"Eating Animals" may be Foer's first big swing at nonfiction, but primary themes hearken back to Foer's two critically polarizing novels, "Everything Is Illuminated" and "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close." Family folklore and ideas about the complexity of memory permeate each; "Eating Animals" begins with a section titled "Storytelling," about Foer's grandmother, a Holocaust survivor (and passionate carnivore). "The story of her relationship with food," he writes, "holds all of the other stories that could be told about her."
The book is not without controversy, of course. Food politics gets at the very heart of what it means to be American -- alas, human -- and the subject of how and if we eat meat stirs up intense feeling. Last week, Natalie Portman kicked up a tiny tempest when she wrote about "Eating Animals" in a column on Huffington Post, championing Foer's argument but adding her own painfully tone-deaf riff about rape. (The controversy took place after the Salon interview but when I reached him afterward via e-mail, Foer had this to say about Portman's column: "It was such a thoughtful and generous piece of writing. I felt gratefulness more than anything else.")