Book Review: The Pig Who Sang to the Moon: The Emotional World of Farm Animals, by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson

 

Reviewed by Bruce Rhodes

 

September 29, 2004

 

Please muster the courage to read & adopt this book's ideas

 

The Pig Who Sang to the Moon reveals the possibility, if not indeed the strong likelihood, that farmed animals such as pigs, cattle, sheep and ducks are highly sentient creatures whose range and depth of emotions and feelings compare to those of human beings. Assuming that this is the case, the author Jeffrey Moussaieff makes it clear that the notion of mistreating such animals in the process of preparing them for slaughter, and the subsequent eating of these animals, is repugnant and immoral.

Moussaieff provides a wealth of personal anecdotal evidence to support his claims, and also cites the findings of numerous other animal behavior experts. The author travels to farms and farm sanctuaries in England, the USA, New Zealand and elsewhere, and thereby geographically diversifies his research locations. Regardless, globally, the farms that feed the millions of us seldom consider the happiness and well being of the animals that we one day eat. Not that Moussaieff would even relent if animals were permitted to live their "natural lives" before being killed for our consumption; he indicates that the eating of all animals, from cows to chickens to fish, be stopped. In other words, he urges humankind to become vegans, not merely vegetarians.

I share the sentiments of the author toward farmed animals. I recall once, as a child, being invited to the cattle farm of a family friend, for the purpose of picking a Black Angus cow, a side of whom would be put in our freezer once she was killed. I remember that neither I nor my parents had the courage to look any of these beautiful, peaceable creatures in the eye. We said to our farmer friend, "we'll get our side of beef from whichever one you want."

Reading this book has prompted me to stop drinking cow's milk. I now drink soy milk. I have also stopped eating dairy products, such as cottage cheese and sour cream. Why have I stopped eating the products of live animals, not just slaughtered ones? Moussaieff describes, in chilling detail, the miserable plight of dairy cattle in most large-scale dairy farms. These cows are milked far more often, and for greater lengths of time, than they would experience if merely providing for their own offspring. Further, the cows are robbed of their calves (for veal sandwiches) and are housed in cramped, inhospitable conditions.

Moussaieff proposes that farmed animals be allowed to live the rest of their lives in a setting that, as much as possible, approximates their natural circumstances. These animals need to be with one another, and have the chance to wander and to play. While I would love to see this outcome occur, it is not realistic; from an economic standpoint, big farms are not going to voluntarily wind down their operations. Governments would be hard pressed to pull the plug on livestock agriculture, given its perceived importance to the food supply, its contribution to GNP, and its role as an employer. The likes of Tyson Foods is an economic powerhouse, and is daily trying to get even bigger and stronger.

My criticism of this book is that it does not offer much in the way of direction to get from our current uncaring, carnivorous state to a vegan population that is benevolent to every living pig and duck. In fairness, Moussaieff provides a list of seventeen things that persons can do to improve the lot of farmed animals. For example, we are to steer clear of products made of wool(!) and goose or duck down. I was saddened to learn of the barbaric ways that these animal products are extracted from their rightful owners. For the most part, the author's list is directed at individuals. Theoretically, if enough of us abided by these animal-free consumption practices, the market for everything from pork chops to down comforters to pate to chocolate candy would shrink, and the number of businesses, and corresponding upstream animal fodder, would also decline, thereby sparing more and more animals pain, sadness and death.

The more I think about the message of this book, the more shameful our treatment of farmed animals is revealed to be. Moussaieff has taught me just how pervasive and unthinking our consumption of animal products has become. Industry feeds our unconscious complicity by calling pig meat "pork", and cow flesh "hamburger"... doing whatever it takes to divorce what we are eating from the living, feeling animal that is sacrificed.

I am glad to have read the book, I recommend it highly, and wish every non-vegan would read it. Many of the anecdotes are heart-rending, and can easily bring the reader to tears (if not, then I feel sorry for the person who lacks the compassion to do so). I am tempted to encourage my family and friends to cut back on, if not eliminate, their consumption of animal-sourced products. I certainly plan to practise what Moussaieff preaches; if I can't get a veggie dog at the ballgame, I'll just go hungry. I encourage everyone to do the same.