I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect of this event as I have been a devoted carnivore my entire life. The closest I have ever come to being a vegetarian is living in the same house as my sister, who didn’t eat meat for 15 years or so.
I have to say that I absolutely loved Jonathan Safran Foer. I’ve been a fan of his since his first book, Everything is Illuminated was published. Although I didn’t think that his second novel, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was particularly great, he remains one of my favourite authors because he is innovative, original and daring in his writing. His fiction invokes all the characteristics of post-modernism that I find most interesting (what is the self? how can you ever truly express yourself in writing? what is history? and more).
Anyway, my apprehension about tonight’s talk was short lived. As I entered the Arnolfini through the bar I was amazed to see JSF standing at the bar chatting to someone (turns out she was the chair of the talk) and it took every ounce of self restraint not to throw myself at his feet and tell him how much I like him. Instead I went to the bookshop and bought a copy of his book, Eating Animals, which he was going to discuss at the Festival of Ideas talk. Turns out it was the paperback sold ahead of its general release. My luck was confounded when JSF wandered into the bookshop and I was able to get him to sign my book (he knew how to spell my name, friends I have known all my life don’t know how to do that!). Already the night was a success.
As for the actual talk, I was less interested in the results of his research and more the personal journey it invoked. He was funny, charismatic, intelligent and endearing. He was eloquent without being patronising and forthright without being imposing. In a way he was everything I hoped he would be. Maybe more. Although most people in the audience seemed more concerned about how many chickens get killed, how much food is wasted, etc (I have no objection to these concerns), I thought that some of his most illuminating and interesting points were about personal introspection. What are the moral guidelines we choose to live by? What does freedom mean in relation to the food available to us? Is hypocrisy acceptable if you understand the fundamental arguments underpinning a debate?
I don’t know if I will stop eating meat. I have to admit that I haven’t read the book, but I know that I will. Maybe then I will change my mind. I don’t know but I don’t think it was really about that. I think it was about the freedom of choice, about being a well informed and sensitive individual who understands the reasons for making choices. Obviously it was also about animal cruelty, but how someone relates to it is down to the individual.
Finally, just a quick word of praise for The Festival of Ideas, which brings debates on all subjects imaginable to Bristol, and I am glad that it exists. As a matter of fact I am already looking into booking another event. There is nothing like good intellectual stimulation, not even a perfect steak.