Michael Pollan wants us to believe that our predation on individuals from other species should exist in the future because it existed in the past, and that our current predation upon domesticated and wild species is a natural (my word) human behavior. He attempts to equate the predatory relationships that evolved over millennia between wolves and deer to those between humans and chickens today. In this view, the evolutionary complexity of relationships between the wolves and deer where two species are free agents acting out their dramas in the context of ecosystems over a grand expanse of time is supposed to be the same as humans completely controlling domesticated species like chickens who are used as food but are not free agents. Instead of ecosystems, we have unnatural captivity. Instead of being shaped by all of the variables found in ecosystems, they are shaped by one species, us.
From that, we are supposed to conclude, “The surest way to achieve the extinction of the species [chickens] would be to grant chickens the right to life.” What I get from this statement from Michael Pollan is that raising billions of short-lived, genetically mutilated chickens is a good thing; far fewer chickens who are life-long companions, his extinction theory, is a bad outcome. There is no ecological imperative to keep billions of domesticated chickens. Quite the opposite. Ecosystems do not want them.
There is one species (with sub-species) that we need to protect from extinction. The Red Junglefowl, the ancestor of all of today’s domesticated chickens. Though threatened by gene pollution from domesticated chickens at forest edges, they are not endangered. They are stunningly beautiful and found in parts of India, China, Indonesia, Thailand, and adjacent countries.
The mantra I hear in Pollan’s writing is this: We are animals who are destined to eat other animals because we are animals. Then, after illustrating how American Indians shaped bison and the habitat both shared, he infers it is the model we can paste on top of the carnist omnivore’s ideology. By that reasoning, we should believe it good that African elephants now have shorter tusks and shattered, traumatized familial herds, while their elephant ecology and habitat is similarly disfigured, “shaped” by humans preying upon them. Omnivore’s Dilemma rallies readers to endorse the current human ecology as if nothing has changed, and does not apologize that Earth now serves our one species over all others. Extending a human ecology of the past into the present and future goes against all evolutionary precedent when it is no longer adaptive to ecosystems. Carnist omnivores are maladaptive to ecosystems on a global scale. Carnism has to stop now.
As long as omnivorism reigns, carnists will slit the throats of chickens at Polyface Farm. Millions of 534s [the steer Pollan bought to demonstrate “industrialized” animal agricultural] will still die, if not near a feedlot, then at some other butcher ’s hands. Dilemma is not so much a discussion of the bewildering choices for which we have too little information as it is an extravagant self-justification for the continuation of carnism, even when the evidence of advanced sentience and ecological collapse is everywhere around us.
If Michael Pollan truly believes “that nature doesn’t provide a very good guide for human social conduct,” I hope he reconsiders. Nature does inform our behavior. She has always taught us to adapt to the grand unfolding of life. In the lives of other species, we see our own experience.
Ethologists who study the social relationships and behaviors of other species know they transmit culture and norms of behavior from one generation to the next, including a sense of right and wrong, knowledge about their ecosystems, and how to survive. They possess these attributes and have no need for human validation. Reading the contemporary works of Marc Bekoff, Amy Hatkoff, Franz de Waal, Conrad Lorenz, Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, Toni Frohoff, Brenda Peterson, and many other animal behaviorists, scientists, and writers on the subject would provide Pollan more ballast to his compassion.
Next: You’ve Been Disregarded