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March 24, 2011 / clayte01

Why don’t I want to eat my dog?

Evette (Evie) Clayton

Most of us have had an animal in our lives, at one stage or another. Equally, most of us have had an animal on our plate. Even as I write this I have tuna in my sandwich and my dog sitting next to me.

What is the difference between the animal on my couch and the animal in my sandwich? Why is it that one of them is family, and the other is lunch? It’s questions like these that Hal Herzog addresses in his book Some We Hate, Some We Love, Some We Eat: Why is it so hard to think straight about animals?

Hal begins with the story of Judith, an anthropologist with a PhD and a biologist husband, who considers consuming fish to be in accordance with her vegetarianism. With her scientific background, Judith ought to be able to objectively decide: either munching on Mahi Mahi is immoral, or chowing on chicken is not.

By using the anecdote about conflicting vegetarianism, Herzog draws the reader into a vulnerable position: to both identify with and be critical of Judith, causing readers to be critical of their own views on animal ethics.

As science-fanciers we know how to be objective. We don’t get choked up about lab rats and dissected mice, yet after a day in the laboratory, chances are we go home to our pets. As objective as we might think we are, we can all identify with at least one of the contradictory views in Herzog’s book.

The entire introduction is a series of stories about people that Herzog has encountered, whose interactions with animals illustrates a point in his theme of human-animal relationships. They use emotion, making a very good case, without explicitly telling the reader what to think. Like the scientist he is, Herzog provides the reader with evidence, causing them to think and form their own conclusions. Combining critical questions with personal anecdotes gives the reader no way to avoid Herzog’s aim of making people think.

One anecdote involves a thought-experiment. After being accused of feeding kittens to his pet boa constrictor Herzog forms a hypothesis and calculates figures; finding that feeding euthanized kittens to a boa is a smaller moral burden than feeding a cat tinned meat. Using scientific method within his anecdote is sneaky; causing readers to think scientifically about animal ethics and learn statistics about keeping pets, without it sounding like a lesson. He reminds his readers of the controversy in science.

Herzog addresses how we manage our contradictory morals but unlike many books about animal ethics, Herzog encourages his readers to think about what our relationships with animals say about us, rather than saying certain behaviour is wrong or right. He argues in favour of fence sitters,

“I believe… the troubled middle makes perfect sense because moral quagmires are inevitable in a species with a huge brain and a big heart”
(page 12, paragraph 1)

His language and style make reading about science an enjoyable task for any audience, and this is no coincidence,

“I am convinced that scientists have an obligation to communicate with the public, people who do not know the difference between an analysis of variance and a factor analysis but who are eager to read about current research findings and the hot controversies in our field”
(page 12, paragraph 2)

Overall, Herzog aims a complex and controversial scientific issue at a general audience, allowing the reader to learn and think without taking an authoritative position as a teacher. His stories are easy to relate to and his language makes readers think about human-animal relationships, animal ethics, and the inconsistencies than inevitably exist in such a deep issue; like why I enjoy eating tuna, but don’t want to eat my dog.

References:
Herzog, H. (2010), Introduction: Why Is It So Hard To Think Straight About Animals. in Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some we Eat (pp 1-13) Harper Collins, Australia.

Hal Herzog’s blog: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/animals-and-us

Hal Herzog’s Webpage: http://halherzog.com/

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7 Comments

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  1. Carmen Pol / Mar 25 2011 9:35 am

    Woah! Such a thought provoking topic. Evie, your opening paragraph drew me in instantly. I remember once I had to feed mice to owls, and I really struggled with the concept, because to me it was more confronting then eating a steak – since I hadn’t had to witness any animal die, to me it was just a brown blob on my plate which I call ‘food’.
    On a different note, I’ve not really considered ‘why’ it is unacceptable to eat cat or dog in Western society (and potentially socially acceptable in others) but perfectly okay to eat tuna. I liked how this paper used science to address such issues, and your blog was an extremely entertaining and thought-provoking read!
    Carmen

  2. Rosanna Margetts / Mar 26 2011 4:40 am

    Evie, this is a great summary of the article, and I like that instead of trying to provide answers you leave the reader to think about their own views towards eating certain animals. The humourous anecdotes keep the reader entertained and lightens up the subject matter.

