Skip Navigation

Eating Animals
Curriculum Resources

Eating Animals was written with an eye towards its use in educational settings and is suitable for use in a variety of different disciplinary contexts for both high school and college students. The book is simultaneously a personal journey, a critical look at the American meat industry, a reflection on the meaning of food, and a response to big picture ethical questions about how to live in the contemporary world. Written in an engaging narrative style, this multi-vocal book includes both extended “monologues” from diverse perspectives and quantitative analysis based on government and industry data. Sixty pages of endnotes provide both citations and additional information while leaving the main prose unencumbered. The text’s even-handed approach invites readers to come to their own conclusions on questions of universal importance, providing an excellent opportunity for educators to use the text to promote critical thinking skills.


As referenced by recent articles in The Guardian1 and The Wall Street Journal,2 and as indicated by the Business and Environment Initiative at Harvard Business School,3 to be a business leader in today’s market is to understand complex environmental challenges and assist in creating solutions that advance both profit and community. At a time when the next generation of business leaderhip searches for market-based solutions, assesses risks and opportunities, and develops new potential markets.4 Eating Animals provides a vehicle for thinking through the links between business strategies, environmental health, and a food economy that is both sustainable and worth sustaining. Pointing toward longstanding problems in production and new directions in consumer demand, Eating Animals provides a forum to discuss the innovative approaches business leaders will need to take to find solutions that work for both the fiscal and ethical bottom line. Farm Forward is also prepared to help professors develop long-term partnerships with farmers for community-based service-learning projects or business planning that has real world utility in building high-welfare, sustainable poultry farms.


From medieval representations of animals5 to J.M. Coetzee’s interweaving of animal and postcolonial narratives,6 top English departments around the country are incorporating texts like Eating Animals not only to explore questions about animals but also what animals tell us about humanity, culture, and the creation of meaning. In Eating Animals, one of the nation’s foremost literary icons employs a broad range of theoretical and methodological tools to weave a socially-embedded personal narrative about the self and 21st century American animal agriculture. In so doing Foer has created a text that can help students learn to “read critically and imaginatively—to appreciate the power of language (and narrative) to shape thought and represent the world—to be sensitive to the ways in which literature is created and achieves its effects.”7

In particular, we suggest reading chapter 1: “Storytelling,” chapter 2: “All or Nothing or Something Else,” and chapter 3: “Words / Meaning.” Each of these three chapters represents a distinct literary technique. Each uses narrative in significantly different ways and describes different segments of contemporary American culture. Also of note are the discussions of Kafka (beginning pg 36) and Derrida (pg 108).

Environmental Studies

A cutting edge conference at the Princeton Environmental Institute recently addressed the connections between animal agriculture, environmental protection, resource management, and corporate and public policy effects.8 Eating Animals maps similar connections and provides an engaging text for reflecting on the pressing problems in environmental studies. Additionally, Foer analyzes and critiques the ways environmental problems are framed in public discourse and attempts to change the way we think about ecological goods such as sustainability. As attention to the framing of environmental issues is increasingly a part of environmental studies, for example in the graduate curriculum of the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale University,9 Eating Animals becomes a powerful tool for promoting high-level discussion. Read two pages omitted from the published version of Eating Animals that challenge our thinking about “sustainability” (these pages are available exclusively through this website).

In particular, we suggest reading chapter 6: “Slices of Paradise / Pieces of Shit” (especially pg 174-199). This chapter addresses some of the most obvious environmental problems stemming from factory farming and animal agriculture. In the latter part of the chapter, Foer includes the problem of waste disposal and the lasting effects of waste spills and water pollution. He also discusses the consequences of overfishing and its effects on marine life and oceanic health. Also see Foer’s “dictionary” entry on “environmentalism” in chapter 3: “Words / Meaning” pg 58.


As new courses at top universities such as John Hopkins University,10 Princeton University,11 and Stanford University12 demonstrate, animals have gained prominence as a topic of serious philosophical inquiry in areas from ethics to metaphysics, phenomenology to political philosophy. Especially as philosophers and the study of philosophy begin to take a new shape within the academy and the public sphere,13 engaging philosophically with timely and complex issues such as animal agriculture is invaluable for the thriving of philosophic inquiry. Eating Animals can be used as a companion to any number of other texts on the philosophy of animal agency, animal consciousness, animals in society, animals and ontology, and animal ethics. Eating Animals also offers a postmodern approach to meaning, ethics, and animal consumption that is useful for demonstrating the construction of contemporary moral arguments in the public sphere.

Suggested Special Topic in Philosophy: Ethics

Eating Animals interweaves multiple perspectives and narratives: farmers, animal advocates, and slaughterhouse workers are all given turns to present and justify their perspectives on animal agriculture. Each of the book’s firsthand accounts, including Foer’s, take a unique ethical shape; some accounts treat animals ethical agents while others consider animals only as recipients or beneficiaries of ethical action. The accounts also vary in their use of deontological or consequentialist, normative or applied ethical systems. Consider evaluating the different narratives to discern which ethical framework each deploys. Narrative sections include:

  • pg 15-17, “Listen to Me,” Foer’s grandmother;
  • pg 90-93, “I Am the Kind of Person Who Finds Herself on a Stranger’s Farm in the Middle of the Night,” an animal advocate referred to as “C” who does undercover investigations;
  • pg 94-97, “I am a Factory Farmer,” an anonymous employee working in the factory farm industry;
  • pg 110-115, “I am the Last Poultry Farmer,” husbandry-based heritage poultry farmer Frank Reese;
  • pg 201-206, “I am a Vegetarian Rancher,” vegetarian rancher, lawyer, and author Nicolette Hahn;
  • pg 206-211, “She Knows Better,” response of PETA employee and animal rights activist Bruce Friedrich to Hahn
  • pg 211-216, “He Knows Better,” high-welfare rancher and founder of Niman Ranch, Bill Niman, responding to Friedrich;
  • pg 238-241, “I am a Vegan Who Builds Slaughterhouses,” Farm Forward founder, animal advocate, and professor of theology and religious studies, Aaron S. Gross.


