...........Michael Pollan...........


An Animal's Place
November 10, 2002 The first time I opened Peter Singer's "Animal Liberation," I w as dining alone at the Palm, trying to enjoy a rib-eye steak cooked medium-rare. If this sounds like a good recipe for cognitive dissonance (if not indigestion), that w as sort of the idea. Preposterous as it might seem, to supporters of anim al rights, w hat I w as doing w as tantamount to reading "Uncle Tom's C abin" on a plantation in the Deep South in 1852. Singer and the sw elling ranks of his follow ers ask us to imagine a future in w hich people w ill look back on my meal, and this steakhouse, as relics of an equally backw ard age. Eating animals, w earing animals, experimenting on animals, killing animals for sport: all these practices, so resolutely normal to us, w ill be seen as the barbarities they are, and w e w ill come to view "speciesism"--a neologism I had encountered before only in jokes--as a form of discrimination as indefensible as racism or anti-Semitism. Even in 1975, w hen "Animal Liberation" w as first published, Singer, an Australian philosopher now teaching at Princeton, w as confident that he had the w ind of history at his back. The recent civil rights past w as prologue, as one liberation movement follow ed on the heels of another. Slow ly but surely, the w hite man's circle of moral consideration w as expanded to admit first blacks, then w omen, then homosexuals. In each case, a group once thought to be so different from the prevailing "w e" as to be undeserving of civil rights w as, after a struggle, admitted to the club. Now it w as animals' turn. That animal liberation is the logical next step in the forw ard march of moral progress is no longer the fringe idea it w as back in 1975. A grow ing and increasingly influential m ovement of philosophers, ethicists, law professors and activists are convinced that the great moral struggle of our time w ill be for the rights of animals. So far the movement has scored some of its biggest victories in Europe. Earlier this year, Germany became the first nation to grant animals a constitutional right: the w ords "and animals" w ere added to a provision obliging the state to respect and protect the dignity of human beings. The farming of animals for fur w as recently banned in England. In several European nations, sow s may no longer be confined to crates nor laying hens to "battery cages"--stacked w ired cages so small the birds cannot stretch their w ings. The Sw iss are amending their law s to change the status of anim als from "things" to "beings." Though animals are still very much "things" in the eyes of American law , change is in the air. Thirty-seven states have recently passed law s making some form s of animal cruelty a crime, 21 of them by ballot initiative. Follow ing protests by activists, McDonald's and Burger K ing forced significant im provements in the w ay the U.S. meat industry

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. real animals--anim als living and dying--no longer figure in our everyday lives... in w hich sentiment and brutality exist side by side." w as w ritten by a former speechw riter for President Bush. w ho famously claimed that animals w ere mere machines.Michael Pollan. The disappearance of animals from our lives has opened a space in w hich there's no reality check. w e either look aw ay or become vegetarians.. Which might explain how I found myself reading "Animal Liberation" in a steakhouse. neither option seemed especially appetizing. That eye contact. Half the dogs in America w ill receive C hristmas presents this year. the movement now cuts across ideological lines. But that accommodation has pretty much broken dow n... incapable of thought or feeling. Agribusiness and the cosmetics and apparel industries are all struggling to defuse mounting public concerns over animal w elfare. Several years ago. w here it is cut and packaged to look as little like parts of animals as possible. Yet most of the anim als w e kill lead lives organized very much in the spirit of Descartes. And once outlandish ideas are finding their w ay into mainstream opinion.. discovering that such things as culture. There's a schizoid quality to our relationship w ith animals.. Once thought of as a left-w ing concern. it seem s.. His book has converted countless thousands to vegetarianism. he had succeeded in throw ing me on the defensive. Perhaps the most eloquent recent plea on behalf of animals. C ombining rigorous philosophical argument w ith journalistic description. One by one. had provided a vivid daily reminder that animals w ere at once crucially like and unlike us. language and even possibly self-consciousness are not the exclusive domain of Homo sapiens. a new book called "Dominion. in our factory farms and laboratories w e are inflicting more suffering on more anim als than at any time in history. w ith respect to animals. tool making. For my ow n part. 2 of 14 02/01/2010 12:55 AM . for many readers it is easier to change. This is pretty much w here w e live now . Because Singer is so skilled in argument..php?id=55 slaughters animals. science is dismantling our claims to uniqueness as a species... What is going on here? A certain amount of cultural confusion. http://www..michaelpollan.... now adays. Upon this paradox people built a relationship in w hich they felt they could both honor and eat animals w ithout looking aw ay.. and it is a space in w hich the Peter Singers and Frank Perdues of the w orld can evidently thrive equally w ell. "Why Look at Animals?" in w hich he suggested that the loss of everyday contact betw een ourselves and animals--and specifically the loss of eye contact--has left us deeply confused about the terms of our relationship to other species.. for one thing. either on the sentiment or the brutality. A recent Zogby poll found that 51 percent of Americans believe that prim ates are entitled to the same rights as human children. Meat com es from the grocery store. When's the last time you saw a pig? (Babe doesn't count.com/article.) Except for our pets.. We tolerate this disconnect because the life of the pig has moved out of view . yet few of us pause to consider the miserable life of the pig--an animal easily as intelligent as a dog--that becomes the C hristmas ham. fear. in their eyes w e glimpsed something unmistakably familiar (pain. For at the same time many people seem eager to extend the circle of our moral consideration to animals. alw ays slightly uncanny. This is not something I'd recommend if you're determined to continue eating meat. tenderness) and something irretrievably alien. the English critic John Berger w rote an essay.. "Animal Liberation" is one of those rare books that demand that you either defend the w ay you live or change it.. and it didn't take long for me to see w hy: w ithin a few pages.

