Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Man's inhumanity to everything

kw: book reviews, nonfiction, animal rights, polemics

The book jacket blurbs claim that Rory Freedman has become the "rock star advocate" for animal rights. It helps to have a bestseller on the shelves (Skinny Bitch, 2005, with Kim Barnouin), but there is little further evidence. However, she is a compelling writer. Her new book, solo authored, is Beg: A Radical New Way of Regarding Animals.

The book begins on an autobiographical note, but personal stories thin out rapidly. This is a manifesto for the vegan lifestyle, and an excessively preachy listing of awful things being done to animals, whether it is pet breeding and animal showing, food animals—from eggs and milk to steaks and chops—or hunters' targets, she lists the worst of the worst as exposed primarily by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).

It is a fact that many people mistreat animals. More to the point, people who feel otherwise powerless mistreat each other, animals, their dwellings and possessions, and even themselves. Also, a certain number of men (and a few women), at every level of wealth and power, are psychopaths and abuse everything as long as they can get away with it; the stupider ones can't even think ahead far enough to get away with it and so become career criminals.

But most folks aren't abusers. Case in point: I've worked at a "meat packing plant", that is, a beef slaughterhouse. I wasn't working on the killing floor, but in a cleanup area. But once in a while, if I got to work early, I'd wander onto the killing floor and observe. It was an efficient operation, and while speed was of the essence, once I got over the "gross factor", I observed that the man using the captive bolt "stunner" (it splits the brain) was careful, and took an extra second to be sure the beeve was indeed "stunned". He had the power to slow the line long enough to repeat the stun if needed and I saw him do so once. He said when I asked him, that he'd once had a poorly stunned animal go onto the line, and, "The sounds it made gave me the willies! Never again!". Was this plant better than most, or average, or what? I don't know. Yes, there are abuses, but most people do have a conscience.

Ms Freedman covers all the bases, so far as I can tell. I suggest that everyone read this book, and then investigate for yourself, what level of animal abuse is realistically out there. I take it as a given that the PETA data are exaggerated. But, as Churchill said, "Even a fool is right once in a while", and the PETA folks are no fools. Just driven, and afflicted with tunnel vision.

The book's last couple of chapters make a case for being at least vegetarian, and for being vegan if at all possible. She claims, as many have, that the vegan lifestyle is healthier and that vegans live longer. This is an issue I have followed for decades. To date, the premise cannot be either proven or disproven. However, I do have a clue. The largest group of vegetarians on Earth is found in India, where the majority of the people eat no meat (I don't know about eggs or fish, but adults in India use no milk either, because nearly all are lactose intolerant). Life expectancy in India is 67 years, compared to 77-79 for Western cultures. Of course, India is rapidly rising from Third World status of just a couple decades ago, so we need to stay toned on this one. The public health infrastructure there is comparable to America 60-80 years ago, but improving rapidly. However, I know a great many people of Indian heritage who have lived in the U.S. for decades, and maintained their traditional, vegetarian cuisine. They don't seem to live exceptionally long. And, it is quite possible for a vegetarian to become obese. Fat people die sooner than more ordinary folk. And let's remember the other end of the spectrum. The country with the highest life expectancy is Japan, over 80 years, and there are nearly no vegetarian Japanese. They just emphasize meat a lot less than Westerners.

I say, balance in everything. I know where Ms Freedman is coming from. In the face of a lot of unreasonable people, it doesn't pay for her to take a reasonable tone. So, even though the dog on the cover seems to go with the title Beg, it is Rory Freedman who is begging, for a hearing among those who do not wish to hear.

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