wish cotton insulated when wet, but it doesn't. You can't win 'em all.(Any thoughts/tips?)
Two final minor things about the book. Foer discusses chicken and pig farming in detail (tiny cages, tons of shit, abuse, causing disease through overuse of antibiotics), but glosses over beef. He claims that the cattle industry is by far the least horrible type of factory meat farming, but he also couldn't get inside a slaughter house to witness anything for himself. His claim might very well be true, but if so, why is that the case? And it was still a little disappointing to read the less-detailed coverage.
I will end with a Foer's aside on fish, but first, aside-aside: Anyone read Paul Greenberg's Four Fish? It's on my list.
After describing how farmed fish are cruelly raised and how both farmed and wild fish are cruelly killed:
"Although one can reasonably expect that at least some percentage of cows and pigs are slaughtered with speed and care, no fish gets a good death. Not a single one. You never have to wonder if the fish on your plate had to suffer. It did.
Whether we're talking about fish species, pigs, or some other eaten animal, is such suffering the most important thing in the world? Obviously not. But that's not the question. Is it more important than sushi, bacon, or chicken nuggets? That's the question."