I’ve tried, but there really is no other way to say this: what were you thinking?
I was so thrilled to stumble upon your new book “Eating Animals” in the bookstore last week. After all, it has been almost five years since I practically devoured “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” and I was so looking forward to what you would come up with next. It took me a mere ten enthusiastic pages to realize that “Eating Animals” was not what I had spent years waiting for. This was not a novel. Worse, it was not even fiction – but a bizarre hybrid of your family’s relationship towards food and “the truth about the food industry” with its shady and inhumane practices. Don’t get me wrong, it is indeed very informative to know that »free range« actually translates into nothing else than the fact that the animal “must have access to the outdoors” and therefore also applies to “a shed containing thirty thousand chickens, with a small door at one end that opens to a five-by-five dirt patch”. I commend you on wanting to unveil the cruelties we subject animals and our planet to (after all, “animal agriculture is the number one cause of climate change”), only to eat what we feel like – whether we need it to survive or not. Though childless myself, I also understand that fatherhood is bound to change your life in numerous ways and reshape the way you eat, think and take responsibility. So I get why you wrote this book, Jonathan. What I have trouble understanding, however, is why you wrote this book. And had it published, too.
Admittedly, as a writer, your abilities to visualize the horrors of animal agriculture exceed the stereotypical, factual documentary by far. But practically anyone could have told us that slaughterhouse workers “have been documented using poles like baseball bats to hit baby turkeys, stomping on chickens to watch them »pop«, and knowingly dismembering fully conscious cattle”. Yes, “eating and storytelling are inseparable”, but that is not a justification for simultaneously writing about your grandmother’s near starvation in World War II and the approximate length of industrial fishing lines.
Jonathan, you are one of the greatest and most talented storytellers of our time. What makes you so exceptional is that you do so in a way that nobody else can. With “Everything is Illuminated”, your very first novel, you wrote one of the most astonishing pieces of fiction I have ever had the chance and great pleasure to read and the beautiful “A Convergence of Birds” you edited at age 24 is still among my most prized possessions. You are so good at your job, Jonathan. And you’re still young, you know. You’re still learning, experimenting, finding yourself as a writer. Which is why I’ve decided not to be too hard on you for this latest work of yours and regard it as a minor glitch in your otherwise small but impressive collection.
In return, I would much appreciate if you considered this small piece of advice: Jonathan, you are a fiction writer. So please, let Michael Moore do his job. And you do yours.
Best regards always,