Community Philosphy Blog and Library

HOMEGROWN Book Review: “Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat” by Hal Herzog

Contributed by HOMEGROWNer Aliza Ess.

It’s so easy to open a tin of cat food… but could you feed a live kitten to a snake?

This one of the many moral conundrums Hal Herzog discusses in his new book, “Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat”. Feeding kittens to a snake may sound far fetched, but by the time the reader reads the statistics that with about 94 million cats in America, they consume about the equivalent of 3 million chickens every single day, our relationships with predators and pets becomes much more complicated.

We humans in the Western world have developed a culture in which many of us have chosen to raise chickens in factory farm conditions for the pleasure of owning a pet. Some of these pets end up unwanted and euthanized in shelters. Why?

Kittens tap into our biological “cute” factor.  They are companions and may make us happier or teach children responsibility. Owning a pet is part of our cultural experience.  Chickens, on the other hand, are not as easy to domesticate for companionship and do not light up the “cute” brain wiring as much (although some chicken lovers would certainly disagree!) The suffering of the chicken raised for meat is far removed from the tin can, while the kitten dropped into the boa’s tank is killed in front of our eyes.

In both cases, an animal’s life is taken. But the factors leading up to our choice (kitten or chicken?) have created a definite choice, as evidenced by our grocery store shelves.

Mr. Herzog is a leading scientist in the emerging field of anthrozoology, which studies the relationship between humans and animals. His new book uses a range of scientific studies and personal anecdotes to explore the murky waters of meat eating, pet owning, animal research, and other human-animal interactions.

Is it ethical to do research on animals to save human lives? How immoral is cockfighting? Do pets make us happier? Why are there so few true vegetarians? And of course, is it wrong to feed kittens to a boa constrictor?

Reading “Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat” will not give a clear answer about our relationship with animals. Herzog informs us that even Charles Darwin, the famed naturalist, was stuck in the difficult position of harming the very animals he loved for scientific study. Darwin wrote of one of his pigeons, “I have done the black deed and murdered the angelic little Fan-tail Pointer at 10 days old.” (page 208)

We humans are capable of great feats, from eradicating polio to domesticating and breeding wolves into cocker spaniels.  We debate the power of dolphins as therapists and protect animals until they devour our gardens.  We are vegetarians who eat fish and own cats. To be human is complex. Our survival and evolution as a species often leads us to hurt other living things. How do we navigate that choice?

Mr. Herzog won’t answer that question in this book. “Some We Love…” will not provide evidence for the vegan ideal of a cruelty-free world where humans and animals enjoy equal rights. Instead, this book gives insight into the complex world of human-animal relations, and explores the psychological, biological, and cultural reasons for why “it’s so hard to think straight about animals.”

Many of us here on HOMEGROWN have chosen to do our own experiments in human-animal relations by raising our own livestock or purchasing free-range meat instead of factory farmed. The idea that the animal has led a “happy” life enables us to feel better about taking its life in the end. We feed the animal until we need it to feed us.

Herzog writes of the Swahili who trap and kill baboons that destroy their crops. They have a saying: “Never look a baboon in the eye.” It makes it too hard to kill them.

We backyard livestock owners are forcing ourselves to do just that.  Many of us believe that if all humans encountered meat the way we do, our culture would be less wasteful of meat, and animals would not be raised in industrialized farm conditions. Our closeness to the killing of animals is morally justified.

As Herzog’s friend Staci, an ex-vegetarian converted to raw meat eater, writes in an email, “Maybe killing the creature yourself helps. It completes the cycle somehow.”

I know that many of us backyard livestock owners feel the same way. Many vegans and vegetarians would of course disagree.  Does the trend toward “naturally raised” meat only exist to make us feel better about our choice to kill another animal for food? Is it o.k. to choose to be a predator?

As someone who was raised vegetarian and is now raising chickens, ducks, and rabbits, so far I have dealt with this by loving the animals while they are alive and thanking them for their life before they are butchered.

I started eating meat in college because I was attracted to the smell, and the first steak I ate was from a grass fed, free range steer owned by the family of my boyfriend at the time. It was delicious, and I have continued to guiltily eat meat since. I think a lot about natural predators, and the fact that animals will always die, whether from sickness, starvation, or a quick and clean death that feeds another creature.

