Hal Herzog is fascinated with our moral relationships with animals, the contradictions we feel and the ethical problems when we avoid contradictions. A dog, he points out, is a member of the household in the United States, vermin in India, and food in Korea. We humans tend not to eat animals we either adore or despise. As Koreans and Chinese have started keeping pets, they have become more ambivalent about eating dog meat and relegate certain species to the dog trade.
Herzog is an anthrozoologist who studies the interactions between humans and animals. He is also possessed with a quick eye for absurdity and a broad range of interests. In this book he has visited industrial farms and Appalachian cock fights, dogmeat markets, dolphin treatment centers, loggerhead turtle nests protection runs,animal research laboratories, and rescue refuges for injured animals. Even his family pets come up for scrutiny, when an animal rights neighbor called to ask if he was feeding kittens to his new pet boa constrictor and he experienced a revulsion that he did not feel about feeding them mice. And it led to a comparison of the food a snake needs compared to a cat- 5 pounds of flesh versus 50 each year which leaves a moral burden of owning a cat ten times that of a boa. Herzog writes well. I had trouble putting the book down, stopping only to ponder some of the questions he raises.
Like most of us, Herzog eats meat, wears leather shoes, but thinks that animals should not suffer. He foreswears veal, spends more money to get chickens that roamed under open skies, and is more troubled by the use of laboratory animals for safe eye makeup than for medicine. But he spends time with animal rights activists of all stripes, giving them a fair hearing and pointing out where people he may disagree with are correct.
For instance he looks at regulations protecting lab animals. Dogs are entitled to a period of play each day while cats are not. Mice have very little regulation, but a lab mouse is entitled to more protection than a wild mouse in the same lab, even if most of the wild mice are escapees from the experiments. He goes so far as to design a series of animal experiments and submitted them for approval to Animal Care Committees at research universities, expecting similar responses. In fact approvals varied 80% of the time and were quite arbitrary.
In fact Herzog tells us that the most comprehensive legal protections for animals, which still are admirable, were developed in Nazi Germany while human beings were tortured and slaughtered. The cognitive dissonance is amazing.
But he points out that we have our own cognitive dissonance. Why do we treat cockfighting as more cruel than the slaughter of chicken for food? Your average Tennessee gamecock will be pampered during its two year life, running free with 150 feet of lawn and a private bed, fed special rations, being exercised like an athlete, able to mate, then sliced by the Mexican short knife after a fight to the death. Your average industrially raised Cobb 500 chick will live in utter squalor, bred too large for its aching legs, lungs burning for 24 hours a day from ammonia-laden air, never seeing daylight, pumped full of medicated chicken chow, then will be jammed into a crate, suspended upside down and electrocuted around its 42nd day of life. Herzog gives the red light to both activities, but sees the hypocrisy of trying to make cockfighting a felony while permitting wholesale torture for food production.
He looks at vegetarians, and vegans and ex-vegetarians: 97-99% of Americans eat some flesh including 60% of people who call themselves vegetarians but ate meat in the past 24 hours. There are 3 times as many ex-vegetarians than vegetarians, usually because they often felt sick. Actual vegetarians can range from his friend Pete who is disgusted by meat but will shoot the racoons who steal his vegetables, to people who wrestle with taking the life of a carrot, much less a fish. Herzog considers the various theories of animal rights, from an absolutist vision where choosing between saving a baby or a hamster in a fire is equivalent, to considering an animal's ability to suffer, its level of cognition or more arbitrary determinants (say cuteness) to decide whether one can kill or eat an animal. Is it better to kill 200 chickens or one cow? How about 70,000 chickens or one blue whale?
Since this book deals with the morality of killing animals. I wish that Herzog had looked at the religious treatments of killing for food or ceremony. Both Kosher and Halal restrictions look seriously at the treatment of animals, before and during slaughter. Even the separation of milk and meat is justified by revulsion over the idea that a kid might be stewed in its mother's milk. And Kosher vegetables must be inspected to not inadvertently kill and consume insects, which would be more sinful than eating pork. A friend who is a priest of Ifa, will ceremonially kill and eat chickens or African rats, but is otherwise vegetarian. A college professor spent time with a tribe of nominally vegetarian New Guinnean natives who four times a year would religiously kill a boar and distribute its meat to every member. There is much to be learned from religious attitudes towards killing food.
