Jonathan Safran Foer: I’ve got no beef with his plan to save the planet | Rebecca Nicholson

The US novelist has come up with a way to wean people off their taste for animal products

Jonathan Safran Foer published Eating Animals in 2009. I didn’t read it until 2015, because I had a feeling that it would be persuasive and I would have to stop eating meat, which I found delicious, especially buttery, white-bread ham sandwiches and chicken shish kebabs. It took a long time before I was ready to have my last pepperoni pizza, but in choosing to pick up a book that I knew laid out the horrors of mass meat production, it was clear that I was almost there. And when I’d finished reading it, I simply stopped eating meat. The trade-off no longer seemed worth it.

Safran Foer now aims to repeat that trick with We Are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast. Rather than focusing on the grotesque scale and inhumane practices of factory farming, he talks about the environmental impact of meat and dairy and offers practical suggestions for reducing our consumption of animal products instead. We hear again and again that in the US and the UK, to have any hope of slowing the climate emergency, we need to cut down on meat by 90% and dairy by 60%. Safran Foer’s idea is that we eat meat and dairy only in the evening. Easy.

Last week, though, steak fans everywhere were excited by a new study that concluded there was insufficient evidence that red meat is bad for our health. The problem is that, at this stage, it’s not really about us: cows are beautiful creatures and when farmed en masse to meet our enormous appetites, their methane-filled burps (not farts, contrary to popular belief) are awful for the planet. Even so, it seemed to stand as symbolic green light for filling one’s boots at the bovine buffet. The hunger for even a hint of permission shows that there is a long way to go.

Safran Foer’s new approach, measured and moderate, gives me hope. I know people who won’t read Eating Animals, because they simply like meat too much. This is stealthier. Guilt and shame are not effective tactics for changing anyone’s minds, in any field, and neither is absolute rigidity. He admits that, even after Eating Animals, he craved meat and ate burgers at airports, because they were comforting and easy. He knows this makes him sound like a hypocrite, but that kind of honesty is realistic. The vegan accounts I follow on Instagram are funny and open to people who are interested in what vegans are doing, even if they aren’t doing it themselves. They are not didactic, they are not judgmental, and those qualities, rather than shame, offer the best chance of the shift in habits that we need.

Julia Davis and Vicki Pepperdine: oh, the joy of talking dirty

Julia Davis and Vicki Pepperdine.
Julia Davis and Vicki Pepperdine: ‘agony aunts who shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a problem’. Photograph: Suki Dhanda/The Observer

It has been a long, arid, laughter-free 18 months without it, but at last Dear Joan and Jericha is back. The Vicki Pepperdine and Julia Davis comedy has the pair playing terrible agony aunts who shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a problem, even the problems as awful as the gruesome ones they tackle. It’s recorded in Davis’s kitchen and improvised, which gives the added bonus of trying to work out which of them is trying not to laugh and who is egging the other on. Friends are already quoting this new episode to one another, as they did with the first season, and it makes Davis’s recent series Sally4Ever look positively PG.

However, as a podcast, it is totally unfit for podcast purposes. I usually listen to them when I’m out walking or on public transport. After the last season, I realised I had to clear the decks for this one and put it on only in private. The sight of me snorting uncontrollably in the park is dangerously close to my own version of Joker, only instead of getting beaten up in an alley, I’ll have been bludgeoned with outrageously filthy gags. It should come with a warning: only suitable for listening in the safety of one’s home.

John le Carré: forget cloaks – just watch those daggers

John le Carré.
John le Carré: a war of words with ex MI6 head Richard Dearlove. Photograph: Jane Bown/The Observer

As always, literary feuds prove to be as gripping and action-packed as any Real Housewives franchise, rap beef or tabloid-fuelling celebrity spat. Last week, John le Carré found himself was on the receiving end of sharp words from the former head of MI6, Sir Richard Dearlove. “He is so corrosive in his view of MI6 that most professional Secret Intelligence Service officers are pretty angry with him,” Dearlove told the Cliveden literary festival, explaining that he found Le Carré’s work to be nihilistic and cynical. “Intelligence organisations are based on trust between colleagues. His books are exclusively about betrayal.”

Dearlove follows Metropolitan police commissioner Cressida Dick in grumbling that an imaginary version of something invented by a writer with the purpose of entertaining people lacks realism. For her, police corruption in Line of Duty was an outrage; for Dearlove, it’s the idea that spies might betray one another. I look forward to a wave of dramatically inert stories about well-behaved police officers and trusting spies working together pleasantly and without event. The wait, I’m sure, will be more than worth it.

Still, it gave Le Carré the opportunity to respond with fantastic acidity. Writing in the Times, he said he doubted that senior professional intelligence officers were angry with him, because at least a couple of them had told him they were not. He then went for the jugular, criticising Dearlove’s role in the Iraq war, reminding readers that “raw, single-source, unchecked MI6 intelligence was being passed to Tony Blair, and presumably to George Bush as well, on a regular basis. And that Sir Richard was instrumental in causing this to happen.” And then, in a sign-off so tart that it would have been right at home on RuPaul’s Drag Race, he thanked Dearlove for all the extra publicity. Gorgeous.

• Rebecca Nicholson is an Observer columnist


Rebecca Nicholson

The GuardianTramp

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