Ohmygod this book is AMAZING.
I just finished this earlier this week and I can’t stop thinking about it. Really, really fantastic writing.
Animals, by Don LePan, is a novel about a dystopic future in which all of today’s standard farm animals/livestock have become extinct thanks to the combination of intensive factory farming and epidemic.
LePan has clearly done his research when it comes to the dangers of factory farming and he has a chilling, yet realistic, vision of what continuing down our current path may lead us to one day. “The Great Extinction” occurs over a period of a few years as widespread disease wipes out cattle, poultry, seafood, and pretty much all human sources of animal-based proteins. The diseases are particularly deadly and particularly efficient because we have spent so much time working to make these animals weak, fatty, and essentially defenseless against such a threat. We have monocropped our livestock, so to speak. And much like the Irish of the 1800’s, the people of this dystopic future (it’s about 200 years ahead, give or take) are forced to pay a dreadful price for doing so.
As nutrient sources disappear and the entirety of the planet is forced to align to a vegetarian way of life, society breaks down in some startling but expectable ways. Social classes become more stratified, with the poor becoming less and less able to gain access to enough nutrients to support themselves and their families. Gradually, disease and deformities that we have not seen in ages start creeping back into the population – due largely to malnutrition. Over time, birth defect rates increase and access to medical treatments and preventive methods decrease. A new class of people slowly comes into existence, whereas in the past one might simply have disabilities – such as being deaf, or having Peake’s disease, or the like – now, thanks to the sheer number of people with such defect, there is a breakdown between barriers. Instead of differentiating through the different causes for a disability or disadvantage, society instead starts to simply separate the normal from the (somehow) not-normal. These people become known as ‘mongrels’ – they are human, but there aren’t enough resources to go around for even the healthiest of the population, so soon these mongrels merely degenerate further and further.
After a few generations, mongrels start being viewed as separate from humans. They are kept as pets, or set loose as strays. But the number of mongrel births keeps increasing – from 1 out of every 500, to 1 in every 100, to 1 in every 25, to 1 in every 5.
Can you guess where this is going?
As the line between human and mongrel becomes more and more pronounced (at least from a social perspective), a grand solution to much of the world’s problems starts creeping into social consciousness. Mongrels have already been used now as pets, as cheap laborers… would it be that much of a stretch to start looking at them as livestock? Could two of society’s biggest problems – the overabundance of mongrel population and the scarcity of protein and nutrients – be solved by the same solution?
Animals takes the form of a recovered manuscript telling the tale of a girl growing up with a mongrel pet in her household, interspersed with scholarly commentary to fill in the historic gaps and to paint the picture of the environment in which the story takes place. The book is very powerful, very smart, and very important. It’s the kind of book I’d love to see in a high school curriculum.
I want to make it clear here that this book is not an attack on omnivores. Though LePan is a vegetarian himself, he makes effort to draw distinction between meat eaters that support factory farming and those who do not. His attention is more focused on the lines we draw between different types of animals than the line we draw between human and animal. It is not his intention to say that we are no different from animals, though perhaps an argument to the effect could be made, but rather to question why we make such distinction between our pets, or animals in the wild, and our livestock – the livestock that we raise in factory farms and condemn to a life of torture and despair – when similar acts taken on pets or wildlife would be a criminal offense.
I want to wrap this up by including a statement in the author’s afterword that I very strongly identify with, and I hope that it will encourage others in making the right choices when it comes to the food they eat.
…probably the biggest single thing we can do to help bring about change [to factory farming methods] is simply change our own habits.
For those of us who may be considering such a change for the first time, it is important to recognize that it need not be an all or nothing thing. Many who have thought about these things and who are not comfortable supporting the cruelties of factory farming nevertheless continue to do so because they cannot readily see themselves changing their entire lives, and they imagine to do anything they would have to do everything, would have to change their entire lifestyle. Some may argue that anything short of a totally vegan diet is an inadequate response, and certainly people who are inspired to make that sort of revolutionary change in their lives in one dramatic step are to be commended. But most recognize too that any improvement is a step in the right direction. Anything is far, far better than nothing, and things may be done in a series of small steps.
This is how I’ve made my own changes, personally. And I see in others the exact same intimidation towards making changes that he describes. But it’s so important to understand how the world is not black and white – you don’t have to be the most obsessive, vigilant, and noble person in the world in order to make a difference. Everyone can have an effect.
Sound like a great book? It is. Want a copy?
Leave a comment on this post before midnight on September 30th, and I’ll randomly select a reader to receive a free copy. Tell me what you think about these issues, and share ideas or methods you’ve taken – or plan to take – to minimize your support of the factory farming system. Or just let me know you want the book.