15 Questions with Jonathan Safran Foer

Courtesy of Gianluca Gentilini

Jonathan Safran Foer, the critically acclaimed author of “Everything is Illuminated” and “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” has turned his creative eye to a radically different subject—vegetarianism. Safran Foer has said that his interest in the topic was sparked by the birth of his child, and being confronted with how he wanted to raise him. Safran Foer visited Harvard on Tuesday to give a speech about his new book, “Eating Animals.” The author spoke with FM about his influences, the meat dish he misses most, and the most important lesson he learned from Joyce Carol Oates.


Fifteen Minutes: Your newest book is a work of nonfiction. What do you think it has in common with your first two novels, if anything?

Jonathan Safran Foer: They have similar concerns in a certain way, like what is passed along, what we do with where we come from. But in more ways they’re different. The novels have nowhere to go, they are done for their own sake. I just felt like I was pursuing my imagination. With this book, I was referring to the world, and I was always concerned by a certain kind of story that I was telling. I knew what I was going to be working on.


FM: Your books tend to be highly personal and emotional. How would you describe the experience of writing the book?

JSF: Not emotional. It was very personal, but to me it was more analytical. It was trying to find a way to take a huge amount of information and make it accessible, digestible, and persuasive.


FM: Could you imagine “Eating Animals” being turned into a movie à la “An Inconvenient Truth”?

JSF: I guess so. I don’t know. It seems like it lends itself in a lot of ways. In certain ways, images can be more powerful than words. They can also be almost impossible to look at.


FM: What do you view as the biggest challenge facing vegetarians?

JSF: I guess I would say its consistency, which I don’t even think is necessarily the greatest goal. We’d be much better to think of ourselves as people who try to reduce meat as much as possible, and maybe down to zero.


FM: Your concerns about eating meat seem to be primarily environmental. However, many vegetarians forgo meat for ethical reasons. Do you think the two are mutually exclusive or not?