intelligence... pigs. is an interest in avoiding pain.C . equal at all--some are smarter than others.. This is w here I put dow n my fork." he speculates. regardless of "w hat abilities they may possess. better looking. and right around here I began scribbling objections in the margin. difficult to refute. But w here their interests are the same. If that scheme offends our sense of equality." Bentham then asks w hat characteristic entitles any being to moral consideration. that is the w ellspring of the animal rights movement. I furiously scribbled in the margin." or A. C an they suffer?" Bentham here is playing a pow erful card philosophers call the "argument from m arginal cases. the demented--w hose mental function cannot match that of a chimpanzee. "Is it the faculty of reason or perhaps the faculty of discourse?" Obviously not. since "a full-grow n horse or dog is beyond comparison a m ore rational. But few er have taken the next logical step. he concludes.. if you accept its premises. more gifted.michaelpollan. w hich is w hy w e shouldn't treat pigs and children alike... and they're human! For Singer that's not good enough. than an infant. Here Singer quotes a famous passage from Jeremy Bentham. http://www.. And the one all-important interest that w e share w ith pigs... how can it entitle humans to exploit nonhumans for the same purpose?" This is the nub of Singer's argument.php?id=55 Singer's argument is disarmingly simple and.. and equality 3 of 14 02/01/2010 12:55 AM . C an they talk? but. "The day may come. then w hy is the fact that animals lack certain human characteristics any more just as a basis for discrimination? Either w e do not ow e any justice to the severely retarded... Equal consideration of interests is not the same as equal treatment. Take the premise of equality. as w ell as a more conversable animal. the principle of equality demands they receive the same consideration. in rooting around in the dirt.M. for short. granting them fundamental rights. But the differences betw een blacks and w hites are trivial compared w ith the differences betw een my son and a chimp.. So on w hat basis do w e exclude the chim panzee? Because he's a chim p. Yes they do. as a matter of fact.. w e nevertheless include them in the circle of our moral consideration. soon after the French colonies freed black slaves. the anim al rightist contends that it is speciesist to discrim inate against the chimpanzee solely because he's not human... as w ith all sentient creatures." Fair enough..com/article.. If I believe in equality. w hich most people readily accept. Yet w hat do w e really mean by it? People are not. many philosophers have gone this far.Michael Pollan. "w hen the rest of the animal creation may acquire those rights. or w e do ow e it to animals w ith higher capabilities." Singer points out. It goes like this: there are humans--infants." He concludes: "The question is not. Singer acknow ledges. "Equality is a moral idea... Bentham w as w riting in 1789. the 18th-century utilitarian philosopher. he points out: children have an interest in being educated.. Even though these people cannot reciprocate our moral attentions. "not an assertion of fact. In the same w ay w e'd call that exclusion racist. the severely retarded. C an they reason? nor. "If possessing a higher degree of intelligence does not entitle one hum an to use another for his or her ow n ends. But humans differ from animals in morally significant w ays. To exclude the chimp from moral consideration simply because he's not human is no different from excluding the slave simply because he's not w hite. Singer counters by asking us to imagine a hypothetical society that discriminates against people on the basis of something nontrivial--say." The moral idea is that everyone's interests ought to receive equal consideration.

" Franklin rem arks. Besides. the w riters Joy Williams and Matthew Scully. there w ould be no pigs at all." He admits. w atered by the other animal rights thinkers I began reading: the philosophers Tom R egan and James R achels.M. Otis.php?id=55 is based on interests rather than characteristics. animals do.. and yet all the animal people are asking me to do is to stop eating meat and w earing animal furs and hides. groom them selves and turn around. I didn't think I minded being a speciesist. how ever. he w ondered. But Singer had planted a troubling notion. C oetzee. Animals kill one another all the time. "a crime of stupefying proportions" (in C oetzee's w ords) is going on all around us every day.. in a lecture delivered at Princeton. it grew and grew ..) This suggests another defense. is any guide. w hether or not they have ever lived in conditions that permit this. in fact. Animals on factory farms have never know n any other life. and in the w eeks follow ing m y restaurant face-off betw een Singer and the steak. humans don't need to kill other creatures in order to survive. http://www.. smelling "admirably w ell. If all the w orld w ere Jew ish. just beneath our notice. (Though if my cat. Yet Singer and his allies managed to trump almost all my objections. If animal rightists are right. that the rationale didn't occur to him until the fish w ere in the frying pan.. I finished my steak. stretch their limbs or w ings. "The pig has a stronger interest than anyone in the demand for bacon. I don't see w hy w e m ay not eat you.michaelpollan. Or as one 19th-century political philosopher put it... animals sometimes kill for sheer pleasure.K . and surely human problems must come first! Sounds good. they can't be w ronged.Michael Pollan.com/article.. Wise. 4 of 14 02/01/2010 12:55 AM . as several of these w riters suggest.... and in the days afterw ard. is that you can find a reason for w hatever you w ant to do. the suffering of animals is a legitimate problem. Singer replies that "animals feel a need to exercise. too" defense. then either I have to take the interests of the steer I'm eating into account or concede that I am a speciesist. too." Singer retorts. It's an idea almost impossible to entertain seriously... For the time being..... but could it be." The advantage of being a "reasonable creature. I found myself m arshaling w hatever mental pow er I could muster to try to refute it. the South African novelist." But it turns out that this w ould be fine by the animal rightists: for if pigs don't exist... "If you eat one another.) To the "they do it. My first line of defense w as obvious. I decided to plead guilty as charged. Wouldn't life in the w ild be w orse for these farm animals? "Defenders of slavery imposed on black Africans often made a similar point. he answ ered it in the affirm ative. O. but the w orld is full of problems. "The life of freedom is to be preferred.. the legal theorist Steven M.. There's no reason I can't devote myself to solving humankind's problems w hile being a vegetarian w ho w ears synthetics.. the animal rightist has a devastating reply: do you really w ant to base your morality on the natural order? M urder and rape are natural." The measure of their suffering is not their prior experiences but the unremitting daily frustration of their instincts. that w e w ill som eday come to regard speciesism as an evil comparable to racism? Will history someday judge us as harshly as it judges the Germans w ho w ent about their ordinary lives in the shadow of Treblinka? Precisely that question w as recently posed by J. w ithout us they w ouldn't exist at all. Why treat animals more ethically than they treat one another? (Ben Franklin tried this one long before me: during a fishing trip." But domesticated animals can't survive in the w ild. much less to accept.

