Barbara Kingsolver’s nonfiction book, Animal, Vegetable, Mineral: A Year of Food Life, has garnered a great deal of praise and has landed on some “notable books” lists. On Amazon it receives an admirable number of five-star ratings. Who am I to disagree with all this love?
I am a vegan. Throughout Kingsolver’s book, which she wrote along with her husband and older daughter Camille, are unapologic, frankly mean-spirited references to killing animals for food. Because her family raises the animals themselves and gives them a loving environment while they alive, they feel justified in proclaiming that it’s just fine to kill them for food.
Interestingly, Kingsolver notes in passing that she does not raise pigs because she has looked into their eyes and she sees the intelligence there. Apparently intelligence trumps feelings every time, because all of her references to turkeys malign the poor birds because of their apparent (yet unproven) lack of intelligence. And to Kingsolver, if you can’t recognize the emotional life of another animal it doesn’t exist. On pages 219-220 (paperback version) we get this comment:
“…The previous morning we’d sequestered half a dozen roosters and as many tom turkeys in a room of the barn we call ‘death row’. We hold poultry there, clean and comfortable with water but no food, for a twenty-four-hour fast prior to harvest. It makes the processing cleaner and seems to calm the animals also. I could tell you it gives them time to get their emotional affairs in order, if that helps. But they have limited emotional affairs, and no idea what’s coming.”
This excerpt represents in a nutshell Kingsolver’s absurdly cute attitude about killing animals. It also represents her lack of knowledge of the true emotional lives of animals. I could direct her to several learned books on the subject but it’s obvious she isn’t going to read them. She prefers instead to go with her own ideas here. She could have said, “Don’t give me the facts. They’ll just confuse me.”
Her attacks on veganism and vegetarianism are pathetic and shrill and reveal how very little she knows about either. She makes assumptions about vegans that would be laughable if they were not so common in this omnivore’s world. I will therefore take each one as it comes, in her chapter on the killings, and expose its faults:
She takes to task a vegan film star whose dream is to own a farm where animals will be allowed to live out their lives in peace, without danger of slaughter. Kingsolver really goes over the edge here.
- “Wait till those cows start bawling to be milked,” she warns. Kingsolver breastfed her own children, yet she does not make the connection. Do I need to spell it out? All right, I will. When there is no need for milk a mammal stops creating it. How ignorant is her question when posed against her seemingly endless knowledge of farm life?
- She asks what that poor hapless starlet would do with all the eggs the chickens would leave lying about. What do chickens do in the wild? What do other birds do? Good grief, Barbara, get a grip!
- She says farm animals are human property both legally and biologically. If we turn them loose in the wild they’d lead dreadful lives and then perish because they are not equipped to deal with it. Did we say anything about releasing millions of farm animals into the wild? Where did she come up with that one? I have never heard any vegan suggest it. Perhaps if she were to take as much time actually visiting vegans, especially those on farms, and visiting places like Farm Sanctuary, she might realize how ridiculous her whole attack on the vegan star is, and how incredibly ill-informed.
- Much of the rest of her argument is simply stated: there is no way to live on this earth without being responsible for the deaths of some animals. Even in raising plants we kill some animals, inadvertently or deliberately, through pest control or tilling or harvesting practices. Again, I know nobody who would dispute this. If Kingsolver had bothered to even look up the meaning of veganism she would have realized her argument is lost at the gate. For those not tired to death of reading it, the definition (by The Vegan Society, which invented the word):
[T]he word “veganism” denotes a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude — as far as is possible and practical — all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.
“Seeks to exclude”, Barbara, Steven, and Camille. Clearly the Kingsolver family is not interested in finding out as much about animals or vegans as it is about defending its own interest in eating animals.
- Next, Kingsolver makes the “happy meat” argument. She is just as opposed to factory farming as I am, and good for her. But I can’t buy that a turkey deprived of most of its natural life by kind farmers is in any way any kind of “natural” thing to eat.
- And the coup de grace? Vegetarianism is too expensive. This from the family that grows tons of veggies as well as animals. It is based on the assumption that one has to find replacements, like tofu, for the meat (which we do not) and is grounded in ignorance of the fact that the majority of poor people in this world are of necessity vegetarian.
I am always disappointed when otherwise well-informed, intelligent, compassionate persons turn a blind eye to their own prejudices and seek to defend what is simply indefensible. Kingsolver’s careful attention to detail in the areas of local food production suggest that she is a dedicated researcher. The book abounds with facts about farmers’ markets, organic food, cooperatives, and much more. Would that she had left her own biases at home when she looked at animals and done just a wee bit of real research in this area as well.