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.
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/