Conversations about eating meat, when conducted between well-meaning liberals who are still carnivores, are at an impasse. We all know industrially farmed meat is bad for the climate, bad for the local environment in the places where it’s produced—not to mention particularly bad for the animals in question. But then again, maybe it’s OK to eat only locally or humanely produced meat; then again, meat is an integral part of the fashionable keto, paleo, Atkins, and Whole 30–style diets; then again, we heard something, once, about how humans are adapted to eat meat; then again, we say to each other with a shrug, we simply find meat tasty. With meat-eating, as with airplane travel, our knowledge that we are doing something that we really need to quit doing bumps up against the fact that our world is still built the way it’s built.
This exhausting stalemate was the subject of Jonathan Safran Foer’s recent We Are The Weather, and his choice to focus on this question—why, when I know I should, can’t I leave meat behind?—made that book torturously navel gaze–y. In a review of Weather in Bookforum, Charlotte Shane wrote (ever so gently, and ever so savagely): “Like most men, [Foer] is unaccustomed to thinking of himself as an emotional eater.” Shane pinpointed something interesting about omnivores who want to go vegetarian but just can’t. I think of it like this: For all our knowledge about the topic, we fail to grasp that “meat-eater” is also an identity and a way of relating to the world. Of course, changing that identity is going to bring up feelings.