.: it can be used to help the animals.. none of these arguments evade the charge of speciesism. the insane." in the detestable argot of modern moral philosophy. A utilitarian like Singer w ould agree. So the argument over animal testing is really in the details: is this particular procedure or test really necessary to save human lives? (Very often it's not. that the feelings of relatives do count for something. even w hen logic is pushing us..M. sim ilarly... http://www.C . That's because the unique qualities of human consciousness carry w eight in the utilitarian calculus: human pain counts for more than that of a mouse. since our pain is amplified by emotions like dread.) But if humans no longer need to eat meat or w ear skins.. yet w e nevertheless grant them rights.: the moral status of the retarded. these people have fathers and mothers. w hich makes our interest in their w elfare deeper than our interest in the w elfare of even the most brilliant ape... and w ill probably once again be. too. then w hat exactly are w e putting on the hum an side of the scale to outw eigh the interests of the animal? I suspect that this is finally w hy the animal people managed to throw me on the defensive. w e must sacrifice the child..com/article. how ever. Even if w e reject the "hard utilitarianism" of a Peter Singer. And if w e do ow e them moral consideration.php?id=55 But doesn't the fact that w e could choose to forgo meat for moral reasons point to a crucial moral difference betw een animals and humans? As K ant pointed out.Michael Pollan... but just as often it w inds up hurting the marginal cases. In the case of animal testing. Why? Because the ape has a greater capacity for pain. there remains the question of w hether w e ow e animals that can feel pain any moral consideration. Yet the principle of equal consideration of interests demands that." 5 of 14 02/01/2010 12:55 AM . And all of us have been. the only one even capable of entertaining a concept of "rights..... the choice is not betw een babies and chimps but betw een the pork and the tofu. And yet this isn't the moral choice I am being asked to make.. marginal cases ourselves.. Here in a nutshell is the problem w ith the A." What's w rong w ith reserving moral consideration for those able to reciprocate it? R ight here is w here you run smack into the A. the infant and the Alzheimer's patient. (Too bad. Giving up our speciesism w ill bring us to a moral cliff from w hich w e may not be prepared to jump. our deaths are w orse than an animal's because w e understand w hat death is in a w ay they don't.michaelpollan. I respond.. the racist.. That's right. daughters and sons. Such "marginal cases. how can w e justify eating them ? This is w hy killing animals for meat (and clothing) poses the most difficult animal rights challenge..M. for the simple reason that they're one of us. all but the most radical animal rightists are w illing to balance the human benefit against the cost to the animals. It's one thing to choose betw een the chimp and the retarded child or to accept the sacrifice of all those pigs surgeons practiced on to develop heart-bypass surgery. and this seems impossible to deny.C . it w ould be so much easier!) In everyday life. What's more. cannot participate in moral decision making any more than a m onkey can. claims that it's natural to give special consideration to one's ow n kind. Alas. given the choice betw een performing a painful medical experiment on a severely retarded orphan and on a normal ape.. And if you don't w ant to do either? Then you have to try to determine if the animals you're eating have really endured "a lifetime of suffering. But w hat happens w hen the choice is betw een "a lifetime of suffering for a nonhuman animal and the gastronom ic preference of a human being?" You look aw ay--or you stop eating animals. the hum an being is the only moral animal. in w hich case w e probably shouldn't do it.

