“Like most people, I am conflicted about our ethical obligations to animals,” writes psychologist Hal Herzog. “I oppose testing the toxicity of oven cleaner and eye shadow on animals, but I would sacrifice a lot of mice to find a cure for cancer.” Herzog is an anthrozoologist—one who studies human/animal interactions—but though he devotes his time to studying the moral, philosophical, and practical nuances of humans and their treatment of animals, at the end of the day he is just like the rest of us: inconsistent.
This book is about those inconsistencies, and it is fascinating.
The biggie, of course, is meat. There is only one strong argument in favor of eating animal flesh: it is tasty. There are several arguments against it: you have to kill the animal; the animal suffered continuously during its dismal life, if it came from a factory farm, which it probably did; meat production is terrible for the environment; meat causes obesity, cancer, and heart disease.
“You would think it would be easy to convince people not to eat flesh,” says Herzog. “You would be wrong.” There are far more former vegetarians than current vegetarians, and even the omnivores are terribly inconsistent. No one wants to eat a Patagonian toothfish, but re-name it as a Chilean sea bass, and suddenly it’s a sophisticated entrée. Most Americans wouldn’t eat a dog (“No! Not Mr. Fluffers!”), nor would most Kenyans (“No! Dogs are vermin!”), but Koreans view dogs as neither pets nor pests. Bon appetit!
Or consider cockfighting, a sport that has finally been criminalized in all fifty states. Most people think it is repulsive and barbaric to force two chickens to fight to the death, but we inhumanely slaughter 9 billion broiler chickens every year. For every one gamecock who dies in a fight, there are something like 10,000 to 20,000 chickens who die in factory farms—and those chickens live without ever seeing the light of day. Gamecocks live long, pampered lives, right until that final night.
And why pick on cockfighting? Could it have something to do with race and class? Cockfighters are mostly Hispanics and poor whites, while horse racing is a pastime of the rich. Most Americans oppose any ban on horse racing, never mind the 5,000 horses who died at racetracks between 2003 and 2008. Herzog includes a quote from comedian Chris Rock, who sums it up nicely: “[Sarah Palin is] holding a dead, bloody moose. And Michael Vick’s like, ‘Why am I in jail?’”
Herzog teases out the oddities of the relationship between humans and animals in a wide variety of contexts. (Gentlemen, next time you’re trying to meet women, bring a dog. Your chances of success will triple.) He relies on quirky personal anecdotes as well as very-heavily-endnoted scientific research, and he delves into the philosophical underpinnings that govern, or fail to govern, our actions. And because Herzog readily admits his own hypocrisies toward animals, the tone throughout the book is informative rather than strident, making this an excellent choice for people who want to know more about animals without being preached at.
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