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Animals – It’s A Love, Hate, Eat Relationship (book review)

I recently read Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It’s So Hard to Think Straight about Animals by Hal Herzog, an anthrozoologist. Whoa – this book blew my mind! It was great fun to read, despite details that I found problematic. (P.S. This is also available as an audiobook, which is how I read it.)

The synopsis at Powell’s Books says it well: “Alternately poignant, challenging, and laugh-out-loud funny—blending anthropology, behavioral economics, evolutionary psychology, and philosophy—this enlightening and provocative book will forever change the way we look at our relationships with other creatures and, ultimately, how we see ourselves.”

Although this book oversimplifies a lot of issues, I’m sure he has to do that in order to fit all these interesting nuggets into a short book. What bothers me more is that he states many theories and opinions as absolute facts. Because of this, if there are bits you find interesting I would encourage you to research those topics a bit before repeating those details as absolute facts.

Here are a few of the more interesting tidbits that I keep thinking about:

  • 60% of people who call themselves vegetarians ate meat in the past 24 hours.
  • Studies show that most of us are mistaken about what we think we know about psychopathic and/or sociopathic abusers and their relationships to animals. They do not all torture animals before they turn to victimizing humans. What surprised me even more than hearing that this long-held belief is just a myth, was reading that most kids intentionally harm animals at least once in their youth. He points to a study that found the following about childhood animal abusers: 35% of violent offenders had abused animals and 37% of people who have not committed violent crimes had abused animals.
  • Hitler’s Nazi regime had the most progressive, comprehensive animal welfare/rights legislation of its time! People convicted of animal cruelty and/or neglect were sent to concentration camps. (Excuse my language, but WTF?!) He does explain the Nazi reasoning, but still… I just can’t fathom those viewpoints.
  • Dachshunds and chihuahuas are more likely to attack people than pitbulls or rottweilers are.
  • The breed of chicken most often bred for food in the U.S. is the Cobb 500. It was genetically designed in the mid-1980s to have lots of breast meat, which means these poor chickens end up being unable to stand, they have ruptured tendons and broken leg bones, etc. This leads to an awfully miserable life. At least it’s short, they were bred to reach the size/age to be made into meat at 6-7 weeks old. (This makes me even less likely to eat chicken unless I know it wasn’t a Cobb 500 or another of the Cobb chicken breeds.)
  • One reviewer on Amazon.com summed up this part well… “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.”
  • Dog people’s personalities are different than cat people’s. But studies show that the differences are not nearly as big as many people think they are.
  • Some studies show that pets are good for our health, while other studies show they’re bad for our health. Pet ownership has been shown increase the chances of survival in coronary patients and lower levels of depression. There are studies show that interacting with robotic dogs have the exact same benefits as interacting with real dogs. (!) Then there are studies that have proven living with pets has no effect on loneliness in adults, that pet owners get less exercise, and that we’re more susceptible to kidney disease and arthritis. Herzog also gives statistics about how many people go to emergency rooms after tripping over their dog.
  • Herzog explores ideas about why humans consider it ok to breed animals to have genetic disorders that lead to major health problems. For example, bulldogs’ head and face shapes are due to a genetic skeletal disorder (chondrodystrophy) that means they have breathing problems, they snore, they suffer (and some die) from sleep apnea, and their puppies can’t be delivered through the birth canal. A couple other common examples are German shepherds (bad hips) and dachshunds (bad backs).
  • In 2001, PETA lead a campaign called “Eat the Whales” to draw attention to the fact that the larger the animal, the more people who could be fed from it. PETA concluded that it was more ethical to kill one whale than hundreds of chickens for meat – less suffering for the cause.
  • We know lots of people chose to stay in New Orleans to face Hurricane Katrina. 18% of survivors who had the means to leave said they stayed because did not want to leave family members. But almost 50% of them said they stayed because they would not abandon their dogs and cats! 1400 people died in the wake of Katrina – how many of them died because they didn’t want to take their pets with them or leave their pets behind?
  • Vegetarians are  more likely to have eating disorders than people who eat meat.
  • Some studies find that vegetarians are malnourished while others find them healthier than meat eaters. (Being a healthy vegetarian means paying attention to what combinations of food to make sure that nutrients ingested are actually bioavailable and absorbable. That isn’t easy and I’ve only met a couple of vegetarians who even know about this issue. That is, I know lots of sickly vegetarians.)
  • According to U.S. law, mice running free are animals, but mice intended to be used in scientific research are not classified as animals.
  • Estimates are that only 1-30% of mice bred & raised to be used in scientific experiements in the U.S. are actually used, so somewhere between 70-99% of them are killed and disposed of without ever leaving the breeder. (The exact numbers are not available since mice bred for lab use aren’t considered to be animals and aren’t tracked.)

Here’s the book’s table-of-contents:

  • Introduction: why is it so hard to think straight about animals?
  • Anthrozoology: the new science of human-animal interactions
  • The importance of being cute: why we think what we think about creatures that don’t think like us
  • Pet-o-philia: why do humans (and only humans) love pets?
  • Friends, foes, and fashion statements: the human-dog relationship
  • “Prom queen kills first deer on sixteenth birthday”: gender and the human-animal relationship
  • In the eyes of the beholder: the comparative cruelty of cockfights and Happy Meals
  • Delicious, dangerous, disgusting, and dead: the human-meat relationship
  • The moral status of mice: the use of animals in science
  • The cats in our houses, the cows on our plates: are we all hypocrites?
  • The carnivorous yahoo within ourselves: dealing with moral inconsistency

Herzog’s blog is worth reading, too. It gives you a good glimpse into his writing style. He has a very engaging writing style that is 3 parts Malcom Gladwell, 2 parts Alan Ball, 2 parts Morgan Spurlock, and 1 part Mark Twain.

(Interested in viewing lists of books about cats or books about animals that I own or have read?)

(Note: I do not accept payment for mentions or reviews of books, products, and services that I write about on this site.)

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1 comment to Animals – It’s A Love, Hate, Eat Relationship (book review)

  • I *finally* read this post, after hemming and hawing about it due to my reluctance to deal with anything meat-related and/or animal-testing related…and now I want to read the book. Awesome post.

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