because it is impossible to know w hat really goes on in the m ind of a cow or a pig or even an ape. the place w here all such distinctions turn to dust. self-pity. "If w e fail to find suffering in the animal lives w e can see. yet animals appear to get over it in a w ay humans do not.Michael Pollan.. Vexed.com/article. it can be argued that human pain differs from animal pain by an order of magnitude. by virtue of language.. This qualitative difference is largely the result of our possession of language and. the very premise of a great deal of animal testing--the reason it has value--is that animals' experience of physical and even some psychological pain closely resembles our ow n. represents an agony of another order. how ever. w hich depends on a degree of self-consciousness only a few animals appear to command. A trip to the dentist w ould be a torment for an ape that couldn't be made to understand the purpose and duration of the procedure.. and suffering... No one w ould deny the procedure is painful to animals." Which brings us--reluctantly. necessarily--to the American factory farm. http://www." that in a bovine brain the concept of nonexistence is blissfully absent.. but since humans are all basically w ired the sam e w ay. The philosopher Daniel C ... Indeed.php?id=55 Whether our interest in eating animals outw eighs their interest in not being eaten (assum ing for the moment that is their interest) turns on the vexed question of animal suffering.. These are places w here the subtleties of moral philosophy 6 of 14 02/01/2010 12:55 AM . w e do need to guard against projecting on to them w hat the sam e experience w ould feel like to us. an ability to have thoughts about thoughts and to imagine alternatives to our current reality.. w hich a great many animals experience.. language and all that comes w ith it can also make certain kinds of pain more bearable. C onsider castration. the very next day the victim may be observed m ating.. Suffering in this view is not just lots of pain but pain intensified by human emotions like loss.. It's not easy to draw lines betw een pain and suffering in a modern egg or confinement hog operation.. Watching a steer force-marched up the ramp to the kill-floor door. w hy w ould cosmetics testers drip chemicals into the eyes of rabbits to see if they sting? Why w ould researchers study head trauma by traumatizing chimpanzee heads? Why w ould psychologists attempt to induce depression and "learned helplessness" in dogs by exposing them to ceaseless random patterns of electrical shock? That said.. seemingly little the w orse for w ear. The general consensus among scientists and philosophers is that w hen it comes to pain. As humans contem plating the pain and suffering of anim als. C an w e say that about animals? Yes and no. If w e find suffering. w orry.michaelpollan. shame. I have yet to find anyone w ho still subscribes to Descartes's belief that animals cannot feel pain because they lack a soul. as I have done. w e w ill recognize it w ithout difficulty. w e have excellent reason to assume that other people's experience of pain feels much like our ow n. to anticipate the event and contemplate its aftermath.) Surely the suffering of a man able to comprehend the full implications of castration. this is true of other humans. Dennett suggests that w e w ould do w ell to draw a distinction betw een pain. Strictly speaking.. I need to remind myself that this is not Sean Penn in "Dead Man Walking." Dennett w rites in "K inds of Minds. regret... By the same token. too. sadness. the higher animals are w ired much like w e are for the same evolutionary reasons. (Some rhesus monkeys competing for mates w ill bite off a rival's testicle...." "w e can rest assured there is no invisible suffering somew here in their brains. Otherw ise. so w e should take the w rithings of the kicked dog at face value. humiliation and dread.

And w hen the output of the others begins to ebb. but a demoralized pig has stopped caring. http://www.. From everything I've read. A normal pig w ould fight off his molester... Every natural instinct of this animal is thw arted. Much of this description is draw n from "Dominion.. Since no thinking person can possibly believe this any more.. Simply reciting these facts. albeit standing ankle deep in their ow n w aste eating a diet that m akes them sick. most of w hich are draw n from poultry-trade magazines..Michael Pollan. Sick pigs. The U. Why the little stump? Because the w hole point of the exercise is not to remove the object of tail-biting so much as to render it more sensitive. is still designed according to C artesian principles: animals are m achines incapable of feeling pain. So it's not surprising that an animal as sensitive and intelligent as a pig w ould get depressed. and it's not uncom mon in confinement operations. I do w ant to say one thing about the bacon. a bite on the tail is so painful that even the most demoralized pig w ill mount a struggle to avoid it. at least don't spend their eight-w eek lives in cages too small to ever stretch a w ing. w here tens of thousands of hogs spend their entire lives ignorant of sunshine or earth or straw .php?id=55 and animal cognition mean less than nothing. doesn't it? I don't mean to..com/article. Beef cattle in America at least still live outdoors. being underperforming "production units. for all its technological sophistication. makes me sound like one of those animal people. egg and hog operations are the w orst.. the 10 percent or so of hens that can't bear it and simply die is built into the cost of production. although they do get their beaks snipped off w ith a hot knife to keep them from cannibalizing one another under the stress of their confinement. But now that I probably have spoiled the eggs. industrial animal agriculture depends on a suspension of disbelief on the part of the people w ho operate it and a w illingness to avert your eyes on the part of everyone else. It certainly w asn't my intention to ruin anyone's breakfast." Whatever you w ant to call w hat's going on in those cages. crow ded together beneath a m etal roof upon metal slats suspended over a manure pit. .." Using a pair of pliers (and no anesthetic). "Learned helplessness" is the psychological term. the hens w ill be "force-molted"--starved of food and w ater and light for several days in order to stimulate a final bout of egg laying before their life's w ork is done." are clubbed to death on the spot.S. mention a single practice (by no means the w orst) in modern hog production that points to the com pound madness of an impeccable industrial logic. w ho passes her brief span piled together w ith a half-dozen other hens in a w ire cage w hose floor a single page of this magazine could carpet.D. and a depressed pig w ill allow his tail to be chew ed on to the point of infection...'s recommended solution to the problem is called "tail docking. like "vices" and "stress. . Piglets in confinem ent operations are w eaned from their mothers 10 days after birth (compared w ith 13 w eeks in nature) because they gain w eight faster on their hormone... a desire they gratify in confinem ent by biting the tail of the animal in front of them. .... To visit a modern C AFO (C onfined Animal Feeding Operation) is to enter a w orld that. . most but not all of the tail is snipped off.michaelpollan. And broiler chickens. Pain? Suffering? Madness? The operative suspension of disbelief depends on more neutral descriptors.and antibiotic-fortified feed.A.." Matthew Scully's recent book in w hich he offers a harrow ing description of a North 7 of 14 02/01/2010 12:55 AM .. That fate is reserved for the American laying hen. set aside. leading to a range of behavioral "vices" that can include cannibalizing her cagemates and rubbing her body against the w ire mesh until it is featherless and bleeding. Now . This premature w eaning leaves the pigs w ith a lifelong craving to suck and chew ... you look.. but this is w hat can happen w hen . w here everything w e've learned about anim als at least since Darw in has been sim ply .

