Part 3: Dancing With Michael Pollan


Here is part three of sixteen installments from “This Is Hope: Green Vegans and the New Human Ecology” / How we find our way to a humane and environmentally sane future. Each installment will be posted at Though “This Is Hope” covers many subject areas using 730 citations, these modified excerpts focus on Michael Pollan’s book, “Omnivore’s Dilemma”, and the damage it has done to our understanding of ecosystems and the food choices needed to protect them.


Peter Singer, philosopher and author of Animal Liberation (whom Pollan castigates), and Jim Mason, journalist, environmentalist, and attorney, who with Peter Singer wrote Animal Factories, take exception to Michael Pollan’s use of this argument as well. In “The Way We Eat”, they remark, “Pollan is surely not asserting that any individual animal ever consciously made a bargain with, to, for example, trade her eggs or milk, or even his or her flesh, for a year or two’s food and protection from predators.”


Pollan earlier alluded to his perception that we are “dancing” with farmed species to their benefit. He infers that sheers numbers equal benefit for them. However, his human half of the dancers always intended to use the lives of these species for their own purposes, not to benefit the eaten for their own sake. Livestock are not making mutual bargains as he asserts. He narrowly, and I believe wrongly, interprets this as biological mutualism, which means both species benefit from the relationship. Does he believe these are benefits for the other species?


We distort their ancestral genetics and leave them with such artifacts as huge cow udders prone to painful disease and turkeys bred for white-meat breasts that grow so large they are unable to walk; we induce growth rates in poultry that painfully overload their hearts and lungs; we remove offspring from cows to the deep, emotional distress of mother and calf; often days after birth, we butcher those calves; we kill young cattle, pigs, and sheep (lambs) within months to a few years after birth and deny them the experience of a natural lifespan; we diminish or eliminate altogether their quality of life; we deny them their natural behaviors, including nurturing; and we sever their social lives time and again. This is not mutualism and not prosperity.


Cattle and the other domesticated animals he considers have a wild ancestry. That we vanquished their ancestral cultures, communities, knowledge, languages, roles in ecosystems—their entire species’ identity, ecology, and quality of life—is not calculated in what Pollan terms a mutualistic “dance.” How can Mr. Pollan say Holstein dairy captives are prospering when they are killed at five years of age on average in the U.S., instead of living out their natural lifespan of 20 years and more? His inappropriate use of the term mutualism is useful to the storyteller but a fiction in the argument Pollan wants us to believe. We are not dancing with other species. They did not evolve “expressly to gratify our desires” as he asserts. This is about domination, opportunism, exploitation, and the elimination of their species’ ancestral genetic attributes and free will. We commandeered their evolution.


His next book, “In Defense of Food”, continues this theme but accurately calls our relationship with livestock symbiotic instead. That biological term can be used to describe a wide range of relationships, from mutually beneficial to parasitic. We have shaped these individuals to produce and be food for us. Along the way, we removed much of their ancestral adaptive abilities for normal ecosystem survival. They have little to no control of where they are, what they eat and drink, when and how they mate (artificial insemination), their relationships with others of their kind, or even when they empty their udders. If Michael Pollan ever taps you on the shoulder asking for a dance, run like hell.


Next, part four: There’s a Contract Out on Steer #534
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