  3. Evette Clayton / Mar 28 2011 9:09 am

    Thanks for you comments, guys.
    Carmen, I know the feeling. I used to work in a pet shop, and some of the larger fish were fed live baitfish. At the time, feeding the cichlids baitfish didn’t really phase me, since baitfish are tiny, rather dull-looking fish. One day, I a customer come in and bought a couple of the cichlids, which are incredibly aggressive fish, along with a couple of brightly coloured tropical fish. I explained to him that he would not be able to keep the fish together, as the cichlids would almost definitely kill the tropicals. His response was that he was buying them all to feed to his oscar, which is about the most aggressive cichlid you can get. You can’t keep them in a tank with any fish smaller than they are.
    I was absolutely appalled that he would feed the beautiful (not to mention expensive) fish to his pet, but it really made me think about my reaction. It hadn’t bother me that my first job of the day was collecting remaining carcasses from the tanks, but it shocked me to think that he was doing essentially the same thing with fish of higher aesthetic value.
    That’s one of the things I really enjoyed about this article. Hearing other people’s anecdotes makes you want to tell your own. It’s such a great way to get people to relate to an issue.

  4. Madeleine Gordon / Mar 31 2011 1:13 pm

    Wow this is such an interesting topic!
    I’m going to use an idea I stole off ‘Community’ and say that people have the ability to humanise anything if we simply give a name to it(whether it is an animal or an innanimate object). Through doing this we immediately begin to feel towards it. Just say you are out fishing and you decide to name the fish that you just caught. When the time comes to have to kill and clean the fish to eat it, a little bit of you dies. Not because you just killed the fish (most people wouldn’t have a problem with that) but because you gave it a name and with that you give the fish having human qualities, feelings etc.
    It’s the same with pets.

    Also (I feel I should say something about ‘writing’) one of the features I like best about Herzog’s writing is how he talks about science through anecdotes that people can relate to. A question though. In what other ways do you think that you could talk about this topic?

  5. juhua11 / Mar 31 2011 1:45 pm

    One of the most important aspects of human pet and human food relationships is constantly ignored, avoided, locked away in the garage or dark loft with all the unfashionable clothes and forgotten nightmares we used to have as children. The truth is we allow ourselves a moral viewpoint because we no longer recognize it as a redundant and dead end exploration of human development that is purely a leisure pursuit courtesy of our agricultural prowess. Put in laymens terms as a simple question, a relevant question that should be asked of every person struggling with the luxury of moral dilemmas in relation to Herzogs subject “When did you last kill the food you ate? To paraphrase a famous quote the best way to make mistakes in the future is to ignore the past, in the past hunger and need shaped human growth and morals, while the hunger has abated all evidence points to its imminent return!

  6. Evette Clayton / Apr 1 2011 12:42 am

    Again, I thank you for your comments.
    Maddy, I do agree with what you are saying, but I also think it extends much further than that. What I mean by this, is that even when we don’t give something a name there are other factors, that cause us to have different relationships with animals. For example, in some cultures monkey brains are a delicacy, but I don’t doubt that most of us would turn up our noses at the idea of eating a monkey. Why? Because monkeys are cute, and humanoid.
    What do you think? Maybe that is still because we are humanizing the monkey, the same as if we had given it a name.
    In answer to how else could this topic be discussed, I am flailing a little to think of something. I have read other texts about animal ethics, most noticeable is The Pain of Animals, an article by David Suzuki. However, whilst his tact differs because he makes more moral judgments than Herzog, he still does so by using anecdotes.
    I suppose what I am saying is that for such a human topic, it is difficult to discuss it without using human examples, such as these anecdotes. Does anyone have an example suggesting otherwise?
    Maddy, I also suggest that you read this blog post as it has an amusing anecdotal story that your point reminded me of.

  7. Evette Clayton / Apr 1 2011 1:00 am

    Juhua, I think that Herzog has written this book in a specific effort to get people to think, and prevent them from locking their inconsistencies away in their “dark lofts”, but as with Maddy’s comment, there is more to it than that. I mean, most of us have been fishing before. Probably some people have been hunting. My family used to live on a farm, my parents have killed chickens, lambs, steers; some of them for food, sometimes for other reasons.
    My point being, that a lot of people have had to kill their own food, but even in these situations there are contradictions. I could kill and eat a chicken. I have killed and eaten fish, many, many times. I could not kill my pet dog. I eat kangaroo meat, but I don’t think I could kill a kangaroo (unless it jumps in front of my car).
    Don’t you think that there is more to it that just choosing not to think about it? Even when you sit down, and put your mind to these contradictions, they don’t get less convoluted.

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