Over 120 US law schools now offer courses in animal law,14 including Columbia Law School,15 Harvard Law School,16 Stanford Law School,17 and University of Chicago Law School.18 One of Foer’s primary themes in Eating Animals is the failure of public policy, government, and the legal system to protect farmed animals. He also focuses on the discrepancy between, on the one hand, what advocates and consumers feel about the importance of animal welfare, and other the other hand, the law’s paltry welfare standards. The argument of Eating Animals suggests that as animal law and public policy find new ways to combat animal abuse, their most powerful adversary will be the factory farm industry. The role of the law in both revealing and hiding the abuses of industrial agriculture is another recurring concern of the book. Foer often refers to literal and figurative locked doors behind which the industry’s actions occur and highlights the importance of the Freedom of Information Act (pg 133). Farm Forward is also prepared to help law professors develop long-term partnerships with farmers for community-based service-learning projects, and to provide pro bono legal services that have real world utility in building high-welfare, sustainable poultry farms.

In particular, we suggest chapter 4: “Hiding / Seeking,” and Chapter 5: “Influence / Speechlessness,” both of which contain Foer’s firsthand description of sneaking into a poultry farm in the middle of the night to observe its conditions—an activity that has subsequently been the target of ag-gag legislation. Chapter 5 also critiques a number of USDA regulations.

Religious Studies

Eating Animals only rarely explicitly addresses religion but has been of interest to scholars of religion both because of its engagement with classic religious themes like death and dying, and because Foer takes inspiration from religious studies scholarship in constructing his argument for the importance of “story” (one might say “myth”) in shaping how we eat animals. For example, see Foer’s attempts to tell the long story of meat starting from Paleolithic times in chapter 4, “Hiding / Seeking” (pg 97-109), which includes citations of scholars of religion, such as historian of religion Jonathan Z. Smith, and biblical studies scholar Jacob Milgrom (see endnotes to page 100). This section along with both bookend chapters entitled “Storytelling,” represent Foer’s self-conscious attempt to change the way his readers think about animals, food, and contemporary agriculture by working to tell a new story—what historian of religion Mircea Eliade would have called a new “myth”—about what it means to eat animals.

Scholars of Judaism will be interested in the way in which Jewish sources subtly figure throughout Eating Animals. The text makes multiple references to the Bible (for example, the references to Genesis on pg 32 and 98) and contains an un-cited paraphrase of Rabbi Hillel’s famous dictum “If not now, when?” (pg 239). As Elizabeth Kolbert observed in the New Yorker “Kafka . . . is one of the heroes of ‘Eating Animals.’ So is the philosopher Jacques Derrida, and a vegan theology professor named Aaron Gross.” All three are also Jewish thinkers. Foer’s Eating Animals can be seen as a part of a larger minority stream in Jewish thought that has long shown a particular sensitivity to animals and the issue of vegetarianism. This would set Foer alongside other modern Jewish literary adepts such as Nobel Laureate Shmuel Yosef Agnon, Franz Kafka and a handful of major figures in Yiddish literature such as Nobel Laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer, all of whom were ethical vegetarians.



Robert Eccles, Ioannis Ioannou, and George Serafeim, “Is sustainability now the key to corporate success?” The Guardian, 6 Jan. 2012, available here.


Al Gore and Dave Blood, “A Manifesto for Sustainable Capitalism,” The Wall Street Journal, 14 Dec. 2011, available here.


For more information on Harvard Business School’s Business and Environment initiative, see this link.


The language here is inspired by (but not directly quoted from) Harvard Business School’s Business and Environment homepage; Ibid.


See this course list from the English department of University of California, Berkeley, accessed 16 Jan. 2012.




For information on the undergraduate goals of Columbia University’s Department of English and Comparative Literature, see this link.


For information on the Princeton Environmental Institute’s past Food, Ethics, and the Environment lecture series, see this link.


For information on the “Society and the Environment: Introduction to Theory and Method” course in the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, see this link, accessed 18 Jan. 2012.


To search courses at Johns Hopkins University, see this link.


For information on graduate seminars in Philosophy at Princeton University, including PHI 353, “Animals,” see this link.


For information on recent courses relating to animals at Stanford University, including PHIL 25SI, “The Animal-Human Relationship: Interdisciplinary Perspectives,” see this link, accessed 23 Aug. 2012.


Adam Briggle and Robert Frodeman, “A New Philosophy for the 21st Century,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, 11 Dec. 2011, available here.


The Rise of Animal Law: Science 1 April 2011: Vol. 332 no. 6025 pp. 28-31


For information on the “Animal Law” course at Columbia Law School, see this link.


To search courses at Harvard Law School, see this link.


For information on the “Animal Law” course at Stanford Law School, see this link; also see: Joyce Tischler, “A Brief History of Animal Law,” Stanford Journal of Animal Law and Policy, Vol. 5, 2012, available here.


For information on the University of Chicago The Law School’s Animal Law Policy Initiative, see this link.