An inquiry into human & animal relations.

Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It’s So Hard to Think Straight About Animals by Hal Herzog. Harper Perennial, 279 pp.

Herzog-Some We Love, Some Hate

As a dog owner, an “animal lover,” and a former farmer, I largely enjoyed Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat. Author Hal Herzog’s message is simple and clear: humans’ relationship with animals is illogical and emotional. My bona fides didn’t make me a logical-minded reader. I got emotional reading some of the stories.

But there were unforgettable passages, such as his outlining the strong animal rights stance of Nazi Germany. This created great difficulties for the Reich because it had to dispose humanely of so many pets that had belonged to the Jews they were mass murdering.

My view of the book is complicated by the fact that I read it as a member of my university’s screening committee for possible common books. A common book, which is read by every entering freshman, must have two qualities: a strong story and a strong social issue; Herzog’s book is more of a collection but explores a strong social issue. And our students would find it interesting, I think, at least initially.

I was concerned they might wonder why they were reading the same message repeatedly—that there’s no sense in how we treat animals of different species—and might bog down. And then my own biases came into play.

For instance, Chapter Six, comparing the relative cruelty of cockfighting and meat chicken production, points out that gamecocks live like princes for about two years before they are fought, while broilers live for only six to eight weeks in nightmarish factory-farm conditions before they are brutally slaughtered. While condemning cockfighting, Herzog concludes that it is less cruel than mainstream agriculture’s production of chicken protein. I happen to agree, but wanted him to bore in. Why have growing numbers of people in developed nations increasingly found blood sports repugnant while, until recently, have turned a blind eye to the cruelties of industrialized agriculture? What’s the moral difference between fighting naturally combative roosters and killing for food helpless, abused broiler chicks? Where is the line between enjoying seeing two roosters fight, and at least one die, and horse racing in which horses are often drugged, are raced with painful injuries, and in which many are destroyed?

I thought I was being logical but may just have gotten my buttons punched.

[Hal Herzog, snake.]

[Hal Herzog, snake.]

Herzog is an affable guide, however, and Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat is enlivened by his persona. Beyond a strong story and a strong social issue, a successful common book must have a living author who is willing to come to campus. And he must be able to win the attention of easily bored eighteen-year-olds. A tall order. I think there will be less complicated candidates this year, which in a way proves his point, but I could live with Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat.


  • shirleyhs says:

    Sounds like the book’s strengths lie in its ability to help us recognize illogic and inconsistency, certainly valuable skills to learn. But probably not the best choice for a common book. Which book has succeeded best on the terms of your inquiry in the past?

    • Richard says:

      Shirley, the most successful book and author in my time have been Tom Piazza and his City of Refuge, about hurricane Katrina hitting New Orleans. It is long, and not every kid liked it—that seems impossible—but I thought it was a great balance of good literature and social interest. Piazza was an incredibly generous author with our students.

      I have not liked some books that the kids liked, for the most part. There is often a tension in going for literature vs. accessibility, it seems. Last year was The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and it was a serious book that was pretty successful, though the author was able or chose to spend little time on campus. There are always tradeoffs, and they aren’t always clear at first.

  • I think it hinges on the intersections, overlaps and divisions between intuition and cognition, that if a topic or discussion causes us to become highly emotional (emotion is a deeply subconscious, almost pre-conscious function), it also generally causes us to become illogical (logic is a cerebral function). Have you seen this video of the 10-month-old emotional baby?

    I think the Nazi’s showed that we dare not allow “logic” to eradicate the value of our emotional responses. And fundamentalist radicals show that it’s equally dangerous to society when emotion rules over logic. I’ve long struggled with how to “marry” the two functions of the brain/nervous system. The older I get, the more I wonder whether there isn’t something profoundly useful in Paul’s notion that wholeness/healing/wellness happens when we “put on the mind of Christ.”

    If only I knew exactly how that mind functions and how to access it…

    • Richard says:

      That baby video is priceless, Tracy. And you probably are onto something with your intersections idea—my decisions do seem better when both intellect and emotion are in play. Maybe this is why “sleeping on it” so often works, connecting us to deeper and more integrated ways of thought.

      • It is priceless, isn’t it? And timely for this discussion. My son sent the link to me yesterday. I love it when synchronicity happens.

        Donald Hall recommended in his essay “Goatfoot, Milktongue, Twinbird” the taking of naps. Since I highly revered him, I listened, although I was only in my 20’s. Now that I actually physically need naps, I talk myself into thinking I’m choosing them for the sake of sanity and art.

  • Dear Richard, You unearth so many fascinating books and ideas! There is an approach at least to the animal-as-human-food issue in raising animals humanely and then thanking their spirits when they become food (as the Native Americans have traditionally done). The main impediment to this is the fact that food production has not yet become modernized to the best of its ability to allow for this kind treatment, just like we still breathe unclean air and drive unsafe cars, because not enough people are making enough noise about it to have an effect upon the manufacturers. But I do agree with your author (and you) that the animal rights issue as a whole is clearly illogical and emotional; I think it’s partly because we anthropomorphize so readily, too, blaming human faults and characteristics on different kinds of animal behavior.

    • Richard says:

      Thank you, Victoria. Yes, to the thanking! I write about that in my book, having seen Muslim students come to my farm to kill lambs go through a ritual of gratitude. I felt bereft by comparison, and developed my own.

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