Letter to New York Times Magazine
I wrote this letter on 3/27/06 in response to a lengthy article detailing the “thrill of hunting pigs” by Michael Pollan. As the character Rowf says in Richard Adams’ novel, The Plague Dogs: “it’s a bad world for animals.” (Richard Adams also wrote Watership Down.)
There is no doubt we humans are flawed animals, but one defect seems to stand out among the rest: our arrogance. It is this fault alone that causes more harm than any other – not only to ourselves but to all of the creatures with whom we share this planet. It is our perception of our own superiority that compels us to act with unnecessary cruelty and gluttony when it comes to our treatment of animals, but worse yet, to justify our actions with specious rationalizations.
I regretted to observe this in Michael Pollan’s 3/26 article in a number of places; first, when he declares that animals have “no concept of death” and “don’t give it nearly as much thought as we do,” a groundless and arrogant conclusion that conveniently assuages him of any guilt for being the cause of an animal’s death. At another time, he concludes that because she happened to be chosen as the quarry of a “thrilling” hunt, the sow he shoots “has lived, and arguably even died, in a manner consistent with its creaturely character.” When he goes on to say that the sow’s death, “by the standards of animal death” was a “good one,” you’d think he believed he actually did her a favor by terrifying her and ending her life in such a way.
The height of Pollan’s arrogance, however, is when he writes that, though he sometimes envies the “moral clarity of the vegetarian,” he also pities them, because vegetarians live in “dreams of innocence” predicated on a “denial of reality.” With all due respect, this smacks of yet another attempt to mollify any discomfort he has with his own dietary habits.
It is precisely the ethical vegetarian’s awareness of animal suffering that enables us to live fully and painfully awake in this age of institutionalized animal abuse. Pollan’s romanticized vision of humans hunting animals or eating “grass-fed beef” is just that. Neither reflects the reality of the 10 billion land animals confined, mutilated, and killed each year in the U.S. merely for human consumption. I don’t need to kill an animal to fully know that I live by the grace of nature as I thrive on plant foods, and I’m grateful that I don’t have to make any excuses, as I did when I ate animals and their products.
I long for the day when a publication as prestigious as yours features a cover story not about the joys of hunting but about the joys of not killing – or paying for the killing – of animals. Though I appreciate Pollan’s attempt to thoroughly experience the topics about which he writes, I find his methods as well as his conclusions unsatisfying and disturbing. I fear, because of this lengthy article, the animals have lost yet again. That is the “true cost of our food.” They pay – unnecessarily – with their lives.