This is a book that will change the way you look at food and our relationship with animals no matter where you are coming from. He wrestles with complexity, personally coming down on the side of non-food fundamentalism, an omnivore who takes animal consciousness seriously. I highly recommend it.
on November 7, 2010
Some books are made for cover-to-cover readings. Others hold up nicely as "dippers" -- books you can read either intermittently or by selecting chapters and sections willy-nilly. Hal Herzog's SOME WE LOVE, SOME WE HATE, SOME WE EAT falls into the latter category. His chapter titles are clever, while the sub-headings provide the actual topic. For instance, we get "Pet-O-Philia: Why Do Humans (and Only Humans) Love Pets?" and "Prom Queen Kills First Deer On Sixteenth Birthday: Gender and the Human-Animal Relationship" and "Delicious, Dangerous, Disgusting, and Dead: The Human-Meat Relationship." The titular games set a tone, actually, as Herzog introduces anthrozoology in chapter one as a "new science of human-animal interactions," then has fun with it, being serious all along, of course.
The pleasures in the book are mostly of the "interesting tidbit" and "food for thought" variety. For instance, in the chapter "The Importance of Being Cute," Herzog explains how the Nazis managed to raise dogs above Jews, gypsies, and homosexuals in the social construct because Hitler, believe it or not, loved animals. In the same chapter, he wonders what it is like to be a spider. Do spiders have feelings too? Here we get into the squishy side of this "new science" as Herzog includes an anecdote (real or apocryphal, I can't say) of an arachnologist who constructs a web of rubber tubes and sits in the middle of it to find out.
"Pet-O-Philia" examines our tendency to turn pets into people (benign shades of the Nazis?) by dressing them in clothes and sleeping in bed with them. "Friends, Foes, and Fashion Statements" tackles the tendency for breeds to become popular. It discusses the controversy surrounding pit bulls and rottweilers. Some localities have tried to outright ban the breeds, yet studies show that dachshunds and chihuahuas bite more often. What skews the data? The numbers of the breed. A huge burst in popularity for pit bulls increased their numbers which in turn exaggerated the number of incidents.
In one ethical section of the book, Herzog meets with and even admits to liking many cockfighters. He condemns the practice, but shows that the cocks are often treated much more humanely than the chickens we eat every day. Hypocrisy? Herzog thinks so. And he gives us this: "The comedian Chris Rock made the same point on national television in response to a photograph of Sarah Palin, then governor of Alaska and an avid big-game hunter. He told Letterman, 'She's holding a dead, bloody moose. And Michael Vick's like, "Why am I in jail?" They let a white lady shoot a moose, but a black man wants to kill a dog? Now that's a crime.'"
If you are interested in animals -- both wild and domestic -- you can't help but be intrigued by Herzog's book. Not only has he done his research, he's not afraid to challenge his readers. Overall, it's an inviting mix.
This is a fun, worthy read of a complex subject. The author doesn't seek to draw any "meaty" conclusions, but rather uses a deft hand and light approach to probe the way humans think of animals from a variety of angles. I found it the most intriguing when referencing studies that seem to shed light on the way our brains perceive sentient beings. I found it the clunkiest when the subject turned to vegetarianism. Characterizing self-identified vegetarians as lapsed when they eat meat misses the point. Self-identified carnivores certainly don't consider themselves lapsed when they eat vegetables. It's not all or nothing, nor is vegetarianism a religion. Herzog seems fond of bell curves and spectrums - he should open that possibility to those who consciously choose to minimize suffering/cruelty. No matter where you are on that curve, you can make choices to increase happiness for yourself and other sentient beings. One misstep doesn't invalidate it all. Still, speaking as a long time vegetarian (my carnivorous ways lapsed 15 plus years ago) married to a vegan - both of whom are concerned about the validity of animal testing in medical science - I think Herzog does a fine job of presenting a balanced view of the issues. Not sure there's much new here to shape individual decisions, nor are there strategies to clear up the evident cognitive dissonance, but there is fascinating food for thought.
on August 3, 2015
Probably the fastest book I finished reading, kept me really interested. I was bummed when I realized I already reached the end.
I love the author's style -- simple and easy reading, great humor, yet a ton of information and first hand experiences shared. It does not make judgments nor ridicule our ways but encourages us to reflect on our own relationships with animals -- those that are a part of our lives, those that we hear about, and those that we encounter somewhere along the way. The degree of our commitment to our personal and moral convictions and cultural views (all of which, by the way, can change at any point in one's own lifetime) run along a continuum where a handful of individuals could end up on either extreme end, although most people remain somewhere in between. Putting aside emotions (and thus, our tendency to burst into passionate outcries on certain issues on animal use and animal welfare), the bottom line is that we are all 'hypocrites', both as individuals and as part of a group, when you think about all the paradoxes in our behavior and attitudes towards different animals.
