Desserts & Bakeries
Southern & Soul
Cobble Hill/Carroll Gardens
Lower East Side
Upper East Side
Upper West Side
May 3, 2009
Jonathan Safran Foer wrote the critically acclaimed novel Everything is Illuminated, followed by a second novel, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, all before he turned 29. You can pick up his books at Urban Outfitters next to Everybody Poops or at any other book store in the world. Jonathan is a vegetarian and eyeglasss enthusiast. He is married to the author Nicole Krauss, a father of two, and resides in Park Slope. He currently teaches writing at NYU, and has a new, non-fiction book, Eating Animals, coming out in November. Below, Jonathan answers some questions about eating out, eating in, and the joys of breast-milk.
What kind of things do you like to eat?
It's changed over time. When I grew up we never had dessert. I would say in the eighteen years I lived at home we never had dessert at family dinner. And not because our parents were trying to protect our teeth or anything, it just wasn't valued. We always valued heavy, salty, starchy foods. So, in the last couple of years I've gotten much more into dessert, probably as a way of pushing against my childhood.
That changes too. Sometimes I like things that return to my savory days, like peanut butter brittle or something like that. I always like ice cream. Things that are bad for me, basically are things that I like to eat. Although it's interesting, it used to be that I would eat horrible entrees and skip dessert. Now I eat very healthy entrees and eat horrible desserts. I tend to like, and would choose, things like a sea-weed salad or tofu not to be healthy, but because I genuinely like it, and then I'll eat something really miserable afterwards.
Does food ever inspire you to write? Do you think there is any connection between being a writer and being an eater?
There are a lot of ways to think about that. First of all, literally what you eat affects how you write. If I drink coffee before I write I'm going to write very differently than if I drink beer, or eat a very heavy meal. Turns out there are vegetarians in both of my books. It's not something I ever intended. In part, I guess I found it totally unexceptional and so I
didn't think twice about doing it or not doing it. I think that is something quite different in the world we live in now as opposed to the one people lives in ten years ago, or twenty or thirty. Particularly among younger people there is something so unexceptional about making eating choices and not just for vegetarianism, but having a particular diet. Partly because there are so many more options now but i think younger people are more sensitive to food issues.
Do you cook?
If I want to eat, I cook. I'm the only person in our house who cooks--at all. Every meal at home, I cook. I made breakfast this morning. Last night I made lunch for my son, and probably will tonight.
Do you prefer eating in or eating out?
At times I prefer different things. I would like to be somebody who prefers eating in. I recognize that it's nicer but I get very tired, and it can be hard to cook. I never eat out, just because we have kids. I mean, one of them is a newborn so it's very hard. We wouldn't have a dining experience; the most eating out we would do is go to the neighborhood falafel place or something like that. I can't remember the last time I spent more than 20 minutes in a restaurant.
What is your favorite neighborhood spot, in Park Slope?
I love the Olive Vine, this falafel place on Seventh Avenue. There's a sushi place called Yamato. I don't eat fish but they still make tons of stuff I really like. That's on first street at Seventh Avenue. Park Slope is not a great food neighborhood. It's actually miserable. Well, that's not exactly true. Fifth avenue is becoming a really, really good food area, but even still, it's not as good as everybody seems to say. Like Carroll Gardens and Smith Street in Cobble Hill is so much more interesting.
Where do you get your groceries?
I buy different things at different places. We get our produce at this green market once a week. We get things like breads, beans, all that kind of stuff at a place called Back to The Land in our neighborhood. And then we get specialty things at a place called Divine Taste. I like that. The whole idea of buying things in one place is part of what I see as the corruption of the food system in America, the idea that everything is available as opposed to seeking out different things in different places, and different foods for the seasons. It's a much better way to eat.
What is your favorite restaurant in the city-- preferably one that you've spent more than twenty minutes in?
