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Natalie Portman, Eating Animals, and In-Vitro Meat

Arts & Culture | December 6, 2009

COWSFUCKINPISSEDMeat is America. From the steakhouses, to blood-hungry businessman, to fast food restaurants serving burnt chars to low-income families, our society thrives on the staple diet of meat and potatoes.

We should not succumb to corporate America’s temptations of oily French fries and calorific burgers; rather, we should consider healthy alternatives. Does this mean we should start living on a macrobiotic diet consisting of no bread and no meat, and eat tofu French toast with a soybean puree for breakfast?

When you eat bacon, do you ever imagine eating a portion of Babe or Wilbur from Charlotte’s Web? Even when you are eating chicken do you think of eating Chicken Little? The disconnect between these children’s stories and what children grow up eating forms the basis of Jonathan Safran Foer’s book Eating Animals. The book, a convincing argument for veganism, is a response to the factory farms that kill forty billion animals a year in America.

Eating Animals discusses the need to change what we put into our bodies and how we feed our children. The factory farms that produce most of our supply of meat and poultry act like assembly lines where chicken and pigs live in overcrowded facilities and are slaughtered in horrendous ways. In addition, the factory farms pose numerous health risks, not only to farm workers, but also the consumers of their products. The juxtaposition between personal anecdotes and accounts of nutritional history make the book a fascinating read in comparison to the countless other vegetarian books already published.

What the vegan movement needed was a book, written by a prolific writer, that brought the vegan cause to a forum other than The New Yorker. That forum came when, in anticipation for her role as a judge on an episode of Top Chef, Natalie Portman decided to write an article for The Huffington Post. In it, she basically put Jonathan Safran Foer on a pedestal, endlessly praising his resolve to not eat animals. After reading Foer’s book, Natalie apparently decided to stop just being a vegetarian and finally convert to veganism. In her article, she attacked Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, for his belief in “being polite to your tablemates” rather than sticking to your own ideals, which, as she points out, would be absurd if applied to any other belief (e.g., “I don’t believe in rape, but if it’s what it takes to please my dinner hosts, then so be it”).

In The New York Times review of Eating Animals, Michiko Kakutani’s argues that we shouldn’t care so much about chicken and pigs when there are more important issues to be discussed. What about “the malaria that kills nearly a million people a year (most of them children)? What of the conflict and disease in Congo that has left an estimated five million dead?” Kakutani opines that Foer should focus his time on other topics that need to be discussed and to stop caring about chicken when human beings are dying around the world. You could counter argue with the fact that what we eat has a profound effect on our nation’s obesity epidemic, which relates to our health.

Neverthless, becoming a vegetarian to protest against killing mass quantities of animals and eating them (a portion of Foer’s argument) will no longer be a reason in the future due to the invention of in-vitro meat. The in-vitro meat does not involve killing any animals whatsoever; it is meat from an animal that is grown in a laboratory and tastes exactly like the real stuff. The scientists take a muscle cell from an animal and then join the cell with proteins to promote growth; it’s just that simple. All you need is this one cell and no animals will be harmed ever again…hopefully. One day, it is plausible that we will no longer have to kill an endless supply of animals to eat meat and poultry. But will it really taste the same? We’ll probably find out soon. o