One thing I wanted to point out though is when the author said, "Though its consumption was outlawed in 1998, dog is still on the menu in parts of the Philippines . . ." I hope the word 'menu' was used rhetorically (as in 'in the list of food sources') rather than literally (as in 'on the menu board') because dog meat eating was never widely practiced nor generally accepted in the Philippines and those who do consume dog meat do so inconspicuously, or are typically met with disapproving reaction from others. Other than that, maybe those from a few regional areas do and mostly as part of their local culture (as food or for rituals, or both), though this is just a very small percentage of the whole Philippine population.
on October 30, 2010
When I first saw this book, I was intrigued, but also worried that it would leave me feeling guilty if I chose to follow anything other than a vegan diet. I was completely wrong. This is a very engaging, funny book which is open to all--and is not about guilt. Instead, it basically goes into our cultural hypocrisy regarding animals and our treatment of them. I found myself thoroughly engaged with this book--probably because I was learning something new on almost every page. It is a book that will transform how you view animals and their treatment in many different ways. You will come away with knowledge of the history of the domestication of dogs, cock-fighting, snakes, animal research, and a whole slew of other topics. You will never interact with animals be it in real-life or via the media the same way again.
I highly highly recommend this book. Dr. Herzog is an excellent, entertaining writer.
on March 26, 2015
One of the most thought provoking books I have ever had the pleasure of reading. I have passed this among animal shelter workers, vegan friends, vegetarian friends, animal rights activits and ME who is a combination of all!
Even those who consider themselves the MOST compassionate will find this book stretching their brains to the boundaries of thought and pushing you to really THINK about your belief system. Incredible that with very simple questions and concepts the author leads us to define ourselves more exactly and explore the boundaries of our own tolerance. I absolutely LOVED this book and the fact that it tackles the issue of animal rights with NO BIAS. This book is not written by an activist, nor is it written by someone advocating that animals have no souls or meaning.
In its "one step back" emotionless approach to your own thoughts, it really lets you look inward while learning so many fascinating things about animals in our world.
on September 22, 2013
Some of the other reviewers have pointed out specific flaws, but this entire book is a mish-mash of bad logic, anecdotes presented as evidence, and statistics that are only occasionally backed up by citation. He ends his first anecdote, for instance, about the woman who stops eating poultry and then goes back to it, with a statistic about how many "former" vegetarians there are in proportion to current ones: another reviewer pointed out the fact that this anecdotal woman never was a vegetarian, but there is also no source for the statistic, a flaw easy to miss. This happens repeatedly in the book-- for example with his claim that almost all animal rights activists and vegetarians are women-- source for that? Making this latter claim even more dubious is the fact that he has a lot of problems with women, claiming that among the "paradoxes" we must confront are "women hunters"-- they aren't a paradox, actually, unless you already have some preconceived notions about women (or unless you can present some actual evidence about why women hunting is paradoxical). Considering how enthused he seems to be about having people confront their hidden assumptions, he doesn't do very well noticing his own.
The flawed argumentation reappears on almost every page. He has the results of a survey, for example, where they asked self-identified "dog people" and "cat people" about their personalities; he presents the results as if it proves something, but, since the study never asked the responders *if they owned pets,* all the study shows is that people's ideas of what makes a "cat person" different from a "dog person" are consistently held stereotypes-- with no connection to actual animals. The author doesn't seem to notice this fairly large flaw in the study. (Or doesn't want to-- very hard to tell with this writer.)
Most disturbing, however, is the way he uses his combination of anecdotes and flawed statistics to present a very consistent anti-animal-rights agenda. His chapter on animal rights activists is particularly disturbing. It opens with three pages of anecdotes from "sources"-- all women, first names only given, no citations of course-- who say the most bizarre things about being vegetarian/vegan, including that they can't find boyfriends because they don't eat meat and that sometimes they wonder if they are insane (no, I'm not making that up). Having presented us with these poor, celibate women sitting around looking at tofu and wondering if they're going mad, he offers a single paragraph where he does note that these women are not representative of most animal rights activists-- and then gives us three more pages on animal rights "terrorist" groups. The bias is startling; there's not even an attempt to be even-handed. (Jonathan Foer in Eating Animals offers a model of how to offer even-handed evidence, even of an anecdotal nature-- and how to source accurately.)