There's two answers. One is Grimaldi's, the pizza place. Then I went to this vegan-korean place in Korea town and I can't remember the name of it. They serve twelve course meals and it's absolutely wonderful, and not especially expensive or fancy. A good place to go with a friend.
What made you decide to become a vegetarian?
I've become a vegetarian many times in my life. I've gone on and off, and different times have been inspired by different reasons. I started when I was nine, very simply because I didn't want to hurt animals. It was totally uncomplicated. And then as I've gotten older the reasoning has changed. I've thought more about environmental issues, workers rights issues, sustainability issues, the wastefulness. At the end of the day it's probably still, mostly, because of animals. I guess what I mean is the older I've grown, the stronger the argument against eating meat has become in my eyes.
You mentioned that you were vegan for a bit, but it didn't stick. Why didn't it work?
I'm going to try it again now. It didn't stick because my wife became pregnant and she had to eat certain things, or we felt at the time that she did, and it wasn't fair for me to take a step in a direction that I think she would want to as well. Also it's very hard. Vegetarianism is very easy. Anyone who says it's hard really isn't trying, in New York. Veganism is hard. It separates you from a lot of social occasions. I don't think there's any restaurant in the city where you can't eat easily as a vegetarian. Any steakhouse will have enough good things to eat. Eating as a vegan would preclude a lot of restaurants and a lot of occasions.
So you and your wife, are you on the same track when it comes to eating? Would it be hard to be on different tracks?
It would be impossible to be on different tracks because it would feel like an accusation if one of us refrained from something the other didn't.
As a father of two young children, what have you found to be the ideal parent/child pleasing meal?
Breast-milk, because I don't have to cook it, and the baby likes it.
Yeah but you wouldn't eat it. Well, I don't know, maybe you would...
What does he like that I like? Falafel, actually, is sort of the ideal parent kid meal. It's basically as sophisticated as he will get. Obviously we will go eat pizza and that's fine. Or macaroni and cheese or whatever.
What do you think of food writing. Have you read the Omnivore's Dilemma?
Yeah, I think it's a wonderful book. I strongly disagree with a number of his conclusions. I think the way he makes an argument is frustrating sometimes. He'll get to a certain point and then give up on it. He never asks anything of anyone that is truly uncomfortable or challenging. That being said he's a really great writer and the book was revelatory. It really opened my eyes, and everybody's eyes to a lot of things.
I know that you are Jewish. Do you keep kosher?
No. Well, incidentally I do because I don't eat meat. But when I was eating meat I did not keep kosher.
So I know that we can't talk about your new book, Eating Animals, which is coming out next fall, but could you tell me a little about why you wanted to write it, your inspiration?
I wanted to write it because I was very uncertain about how I felt and I had been uncertain for a long time and felt no urgency to get it right, but with my wife being pregnant with our first child, I suddenly felt an urgency because I would have to make decisions on his behalf, not just my own and that's different. It's a different kind of responsibility.
And the book is about how you personally want to deal with meat or--
No, it's a pretty broad argument actually. It started as that and there is a sort of personal narrative that weaves through it, but it makes an argument for other people.
What's you favorite kind of cereal?
That's easy. Puffins. Regular, original flavor.
Sparkling, flat, or tap water?
Fruit of choice?
Is a Lychee a fruit? I think I'll do that. Even though I never eat it. It just seems like a good choice.
Preferred shape of pasta?
It depends on the sauce it's being served with, obviously. But if I could only buy one box of pasta I would probably get rigatoni.
Any particular brand?
No. I'm not snobby about that or even particular. Although canned tomatoes I get a little particular about.
Whole wheat or white bread?
Well, we always eat whole wheat.
Preferred juice brand?
Fresh made juice at a local juice bar.
Do you follow any blogs or restaurant critics?
I don't. For two reasons. One, I know that I'm never going to get to those restaurants. And also, I know that I often become neurotic about things the more I know about them and I feel like I'm already sufficiently neurotic about food that I don't need any help.
Be sure to check out Jonathan's book, Eating Animals, coming out next fall!