More than any other institution. not because they have rights or pow er or some claim to equality but .) A tension has alw ays existed betw een the capitalist imperative to maximize efficiency and the moral imperatives of religion or community. in Salatin's w ords.. C oetzee's notion of a "stupefying crime" doesn't seem far-fetched at all. pigs. (Perhaps this explains w hy he resigned from the Bush adm inistration just before his book's publication.. like cow s. once Salatin's cow s have finished grazing a pasture. Vegetarianism doesn't seem an unreasonable response to such an evil. http://www." Scully calls the contemporary factory farm "our ow n w orst nightmare" and.. the chickens move out.. as w ell as on the w eed species (nettles. arguing instead that w hile God did give man "dominion" over animals ("Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you")... into the brief.. to his credit. Here in these places life itself is redefined--as protein production--and w ith it suffering." a portable chicken coop that houses several hundred laying hens--roughly the natural size of a flock.. w hether it's the Bible. has no patience for lefty rights talk. That venerable w ord becomes "stress. pigs. pigs. his cow s. "We are called to treat them w ith kindness. a C hristian conservative..php?id=55 C arolina hog operation. Mercy tow ard animals is one such casualty.. w hich have historically served as a counterw eight to the moral blindness of the market. As in nature.. Here. he also admonished us to show them mercy. A few w eeks later. A diet of grubs and grass makes for exceptionally tasty eggs and contented chickens. and their nitrogenous manure feeds the pasture. "Our ow n w orst nightmare" such a place may w ell be. Polyface Farm occupies 550 acres of rolling grassland and forest in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia..." What this means in practice is that Salatin's chickens live like chickens. pitiless life of a "production unit" in the days before the suffering gene w as found. rabbits. Scully... Joel Salatin and his family raise six different food anim als--cattle. a new constitutional right or a w hole platoon of animal rightists bent on breaking in and liberating the inmates. Who w ould w ant to be made complicit in the agony of these animals by eating them? You w ant to throw something against the w alls of those infernal sheds. it is also real life for the billions of animals unlucky enough to have been born beneath these grim steel roofs. But before you sw ear off meat entirely. . . nightshade) that the cattle and chickens w on't touch. The hens fan out over the pasture. "to fully express its physiological distinctiveness. This is one of "the cultural contradictions of capitalism"--the tendency of the econom ic impulse to erode the moral underpinnings of society. in the industry's latest plan.. w here birds tend to follow herbivores.. It is typical of nothing. In the shadow of these factory farms...michaelpollan. and the sheep come in.Michael Pollan. dining on the lush new grow th. because they stand unequal and pow erless before us..com/article. let me describe a very different sort of animal farm. and yet its very existence puts the w hole moral question of animal agriculture in a different light. 8 of 14 02/01/2010 12:55 AM . doesn't shrink from naming the root cause of this evil: unfettered capitalism. by simply engineering the "stress gene" out of pigs and chickens. chickens. the Am erican industrial animal farm offers a nightmarish glimpse of w hat capitalism can look like in the absence of moral or regulatory constraint. eating the short grass and picking insect larvae out of the cow pats--all the w hile spreading the cow manure and eliminating the farm 's parasite problem .. he moves them out and tow s in his "eggm obile. like tail-docking or beak-clipping or." an economic problem in search of a cost-effective solution. turkeys and sheep--in an intricate dance of sym biosis designed to allow each species.

cats and chickens have thrived. therefore. cannot be achieved apart from humans--apart from our farms and. http://www. For any animal. this steaming compost layer cake stands three feet high.. and the hum ans gave up their hunter-gatherer w ays for the settled life of agriculturists... the good life. so much of w hat I'd accepted. and eventually all of these animals w ill feed us. intently nosing out the tasty alcoholic morsels.000. I thought a lot about vegetarianism and animal rights during the day I spent on Joel Salatin's extraordinary farm. the chickens. To think of domestication as a form of enslavement or even exploitation is to misconstrue the w hole relationship. All you can see of these pigs. By March." yet the happiness of a w orking animal like the dog consists precisely in serving as a "means. the rightists say. an instance of mutualism betw een species. Domestication is an evolutionary. in exchange for w hich the animals provided the humans their milk and eggs and--yes--their flesh.) Nor does their loss of autonomy seem to trouble these creatures. To say of one of Joel Salatin's caged chickens that "the life of freedom is to be preferred" betrays an ignorance about chicken preferences--w hich on this farm are heavily focused on not getting their heads bitten off by w easels. Humans provided the animals w ith food and protection. looked very different from here.. w hile the cattle w ere indoors. and here I w as seeing it in abundance. C ow s... the life expectancy of a farm animal w ould be considerably briefer in the w orld beyond the pasture fence or 9 of 14 02/01/2010 12:55 AM .000 years ago. pigs.. get to spend a few happy w eeks rooting through the pile. It is w rong.000 w olves in North Am erica. development. and the pigs.. Aristotle speaks of each creature's "characteristic form of life.. the bargain w ith humanity has been a great success. But to look at these anim als is to see this for the sentimental conceit it is. w hile their w ild ancestors have languished. (Humans changed biologically. It is certainly not a regime humans im posed on animals some 10.com/article. For brief as it is.." For domesticated species..) From the animals' point of view .. our meat eating..php?id=55 Meanw hile. Salatin layered their m anure w ith straw . But haven't these chickens simply traded one predator for another-w easels for humans? True enough. This. it seems to me.. 50. w ood chips--and corn.000 dogs. All w inter long.. aerating it as they w ork.michaelpollan. (There are 10.. is w here animal rightists betray a profound ignorance about the w orkings of nature. if w e can call it that.. w hose pow erful snouts can sniff out and retrieve the fermented corn at the bottom. In the same w ay that w e can probably recognize animal suffering w hen w e see it. the grass." Liberation is the last thing such a creature w ants. the cattle. at least until our ow n time. R ather. in fact. The finished compost w ill go to feed the grass. to treat anim als as "means" rather than "ends. the cattle. the pigs are in the barn turning the compost. too. To many animal rightists. and for the chickens this is probably not a bad deal. Both parties w ere transformed by the relationship: anim als grew tame and lost their ability to fend for themselves (evolution tends to edit out unneeded traits). domestication happened w hen a small handful of especially opportunistic species discovered through Darw inian trial and error that they w ere more likely to survive and prosper in an alliance w ith humans than on their ow n. evolving such new traits as a tolerance for lactose as adults. rather than a political. happiness seems to consist in the opportunity to express its creaturely character--its essential pigness or w olfness or chickenness. too. are their upturned pink hams and corkscrew tails churning the air.. to project a human idea of pow er onto w hat is.. animal happiness is unmistakable. even Polyface Farm is a death camp.. dogs.Michael Pollan.. So much of w hat I'd read.

