Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows

I just finished reading Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows by Melanie Joy. I selected this book as I thought it would be an interesting exploration of the social and cultural processes behind what we choose to eat. This topic is especially pertinent to me as someone living in Asia, because the attitudes about food are very different here. In fact, one reason I chose this book was because of the cover, featuring a friendly golden retriever. In Shanghai, a restaurant two blocks from our apartment also featured a large picture of a smiling golden retriever, but this one was to advertise the sort of food available!

Unfortunately the book was a great disappointment. Rather than exploring cultural attitudes about food, it turned out to be a vegetarian tract, full of logically unsound arguments, half-truths, and misleading information for the purposes of conversion. Factory farming is an important yet little publicized industry, and the book was best when the author stuck to the facts of how the industry operates. But she constantly interspersed these facts with meaningless statements like "We can safely say our democracy has become a meatocracy", weakening her credibility considerably.

The book was also largely inaccurate. For example, the author seemed to think that if more people knew that animals suffer, or are individuals with personalities, then they wouldn't eat them. This is not true: for most of human history, farm animals were named, raised, tenderly cared for (in general, livestock would have been a farmer's most valuable possession), slaughtered and eaten by the same people. My grandfather (a farm boy) had a beloved pet pig named Weaker (it was the runt). He bottle fed him, taught him tricks, and spent many afternoons with him. In the end, Weaker was slaughtered and served up for dinner. My grandfather always ended the story of Weaker with "And he tasted very good". Also, while most people don't know much about factory farming, we all know that meat is a result of death and suffering (because all death involves some suffering, even euthanasia). This doesn't stop people from eating meat either.

In sum, I do not recommend this book to any but committed vegetarians who want to feel smug/confirmed in their life choices. However, I am still interested in both factory farming and cultural attitudes about food, so I will keep looking for something more suitable.

--Exercise: 1 hour gym.
--Diet: Lunch: Pork dumplings, onion pancake, frappucino; Snack: the rest of the pork dumplings (there were 10 total); Dinner: Tofu and green bean salad (yum!), cold boiled kongxincai (I'm not sure what the name is in English), pork dumplings, vegan peanut cookie; Drinks: Bubble tea
--Other: Did not drink 8 glasses water; one frappucino consumed.


  1. Interesting review! It looks like a book I might have picked up for the same reasons you did. I just watched a documentary that I thought was going to be professional and factual, but it turned out to be nothing but opinions from people who mostly hold opposite beliefs than I do! So disappointing!

    Thanks for the review!

  2. Have your heard of It's on my list. Unfortunately it hasn't fared much better on Goodreads than Why We Love Dogs, so maybe it's an impossible task. You know who needs to write this book? Michael Pollan. Someone who is practical and logical and cares about the issue but still eats meat. Vegetarians can't possibly do it without getting impassioned and turning people off.

  3. I actually have never read anything by Michael Pollan, but he's on my list; the Omnivore's Dilemma sounds especially interesting.

  4. I would second the recommendation for Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat- not a moral diatribe at all, in fact he goes out of his way to say how hypocritical he finds books like that, because we are all on some level morally inconsistent (and he shares his own experiences as a research psychologist who studies our relationships with animals). Here is my review of it on Goodreads-

  5. Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat sounds interesting: I will check it out once I'm back in the US for Christmas (I haven't seen it at the library here).