The issue is not that he dislikes animal rights activists/vegetarians-- Michael Pollan doesn't like them either, & everyone has a right to his opinion. The problem is that Herzog dresses up his agenda in unsourced statistics, unsourced anecdotes that look as though they connect to his mystery stats but, on closer examination, bear little or no relation to them, and tilts his argument by weighing it even as he throws in the occasional paragraph to try to appear fair and balanced. If only he were as straightforward about his bias against animal rights activists as he is about his biases toward women's "proper" role (must have boyfriend/should not hunt), I could respect this more. As it is, I honestly can't tell if he's just that oblivious or if he's advancing his agenda in a purposefully deceptive way, but you only need to look at the positive reviews to see how many readers have as their take-away that vegetarians are hypocrites, that it's okay to participate in factory farming, and that this book has some kind of scientific basis to it. Look again.
on May 5, 2015
I couldn't put it down and I HIGHLY recommend to everyone! Especially those animal advocates who tend to believe that everyone should be vegan or vegetarian. This book truly makes you think, and it doesn't give you any absolute conclusions so it really makes you think all about what you believe, know, and understand. It truly gives you a backbone to understand both sides, and form a conclusion that fits your own morals and beliefs--whatever that may be!
BIRKHEAD, Tim. Bird Sense: What It's Like to Be a Bird. Walker. 2012. 266 + xxii p, illus., bibliog., index. $25.
MARZLUFF, John, and ANGELL, Tony. Gifts of the Crow: How Perception, Emotion, and Thought Allow Smart Birds to Behave Like Humans. Free Press. 2012. 289 + xiv p., illus., bibliog., index. $25.
HERZOG, Hal. Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It's So Hard to Think Straight About Animals. HarperCollins. 2010. 226 + viii p. $25.99.
Good science writing is hard to beat. It's crisp, provides you with new insights into the physical world, and if the writer is good, opens up new worlds to you.
Two of these three books -by Birkhead and Marzluff and Angell-- satisfy me on this level. The third -by Herzog-- does not.
The two books on birds were part of a larger packet of books I bought from Amazon to satisfy my curiosity about these animals I can't ignore but know little about. I had read one book by Berndt Heinrich, a brilliant animal ethologist, on ravens so I bought three more (one on ravens, one -a classic--on bumblebees, and one autobiographical), which I have yet to read. These two books got caught up in the web of that buying spree.
I[m just as interested in our attitudes toward animals -why are some okay to eat and others not? why do some repulse us and others not at all?--so I was looking for books on that topic too, and Herzog's popped up, along with a book by one of my favorite quirky historians, R. W. Bulliett, Hunters, Herders and Hamburgers (2005).
This digression is simply to establish that I have a serious, though not scholarly, interest in the topics of animal capabilities and personalities and on how we perceive and relate to different kinds of animals.
Birhkead's book on bird senses, and Marzluff's and Angell's on the capabilities and behavior of crows both satisfy me. The information is provides succinctly, the writing is crisp, both Birkhead and Marzluff (Angell is the illustrator) convey their passion about their subjects, and what they write about is fascinating. Both include a good deal of hard scientific information, not surprising given how much their field of studies has been enriched by the use of modern brain mapping techniques, but the hard stuff doesn't overwhelm the lay read (me). Rather, it gives what they write elsewhere credibility. The illustrations in both books are superb, and highly informative, a model of animal science illustrating. Birkhead especially is generous in detailing the contributions of past and other present day scientists in advancing knowledge in his field. Neither author claims too much for what is currently known. And if I haven't said it before, the prose in both of these books is admirably crisp.
I bought the book by Hal Herzog because (1) I found the topic fascinating and (2) both Stephen Pinker and Irene Pepperberg, scientists whose books I have enjoyed, praised it. I'll be blunt. I didn't like the book. It's fuzzy where it should be hard, and it ends its stories just about the point I want to follow up on them. In short, although the book contains a great deal of interesting though I am not sure conclusive information on its subject, it's too anecdotal and much too cutesy for my taste. I'm sure a good book could be written on the subject of human tastes for animals but when it's written, it needs to be crisp in style, skeptical in analyzing, and much more compact than this rambling and sporadically entertaining account is.
on May 16, 2014
Our "glaring inconsistencies in our relationship with other species" (p.238) are the subject of this book, and Hal Herzog is a very apt author for this task since he is consequently inconsistent himself.
