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

Monday, August 22nd, 2011

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.)