As for my own livestock, I have seen the chickens and ducks butchered and helped to clean and cook the animals, but so far we have not done the rabbits.

We have had friends come over to pet the rabbits, and I have had kids ask me to please not eat them. It’s hard, and I am torn about the question. The rabbits are so adorable, and when they come sniff me to smell my scent or get the food I am bringing them, it’s very cute.  I know that I do not need to eat them to survive.

And yet, just yesterday the kits (baby rabbits) of our American Chinchilla doe (female rabbit) died because she failed to take care of them. She did not care about rabbit death, even for her own kits. But because I am aware of the rabbit’s cuteness, I struggle with the thought.

I know that many of you think about the same issues, or else you would not choose to spend the time, energy, and money on raising your own animals. I know you have had to explain to industrial meat-eating friends and family why it’s easier for you to kill an animal yourself than buy anonymous factory raised meat. Some of you may be vegetarians who don’t understand meat  eating at all, others may be hunters who prefer to shoot a deer instead of purchasing a head of lettuce sprayed by pesticides and harvested by a migrant worker.

I’d love to hear all of your opinions!

Reading this book helped me feel less alone in my animal-loving, meat-eating confusion. I hope it does the same for you.

Let us know about your thought process / internal dialogue relating to meat! (Note: One lucky commenter will receive a copy of this fascinating and provocative book.)

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14 Responses to “HOMEGROWN Book Review: “Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat” by Hal Herzog”

  1. “Many of us believe that if all humans encountered meat the way we do, our culture would be less wasteful of meat, and animals would not be raised in industrialized farm conditions. Our closeness to the killing of animals is morally justified.”

    I heartily agree with that statement. I was raised a meat-eater, but not in a family that produced their own. In fact, my mom — whose family DID have and butcher poultry — was not only unable to do so herself when she tried, but was unable to eat the meat of the steer we co-raised (on our land; they helped pay for feed and we split the meat) even after he chased her and cornered her behind a gatepost while she was holding her only granddaughter. And even though she named him “Sir Loin” to keep in mind his fate, and even though she was not present for his care… she was able to cook the meat but never ate a bite.

    When I decided to try raising my own, my first butcher attempt was of two ducks raised in my suburban back yard, with only the discussion part of Joy of Cooking that talked about turning A duck into DUCK, for guidance. With the school bell imminent (I wanted to do the deed before the neighborhood got out of school) I really had no problem. Ducks, like chickens, aren’t CUTE though. Later when I surprised my husband, who had asked for rabbit for his birthday meal, with A rabbit — hopping on his bed to awaken him — I had the help of my dad with the butchering and skinning process, and never turned back. It’s FOOD and I strongly believe in fresh, close to home and home production. Later, having to butcher cull goats without a gun, I found that I had a talent for humanely butchering them by slitting their throat… a process which alarmed them so little that they typically stand in the butchering area, calmly chewing their cud until they drop from the blood loss and pass out. Anyone who knows goats, knows how easily and noisily they can get riled up.. and yet there was none of this. I think it makes for much better meat, also.

    A side note: my eldest daughter grew up on the farm, around butchering of goats, poultry and rabbits. When her “pet” rooster bit her, she insisted it immediately be killed and ate it with much joy at supper that night. “I got the last bite” she said. Earlier, before she turned three, she calmly asked her dad “when will I be big enough?” It took some time for him to get her to say big enough for WHAT… but her (again, calmly delivered statement with no upset or fear) elaboration “when the chickens and the rabbits get big enough we eat them. When will I be big enough?” almost caused her dad to keel over before he could explain that there was a difference between animals that we eat, and animals that we don’t (like the dog and cat) and between both of them and people, and that WE never eat dogs or cats… or people. A day later, a cook at Wendy’s was nonplussed when he looked at Daughter, all dressed up for a portrait session, and commented “you look good enough to eat.” In the high pitched, and totally shocked voice that only an offended two year old can manage, she shot back “But WE DON’T EAT PEOPLE!” and brought down the house.

  2. “When will I be big enough?!” Awww!

  3. I’m struggling with this issue right now. I’ve read enough to be horrified and revolted by the practice of factory farming animals. Sometimes the idea of eating animals revolts me; other times, I’m just hungry and I eat. Sometimes I think I’m morally weak. Other times I think “I’m an omnivore — it’s natural to eat meat.” Intellectually, I’m leaning toward cutting out meat, but on a day to day practical basis, quite frankly, it’s convenient. I hate the place I’m in right now!!! Maybe this book will help me pick on side of the fence or the other! I’d love to win it and find out. Thanks for the chance.