But good things first: Herzog's book is not only easy and sometimes even funny to read, but provides the reader with a whole lot of interesting data and bizarre examples about "flagrant moral incoherence" (p.279) in "human" treatment of animals, ranging from harmless madness (Christmas presents, Zen Dens and designer clothes for pet dogs), unto "homo-erotic male battle with masturbatory nuances" (i.e. cockfights) and female cruelty (the hunter who felt awful when she had by error shot a female instead of the male zebra who deserved her bullet, p.131). On 283 pages plus notes and bibliography, running slalom between the rights and welfare of animals and their "necessary" abuse in laboratories and cooking pots, Herzog in my view fails in his attempt to "find a middle ground" (p.247) which by the way hardly exists between loving free versus fried animals.
The failure is inevitable, since Herzog denounces "foolish consistencies" (p.254) and criticizes profounder thinkers like Tom Regan and Peter Singer for their "taking moral consistency too seriously". Not so Hal Herzog: "Mary Jean chose duck confit. I went for the pork belly" (p.177). "The pulled-pork is sublime - moist, smoky and sweet" (p.179). But, behold, "we buy local eggs, and I am willing to pay more for a `free-range' chicken" (p.279). His "occasional flatiron steak" comes from a steer that he was told was "humanely raised on sustainable U.S. family farms" (p.202), and only at special dinners he opts for "raw T-bone and a Greek salad" (p.203). And, "yes, I would swap a million mice to wipe out Dengue. In a heartbeat" (p.235).
Note that all this Herzog, who is proud of having stopped short from boiling a living mouse in his student years (after having obediently boiled live crickets, scorpions, lobsters and the lizard), writes knowing very well that "meat is the most dangerous food we eat" (p.181) and "pregnant women are ten times more likely to develop aversions to meat than to fruits" (p.182).
My aversions peaked at two points where Herzog, feeling uneasy with the "cognitive dissonance" (p.261) of his pork-eating cat-caressing lifestyle, grabs for two favorite condoning myths of carnivores: First (p.59), Hitler the vegetarian! Granted, if the Bavarian white sausages, liver dumplings and stuffed pigeon the dog whip fetishist Fuehrer was so fond of were tofu-made, then Hitler was a veggy. And second, I was half upset half amused when even Herzog buys (and sells) the not very intelligent thesis that "the shift to eating meat was a critical factor in the tripling of the size of our brains over a couple of million years" (p.178). A brain growth of 1000 ml during three million years, i.e. 0.3 ml/1000 years or one bean per millennium, should honestly not be ascribed to meat intakes (which Chimps had also for some million years without becoming Einsteins; not to speak of alligators) but to natural selection.
Both attempts are examples of what Herzog ascribes to cockfighters: "They construct a moral framework based on a mix of wishful thinking and logic in which cockfighting [and meat-eating, mice-testing ...!] becomes completely acceptable" (p.161).
Three last examples for Herzog's questionable logic:
1) While yet on page 2 he asserts that "ex-vegetarians ... outnumber current vegetarians in the United States by a ratio of three to one", on p.195 he admits that 60 % of the "vegetarians" in a report of Time magazine "had eaten red meat, poultry, or seafood within the last twenty-four hours". No big deal for such veggies to get ex-veg, right?
2) Herzog reproaches animal rights activists for using the published results of animal experiments to argue against animal experiments (p.228). So activists against racism and antisemitism should not use the historical data about slavery and the holocaust?
3) As a professor of psychology, Herzog polled 500 persons of very opposite convictions (animal activists versus hunters, farmers, testers) and found out that "compared to meat-eaters, the vegetarians were more creative, more imaginative, and more open to new experiences" but also "more likely to be anxious and worried". The latter traits are hardly surprising since already Kierkegaard in 19th century made the relation: "The more mind, the more fear". Unfortunately, Prof. Herzog proceeds from his data to suppose higher rates of "eating disorders ... depression ... more negative worldviews" among vegetarian women (p.198) - though higher sensitivity and vulnerability are clearly the reason for becoming, and not the effect of being a vegetarian.
Resume: Herzog writes for readers of his mindset, for people who can look away and live happily with their rational-emotional inconsistencies, repressing the painful effects of their carnivore lifestyle. For sensitive and thoughtful readers the book might have a depressing effect, since Herzog doesn't offer any way out of a human-animal relationship that's turning disastrous for all species: man hating some, testing many, eating billions of animals and deforming the happy rest into objects of his possessive "love".