vegan daemon

Book Review: <i>The Pig Who Sang to the Moon</i> by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson (2003)

I know I offered a semi-review of The Pig Who Sang to the Moon a few weeks ago, but I wanted to write something more appropriate for Amazon, Library Thing and the like. Posting positive reviews of animal-friendly books, television shows and films is a good way to help such media garner more exposure and business – and support the team, too! As is voting for positive review of animal-friendly materials – hint, hint, wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

A beautifully tragic look at “food” animals

My first introduction to Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson’s work was in high school, when I read his 1996 book, When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals. At the time, I was a newbie vegetarian, just becoming involved in animal advocacy. When Elephants Weep helped validate my decision to go veg, and reinforced my resolve to stay that way.

Fast-forward thirteen years. I picked up Masson’s latest ethology tome, The Pig Who Sang to the Moon: The Emotional World of Farm Animals, on a whim. Remembering his earlier work, I expected a beautiful, brilliant, touching look at the inner lives and experiences of farmed animals. I was not disappointed.

In The Pig Who Sang to the Moon, Masson lays out the evidence – from the highly scientific to the folksy anecdotal – which points to a wide range of emotional experiences in farmed animals, including love, grief, sorrow, joy, empathy, altruism, fear, trust, friendship, contentment and the like. Far from being unfeeling brutes, the billions of animals bred, farmed and slaughtered for human consumption (10 billion annually in the U.S. alone) have complex emotional and intellectual lives. Some of their emotions – such as the strong maternal instinct – mirror our own, while other emotions and intellectual abilities far surpass those of humans. For example, when suffering egregious cruelties (such as those found on modern factory farms), non-human animals can’t always identify the source of or reason for their pain and abuse. This serves to heighten their fear, such that some species of non-human animals may actually have a greater capacity for suffering than humans. Clearly, this could – should – have profound implications vis-à-vis our treatment of non-human animals, particularly those of the “farmed” variety.

Masson structures the book so that each chapter covers a different species of farmed animals: pigs, chickens, sheep, goats, cows and ducks, in that order. He juxtaposes information about the animals’ emotional lives – thoughts, feelings, sentience, capacity for joy and sorrow, etc. – with the brutal reality for the vast majority of these “owned” animals. Treated like milk and meat machines, dehumanized and objectified, their individuality obscured and their needs ignored, farmed animals suffer the worst of humanity’s whims and wants.

A theme which threads its way through nearly every chapter is that of female suffering: the extra-special abuses (the collective) we mete out to the female members of the species. With brutal precision, farmers routinely turn the reproductive systems of female animals against them, finding newer and more callous ways in which to exploit them as science and technology allow. This isn’t to suggest that males don’t suffer as well – they do. But their suffering isn’t as prolonged or extensive as that of their female counterparts; veal calves, for example, are tortured for sixteen weeks and then, “mercifully,” (relatively speaking) slaughtered. Their sisters, meanwhile, are exploited as baby and milk machines for three to four years, after which they become ground beef. First, their babies and their babies’ food is stolen from them; and, finally, their lives are snatched away as well.

By the mere fact of their sex, sows, hens, ewes, does, nannies, cows and heifers – not to mention mares, bitches, jennies, jills, etc. – are ripe for especially cruel and prolonged exploitation. Oftentimes, this involves a constant cycle of pregnancy, birth, nursing and baby-napping, culminating with the female’s own death when she’s no longer able to breed or “produce” to her “owner’s” satisfaction. Given these parallels – women’s bodies, too, are used as tools of and rationalizations for their own subjugation – it’s a wonder why all Western feminists aren’t also vegans.

A beautifully tragic look at food animals, The Pig Who Sang to the Moon should be required reading for all “meat”-eaters. As Masson notes in the book’s conclusion – “On Not Eating Friends” –

“What has any of this got to do with you, you might ask? If you eat these animals, if you wear their skins as shoes or belts, then their lives must be of concern to you. It has something to do with you, because you have something to do with them. Our lives, all of our lives, are inextricably intertwined with the lives of farm animals, even when we would prefer that they not be. It would take a very hard-hearted person to say: ‘I don’t care what kind of lives they lead, how much they suffer, how far removed from their ordinary life, it just means nothing to me, holds no interest for me. I will continue to eat them and use them in any way I feel like without taking the slightest responsibility to know what kind of creatures they are, what they feel, what kinds of lives they lead in order to give me the products I want.’”

If you enjoy the taste of animal flesh – and dismiss concerns about the well-being of farmed animals with appeals to their emotional, intellectual and/or evolutionary inferiority – then you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy of The Pig Who Sang to the Moon and educate yourself. It’s the least you can do.

And yes, the book opens with a pig who quite enjoyed serenading the full moon!

Note: I “read” the audiobook version of this book. Though the narrator’s voice is disconcerting at first – as it seems to emanate from a family farmer of olden days, like Old MacDonald or somesuch, certainly kinder than the big agribusiness which now dominates farming, but an animal killer just the same – it grew on me rather quickly. Tim Jerrome’s narration has a gentle, lulling quality about it, which lends itself well to Masson’s storytelling style.

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This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined.

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See also:

Horizontal Women

Horizontal Women, Redux

“A cow is so much like a woman”

“Useless Eaters”

“…even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings…”

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