If you’d have dropped by our farmhouse last night, you could have sat outside with my husband and me, warmed by a crackling fire in the fire pit and surrounded by two Great Pyrenees, a black lab, and a Shar Pei. Bullfrogs were croaking from where water sits in the ditches, and our chickens cackled as they settled onto their roost. Our Holstein cows moved through the pasture, munching on grass loud enough for us to hear, and in the distance, the neighbor’s dog and a coyote did battle over who could howl the loudest.
Out here in the country, we know our animals. We also believe there’s a fundamental difference between what they are and who we are. Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States and author of The Humane Economy: Animal Protection 2.0, has a harder time making that distinction. His recently released book covers a host of topics, from orca whales to wolves in the wild, and seeks to explain “how innovators and enlightened consumers are transforming the lives of animals.” He’s as passionate an advocate for feral cats as he is for future Cecil the Lions, and his sense of urgency coupled with his goal to find solutions to senseless acts of animal cruelty—such as dog fighting—is commendable.
But as in most cases, those who control the definitions control the discussion, and Pacelle’s definitions are unhelpfully fluid and often contradictory. He couples adjectives like “corporate” and “industrial” with “horror” and “cruelty,” but turns right around and disparages the family farmer for labeling their products as such.
Scare Tactics And Marketing Clichés
He lauds Chipotle and blames the nation’s food safety problems on “factory farm operations” but seemingly doesn’t have a problem with Chipotle’s grass-fed beef cross-contaminating food with E. Coli (not to mention their “corporate” structure and “industrial”-like proliferation on every street corner).
He condemns killer whales swimming in circles at Sea World because it’s unnatural but has no problem making his dog and cat live in a high-rise, which is also unnatural. He won’t eat eggs, even though they’re the natural, biological product of a hen, but he’s fine with eating, say, apples, even though they’re a completely natural, biological product of an apple tree.
It makes for a compelling but often confusing read. Rather than linking the treatment of animals to segregation and slavery (a comparison that is unhelpful at best and offensive at worst to those men and women who have suffered at the hands of others), Pacelle could have included some instructive and educational side notes — “Did you know, or instance, that hormone-free chicken is just… chicken? There are no hormones approved to use on chickens. So those signs you see touting hormone-free chicken? It’s all marketing”—instead of resorting to scare tactics and marketing clichés. But maybe that’s for another book.
As the daughter of…