Jonathan Safran Foer’s 2009 book “Eating Animals” had a major impact on conversations about the sustainability of the food industry, with jarring facts about animal cruelty and poor farming conditions that affect the environment. Natalie Portman was among the fans of Foer’s work, cited the book as the reason she decided to go vegan, and it led her to produce a documentary based on it (she also provides the narration, which draws from the text).
Directed by Christopher Quinn, the IFC-released movie opened Friday to a number of sold-out shows with Portman in attendance for Q&As. At one of them, she revealed that the impact of the movie has motivated her to consider supporting other projects related to her dietary lifestyle.
“I’ll share with you guys my dream,” she said, noting that she had no specific projects like “Eating Animals” in the pipeline. “It would be my dream to make one of those cooking shows, but only for vegan food. It could provide you with a starter kit if you want to be a vegan.” Having finished her pitch, she looked through the crowd. “If anyone here wants to buy it, I’ll be taking offers in the lobby after this,” she said.
Portman was pregnant when she read Foer’s book, and found many of its factoids — like the amount of pus found in bottles of milk — jarring enough to stir her into action. She cited a scene from “Look Who’s Talking Too,” when John Travolta’s character accidentally drinks breast milk and spits it out when he finds out. “I keep thinking about that,” she said. “Why is that so disgusting to us?”
With “Eating Animals” making its way to more audiences, Portman began to notice the impact of the movie in a more immediate way. “I was just at dinner with my parents and my mom was like, ‘Oh my god, the fish!’” she said. “We don’t even really cover fish in the movie. But the effect of watching the animals made her say, ‘I can’t eat fish now because of that image of the fish with the sores on it.’”
Nevertheless, while there is ample footage of slaughterhouses available, Portman said she wanted to make sure the movie strayed away from it. “The power of the image is really crazy,” she said. “We didn’t want shock and awe. We didn’t want to scare people away with too gruesome imagery. Even people who really devote their lives to this, it’s horrendous to watch cruelty to animals. What you see in the movie is the PG version of what exists out there.”
Additionally, she said that she was not trying to push everyone to accept veganism overnight, instead suggesting that non-vegans attempt to add one vegan meal to their weekly routine. “The thing I keep learning from people younger than me is that you don’t have to choose an identity,” she said.
“Binaries are not important anymore. It’s important to see things on a continuum. Trying does a lot. If everyone tried a little bit, it would make a huge impact. It’s understandable that it’s very hard to change part of our story, how we eat — part of the story of our families, our nation, our religion, and our identity. I don’t expect anyone to be vegan tomorrow, but making small changes makes a big difference.”
“Eating Animals” is now playing in limited release.