  4. I haven’t read the book yet, but your review has my head spinning!

    Jj Starwalker? That is the best story EVER about your daughter! “But WE DON’T EAT PEOPLE!” I almost spit out my soda when I got to the end!

    This is FASCINATING: “And yet, just yesterday the kits (baby rabbits) of our American Chinchilla doe (female rabbit) died because she failed to take care of them. She did not care about rabbit death, even for her own kits. But because I am aware of the rabbit’s cuteness, I struggle with the thought.” I’ll be thinking about this all night.

    Thanks for being on the tour! I’m dying to talk to someone about some of these issues you’ve raised!

  5. This book sounds like a great read. I would be interested to know if the author explored human/animal relationships in other cultures…

    My husband and I started growing our own meat simply because we can do it almost 100% organically. We don’t have to worry about hormones, chemicals, or ‘unhappy’ animals being butchered violently before their natural time. Since that time, five years ago, we have viewed many of the documentaries that have become (not-so) popular only to discover there are many more reasons to grow our food close to home.

  6. Wow, what an emotionally loaded topic! I eat a mostly vegetarian diet because I don’t want to eat factory farmed animals and the humanely raised meat is quite expensive. I have been thinking about getting chickens for eggs, but I am stuck because I don’t know what to do with them when their laying years are over. I don’t know if I could bring myself to kill them for food but at the same time I can’t afford to run an old age home for hens. I guess there are no easy answers….

  7. I can’t wait to read this book!

    I’m a vegetarian that is married to a meat eater. My vegetarianism came about when I started getting very sick from eating meat; never could digest it properly and always had horrific stomach cramps after a meal that included meat (several of my siblings are the same way). I have no problem cooking meat and really try to do my best to purchase humanely raised and slaughtered animals. City ordinance prevents me from having laying hens, unfortunately.

    I’ve always wondered if I could slaughter a chicken; it has nothing to do with my vegetarianism, but only seems fair. If I’m going to cook it, I should know how to kill it and I think it would complete some sort of cycle.

    Such a thought provoking and emotional topic!

  8. Oh my goodness, this was a very interesting article! I keep going back and forth about whether I want to eventually raise my own meats for consumption. I know that I could do all of the dirty work after an animal has been killed, but actually killing the animal would be a very hard step for me to take. I do think it is the best way for animals to be harvested for human consumption, but since I was not raised with the reality of where meat comes from (except for the hunting seasons in Montana, and the bounty of deer, elk, and antelope that we had the priviledge of packing) it is a hard reality to really think about. But then again, it would feel like taking real responsibility for my eating habits. I could not appreciate where my food comes from more than if I had to do the dirty work to get it to my table.

  9. Slowly moving our family to less reliance on animal protein, partly for nutritional reasons, partly for moral. The selective consumption of animals is so odd. Is it based on the shape of the animal’s foot? Its diet? Seemingly random bases for decisions established over thousands of years.

  10. Samantha Schuller Says:

    I hadn’t heard about this book before reading this post, but it looks fascinating. I can understand all sides of the debate on meat, and like you, I was raised mostly vegetarian and started eating meat in adulthood (also by a boyfriend whose family raised grass-fed meat!). I have friends who literally cry when they think about animals being killed for meat, but my husband and I feel strongly that it’s important for kids to grow up understanding livestock as a natural part of life. Our 3 year old daughter chose to take part in our most recent chicken harvest, and she was proud of herself for helping to make our dinner, from full-feathered rooster to dinner table.

    I love the blog, and I’ll be coming back soon! Thanks for the review and very interesting discussion!

  11. My almost-5-year-old granddaughter asked me today, while we ate fried chicken in a restaurant, “What do they do with the blood of the animals before they get used for food?”

    I told her I would try to find out. I don’t think I ever really thought about it before. But between really large cattle and small chickens, I guess there is quite a lot of blood in the slaughtering process.

    So, what DO they do with all that blood?

  12. Wow Barbara, what a smart question from your granddaughter :) I feel like we forget sometimes how insightful kids can be. Now I’m curious what they do with all that blood too!

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