." Yet here's the rub: the animal rightist is not concerned w ith species. also.. . only individuals. an abiding discomfort not only w ith our animality. much of that time spent in a failed bid to recapture the ship's escaped goat -. A sheep farmer told me that a bear w ill eat a lactating ew e alive. among the hardest of all things to fathom. including survival.w ho happened to be pregnant. and only 52 sea sparrow s remain. deer overrun their habitat and starve. . "As a rule. "It must be admitted." he explained. . the herd depends on him for its w ell-being. and the trees. The animal rights m ovement's exclusive concern w ith individual animals makes perfect sense given its roots in a culture of liberal individualism... Nearly four centuries later. Tom R egan. human hunters have taken over the predator's ecological role. devised to help us negotiate social relations. starting w ith her udders. But surely a species can have interests--in its survival.michaelpollan.. w ithout predators to cull the herd.php?id=55 chicken coop. it." bluntly asserts that because "species are not individuals .. http://www. but chickens as a species. C hickens also depend for their continued w ell-being on their human predators--not individual chickens. But just as w e recognize that nature doesn't provide an adequate guide for human social conduct. because they are not sentient... In the animal rights view . but does it make any sense in nature? C onsider this hypothetical scenario: In 1611 Juan da Goma (aka Juan the Disoriented) made accidental landfall on Wrightson Island." Singer concurs.com/article... isn't it anthropocentric to assume that our moral system offers an adequate guide for nature? We may require a different set of ethics to 10 of 14 02/01/2010 12:55 AM .Michael Pollan." Some animal rightists train their dogs and cats to become vegetarians.) The story of Wrightson Island (recounted by the biologist David Ehrenfeld in "Beginning Again") suggests at the very least that a human morality based on individual rights makes for an aw kw ard fit w hen applied to the natural w orld. It's very good for that. "animals don't get 'good deaths' surrounded by their loved ones. The surest w ay to achieve the extinction of the chicken w ould be to grant chickens a "right to life... is a matter of symbiosis.. This should come as no surprise: morality is an artifact of human culture. insisting that only sentient individuals have interests. but w as forced to cancel the expedition after the Mammal Liberation Front bombed its offices. In many places.." R eally? A deep Puritan streak pervades animal rights activists. Hard as the w olf may be on the deer he eats. Wrightson Island is home to 380 goats that have consum ed virtually every scrap of vegetation in their reach.. say--just as a nation or community or a corporation can. How ever it may appear to us." The very existence of predation--anim als eating animals--is the cause of much anguished hand-w ringing in animal rights circles. but w ith the animals' animality too. and that is w hether w e should do anything about it. the rights view does not recognize the moral rights of species to anything." Singer w rites... (Note: cats w ill require nutritional supplem ents to stay healthy. Da Goma and his crew stayed a w eek. (In the mid-80's a British environmental group set out to shoot the goats. w arrant no moral consideration w hatsoever..) Matthew Scully calls predation "the intrinsic evil in nature's design . a six-square-mile rock in the Indian Ocean.. author of "The C ase for Animal R ights. The island's sole distinction is as the only know n home of the Arcania tree and the bird that nests in it. "that the existence of carnivorous animals does pose one problem for the ethics of Animal Liberation. predation is not a matter of morality or politics.. . The youngest Arcania tree on the island is more than 300 years old. the Wrightson giant sea sparrow .. any one of those goats have at least as much right to life as the last Wrightson sparrow on earth.

