We get to Powells early and mostly out of boredom. There was nothing on television and we had already taken the elevator up to The Portland Grill to walk through the restaurant and get a good look at the nighttime view. It was as beautiful, lit up, as you might imagine it to be. These urban landscapes never fail to awe me when their lights go on and block out the stars, cars like little twinkly ants in a line.
We go to the bookstore to hear a famous author speak some words. I know he’s famous because I recognize the covers of his books even though I haven’t read them yet. Everything is Illuminated sits on a shelf at home gathering dust and I feel guilty just looking at it. I know he’s famous but I didn’t recognize his name until it was there in print: Jonathan Safran Foer. The Rare Books room gets crowded quickly and we are one of the lucky who end up with chairs. Of course, there is a tall moving shifting adjusting man in front of me blocking my view, as there always seems to be. They find me in theatres, at concerts and in lectures. Probably there would be one in front of me blocking the flight attendant as she showed us how to adjust our face masks on that one plane that ended up crashing. I am a magnet for these men.
Still, I get glimpses of him, Jonathan Safran Foer, when the man leans left and I shift my body quickly to the right. He’s shorter than I thought he would be. He has a closely trimmed beard and glasses that he pushes up his nose once or twice through the talk. He cracks jokes and I laugh along with the crowd. I think about how he looks like a guy I had a crush on in High School but never talked to. I think about how he sounds like a guy I have a crush on now but won’t act on. I think about how I’d been writing articles about factory farming back in first year university and how long it takes the world to take a cause mainstream. I think about how easy it is to forget how much you care about something if you don’t make yourself look at it dead in the face. I think about how much I love cheeseburgers and then feel guilty for it.
He’s so articulate. He thinks carefully before answering each question and he doesn’t shy away from the subject at all. A few angry vegans pipe up as the angry vegans sometimes do and he pats their heads with his words and makes omnivores like me feel better for trying. It’s unrealistic to expect us all to change over night but it is something to be proud of, dammit, to take baby steps in the right direction. I don’t even like red meat, much. It won’t be hard to give up. The chicken will be harder but I could probably do it if I made myself. Not even fish is safe anymore. The law is changing to veil us from how our food comes to us, neatly packaged in the supermarket. Shit, it’s all a giant lying machine like it always is. Doesn’t help to buy organic or free-range or cage-free because what does it mean really? It’s unregulated and basically functioning on the honour system, taking advantage of all of us do-good consumers.
He’s careful to list the exceptions. The farmers who take seriously their line of work, who take pride in what they do. The farmers who would gladly take you to their farms and show you the way they make a living. The farmers who don’t keep consumers out with barbed wire and guard dogs and shady legislation. It all comes down to knowing where the food you put in your body comes from. If it is meat from an animal fit to graze the food it likes, able to reproduce, able to touch the ground and see the sky, able to move or turn around… or if it is meat from an animal that has its limbs cut off and beak filed down, an animal in a cage so small it can’t move, an animal stuffed full of antibiotics on every day it exists, an animal that never knows the land or the sky but only bars and machinery. If you don’t see where it comes from then odds are it doesn’t come from the happy times farm.
Hell, if that doesn’t make you think twice about gobbling down the food that we do there is always the environment to consider. Factory farming being the biggest source of pollution. Or, if you don’t give two shits about the environment which let’s face it some people don’t, you probably at least don’t want to get swine flu right? Guess where that came from? Yeah, good ol’ factory farms; the petri dish of America.
I’m not an angry vegan, yet. I am a meat-eating enthusiast. I’ll BBQ with the best of them, so long as a fire extinguisher is nearby. But, I can’t continue to live like I don’t care because I do. I’ve cared for years, Foer just reminded me of all the things I already knew. I left the bookstore ashamed at myself for becoming one of those people who forgot their actions mattered. Who lived with eyes shaded thinking my actions are so small, so insignificant that they can’t possible register on any real scale. Foer didn’t point fingers but he sure as hell shamed me and I’m better for it. I hope he shamed every other person in that room, too.
Today we finished up the turkey slices that were in the fridge. We made sandwiches, loading them up with tomato slices and lettuce, a sprinkling of cheese. and three different condiments. I ate it propped up in front of the television to see what crazy hijinks those Flash Forward kids would get up to this week. I ate it and washed the dishes and listened to some music and then sat down to write this and I didn’t even realize until this paragraph that it was my last turkey sandwich. But, it was.
And that is the power of one quiet man’s words on an otherwise unremarkable Wednesday night.
Jonathan Safran Foer’s book trailer.
Jonathan Safran Foer on Ellen the same day of the reading I saw! And holy Ellen, I love cheeseburgers, too.