M uch the same w ould hold true w here I live. and his pesticides drop songbirds from the sky. and around the fire w here the meat w as cooked. w ay to obtain food from the land is by grazing animals on it--especially ruminants. It asks us to recognize all that w e share w ith animals and then demands that w e act tow ard them in a most unanimalistic w ay. one as w ell suited to the particular needs of plants and animals and habitats (w here sentience counts for little) as rights suit us humans today. It w ould appear that killing animals is unavoidable no matter w hat w e choose to eat." one that certainly no farmer w ould recognize. as animal pasture gave w ay to row crops. Whether or not this is a good idea... The vegetarian utopia w ould make us even more dependent than w e already are on an industrialized national food chain. then people should eat the largest possible animal that can live on the least intensively cultivated land: grass-fed beef for everybody... The w orld is full of places w here the best. It could thrive only in a w orld w here people have lost contact w ith the natural w orld. the hum an brain grew in size and complexity. it is doubtful that you can build a more sustainable agriculture w ithout animals to cycle nutrients and support local food production.. in a social and biological sense.. The farmer w ould point out that even vegans have a "serious clash of interests" w ith other animals. since food w ould need to travel farther and manure w ould be in short supply. Steve Davis." Such a statement assumes a decidedly urbanized "normal life. When I talked to Joel Salatin about the vegetarian utopia. We get plenty of rain. but it w ill entail the sacrifice of part of our identity--our ow n animality.. the internal consistency of our m oral code or the condition of our souls--then eating animals may sometimes be the most ethical thing to do. yet doing so is part of our evolutionary heritage. There is. he pointed out that it w ould also condemn him and his neighbors to importing their food from distant places. "In our normal life. If our concern is for the health of nature--rather than. Indeed. the fact that w e humans have been eating animals as long as w e have lived on this earth. but the hilliness of the land has dictated an agriculture based on animals since the time of the Pilgrims.. http://www.. w hich alone can transform grass into protein and w hose presence can actually improve the health of the land. w hile the farmer's tractor crushes w oodchucks in their burrow s.com/article.. "there is no serious clash of interests betw een human and nonhuman animals.. Surely this is one of the odder paradoxes of animal rights doctrine. too. That food chain w ould in turn be even more dependent than it already is on fossil fuels and chemical fertilizer.michaelpollan.. say. Davis contends that if our goal is to kill as few animals as possible." Singer w rites. Humans may not need to eat meat in order to survive... To contemplate such questions from the vantage of a farm is to appreciate just how parochial and urban an ideology anim als rights really is. an animal scientist at Oregon State University.. reflected in the design of our teeth and the structure of our digestion... has estimated that if America w ere to adopt a strictly vegetarian diet. The grain that the vegan eats is harvested w ith a combine that shreds field mice. Under the pressure of the hunt.. since the Shenandoah Valley receives too little rainfall to grow many row crops..Michael Pollan.php?id=55 guide our dealings w ith the natural w orld. w e should at least acknow ledge that our desire to 11 of 14 02/01/2010 12:55 AM . Granting rights to animals may lift us up from the brutal w orld of predation.. in New England. the total number of animals killed every year w ould actually increase.. Eating m eat helped make us w hat w e are. w here animals no longer pose a threat to us and human mastery of nature seems absolute. human culture first flourished. if not the only.

. a less painful one than that w hich w ould aw ait them in the inevitable course of nature. http://www. the Good Farm adds to the total of animal happiness... this line of thinking doesn't obviate the w rongness of killing an animal that "has a sense of its ow n existence over time and can have preferences for its ow n future. raising them on farms isn't necessarily more humane. furs are usually made from w ild animals that die brutal deaths--usually in leg-hold traps--and since most fur species aren't domesticated. How ever. since the pressures of the marketplace w ill lead their ow ners to cut costs and corners at the expense of the animals.. The death they suffer in our hands commonly is. he added.. Yet.. (Though leather and fur pose distinct moral problems. "I agree w ith you that it is better for these animals to have lived and died than not to have lived at all.com/article.." We might as w ell call sex--also now technically unnecessary--a mere "recreational preference.michaelpollan.. but the argument suggests that. that killing animals is not conducive to treating them w ith respect. by that means... During my visit to Polyface Farm. In fact. the decent-life-merciful-death line is how Jeremy Bentham justified his ow n meat eating. Since the utilitarian is concerned exclusively w ith the sum of happiness and suffering and the slaughter of an anim al that doesn't com prehend that death need not involve suffering. "I w ould not be sufficiently confident of m y arguments to condemn someone w ho purchased meat from one of these farms. These are important considerations. to eat the chicken. since humanely raised food w ill be more expensive. Bentham defended eating animals on the grounds that "w e are the better for it. . . for clothing.. a speedier and." Singer w ent on to express serious doubts that such farms could be practical on a large scale.) But w hether the issue is food or fur or hunting. I described Polyface and asked him about the implications for his position of the Good Farm--one w here animals got to live according to their nature and to all appearances did not suffer. Yes. In a passage rather less frequently quoted by animal rightists... provided you replace the slaughtered animal w ith a new one." Whatever else it is.. the philosophical father of animal rights w as himself a carnivore. no m ere "gastronomic preference.K .. w hich can be done humanely. too.php?id=55 eat meat is not a trivial matter. 12 of 14 02/01/2010 12:55 AM .Michael Pollan. it's O. not the killing. a utilitarian can justify the killing of hum anely treated anim als--for meat or.. Leather is a byproduct of raising domestic animals for food." Singer w rote back. In an e-mail message. not the principle. What this suggests to me is that people w ho care should be w orking not for animal rights but animal w elfare--to ensure that farm animals don't suffer and that their deaths are sw ift and painless. only the w ell-to-do can afford morally defensible animal protein. but they don't alter my essential point: w hat's w rong w ith animal agriculture--w ith eating animals--is the practice. and they are never the w orse. in theory at least. So I decided I w ould track dow n Peter Singer and ask him w hat he thought. I asked Salatin w here his animals w ere slaughtered. He suggested.. K illing just isn't the problem for them that it is for other people. Also." In other w ords. including me.. Are any of these good enough reasons to eat animals? I'm mindful of Ben Franklin's definition of the reasonable creature as one w ho can come up w ith reasons for w hatever he w ants to do. How ever.. All of w hich I w as feeling pretty good about--until I remembered that utilitarians can also justify killing retarded orphans.. . and alw ays may be.. our meat eating is something very deep indeed." My guess is that Bentham never looked too closely at w hat happens in a slaughterhouse. he w rote. presumably. He does the chickens and rabbits right on the farm. w hat should concern us is the suffering. but he's not so sure about the pig.

. and w hat w e can eat... not their ow n." Salatin recalled." The notion that only in modern times have people grow n uneasy about killing animals is a flattering conceit. But the man had a different agenda. Many cultures have offered sacrificial animals to the gods. and people have been w orking to justify the slaughter of animals for thousands of years. Apart from a few surviving religious practices.michaelpollan. But figuring out w hat w e do think. He slaughters every other Saturday through the summer..S. w hich perhaps helps to explain w hy w e find ourselves w here w e do. and this w as taken as a sign of assent. We certainly w on't philosophize our w ay to an answ er. a tasty lunch. The animal had been treated w ith respect w hen it w as alive. People see very different things w hen they look into the eyes of a pig or a chicken or a steer--a being w ithout a soul. Until my visit to Polyface Farm. "People have a soul. Processing chickens is not a pleasant job. For all these people. Frank Perdue is happy to serve the first customer.. then to eat. "Ten minutes later w e w ere in the processing shed w ith a chicken. He had come to look." Salatin is a devout C hristian. pigs and sheep there too if only the U... perhaps as a w ay to convince themselves that it w as the gods' desires that demanded the slaughter.. a link in a food chain. He saw that the animal did not look at him accusingly. w ould let him. but Salatin insists on doing it himself because he's convinced he can do it more humanely and cleanly than any processing plant. so w hen they die.com/article. R eligion and especially ritual has played a crucial part in helping us reckon the moral costs. he had decided that the only w ay he could ever eat meat again w as if he killed the animal himself.php?id=55 and w ould do the cattle. a feather-plucking m achine and metal cones to hold the birds upside dow n w hile they're being bled. "Food w ith a face. Taking a life is mom entous. He explained that after 16 years as a vegetarian. Native Americans and other hunter-gathers w ould give thanks to their prey for giving up its life so the eater might live (sort of like saying grace). a "subject of a life" entitled to rights.." Salatin likes to call w hat he's selling. http://www. the second.... Anyone's w elcom e to w atch. they just die.. "Unlike us. he figured he w as in for it.. and he saw that it could also have a respectful death--that it w asn't being treated as a pile of protoplasm. Salatin show ed me the open-air abattoir he built behind the farmhouse--a sort of outdoor kitchen on a concrete slab. Slaughter doesn't necessarily preclude respect. it w as the ceremony that allow ed them to look... feeling that our only choice is to either look aw ay or give up meat. the priests responsible for the slaughter (priests!--now w e entrust the job to minimum-w age w orkers) w ould sprinkle holy w ater on the sacrificial anim al's brow . I asked Salatin how he could bring him self to kill a chicken. scalding tanks.. "He slit the bird's throat and w atched it die.. didn't do a Disney double take. In ancient Greece. "It's a bedrock belief of mine." he said. the eye contact betw een people and animals w hose loss John Berger m ourned is still a fact of life--and of death.D. animals don't. for neither the lives nor the deaths of these anim als have been secreted behind steel w alls. Peter Singer.Michael Pollan. The beast w ould promptly shake its head. a vessel for pain and pleasure.. w ith stainless-steel sinks.A. a slogan that probably scares off some customers. When Salatin noticed a PETA bumper sticker on the man's car.. I had assumed these w ere the only tw o options.. might begin w ith the looking. w e no longer have any rituals governing the slaughter or eating of animals. animals are not created in God's im age." 13 of 14 02/01/2010 12:55 AM . But on Salatin's farm. Salatin told me the story of a man w ho show ed up at the farm one Saturday morning.

.. to farmers like Salatin.Michael Pollan. I'm tempted to think that w e need a new dietary category. w ith consideration for the animal as w ell as for the eater. No doubt the sight of some of these places w ould turn m any people into vegetarians. the earth and the gaze of a farmer. Minn... maybe it's this one: the right to look. This is going to sound quixotic. but maybe all w e need to do to redeem industrial animal agriculture in this country is to pass a law requiring that the steel and concrete w alls of the C AFO's and slaughterhouses be replaced w ith . Som eone slaughtering a chicken in a place w here he can be w atched is apt to do it scrupulously.michaelpollan.. the poultry farms w here chickens still go outside and the hog farms w here pigs live as they did 50 years ago--in contact w ith the sun.. I've actually found a couple of small processing plants w illing to let a customer onto the kill floor. literally or even figuratively.. ceremony and respect they deserve. Tail-docking and sow crates and beak-clipping w ould disappear overnight. including one. but maybe w hen w e did eat animals. to go w ith the vegan and lactovegetarian and piscatorian. evitable and local phenomenon: no other country raises and slaughters its food animals quite as intensively or as brutally as w e do. w e w ould not long continue to do it this w ay...." I'm thinking of the ranches w here cattle still spend their lives on grass. Despite the relentless consolidation of the American meat industry. There are more of them than I w ould have imagined. too. For my ow n part.. . w e'd eat them w ith the consciousness.. M any others w ould look elsew here for their meat.. I've discovered that if you're w illing to make the effort. We'd probably eat less of it.. I don't have a catchy name for it yet (humanocarnivore?).. If there's any new "right" w e need to establish. For w ho could stand the sight? Yes... The industrialization--and dehumanization--of American animal farming is a relatively new . in C annon Falls. but this is the only sort of meat eating I feel comfortable w ith these days. I've become the sort of shopper w ho looks for labels indicating that his meat and eggs have been humanely grow n (the American Humane Association's new "Free Farmed" label seem s to be catching on)... glass. w ith a glass abattoir. Copyright © Michael Pollan 14 of 14 02/01/2010 12:55 AM .com/article.. and the days of slaughtering 400 head of cattle an hour w ould come to an end. http://www. Were the w alls of our meat industry to become transparent. w ho visits the farms w here his chicken and pork come from and w ho asks kinky-sounding questions about touring slaughterhouses.. it's entirely possible to limit the meat you eat to nonindustrial animals.php?id=55 Salatin's open-air abattoir is a morally pow erful idea.. . meat w ould get more expensive. there has been a revival of small farms w here animals still live their "characteristic form of life.

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