Resources for exploring your animal contradictions

Resources for exploring your animal contradictions

An annotated guide to books and other resources.
Kimberly French


The number of books by scientists, religious thinkers, journalists, and essayists about the animal-human connection has exploded in recent years. Here are a few modern classics and other resources that have influenced me and helped shape my thinking in my UU World cover story, “Our Animal Contradictions.” I invite readers to add your own suggestions of books and other resources in the comments section, keeping the conversation lively and provocative while also keeping an open mind.

Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It’s So Hard to Think Straight about Animals, by Hal Herzog (HarperCollins, 2010). This terrific book, which the Rev. Eliza Blanchard uses in her “All Creatures” classes, is a combination of science and social science, personal reflection, humor, even self-criticism. Calling himself an anthrozoologist, Herzog teases out the moral incoherence in how we eat and the way we describe those choices; the tension between human medical advances and animal testing; whether keeping pets is a good thing or not, for any species, including humans; breeders who produce genetically defective animals; cockfighters and hoarders who claim to love their animals; animal-rights activists who wrestle with pest control. If you pick up one book on this list, make it this one. Chances are, it will open or change your mind about some aspect of this complex topic.

The Souls of Animals, by Gary Kowalski (Stillpoint Publishing, 2007); also Goodbye, Friend: Healing Wisdom for Anyone Who Has Ever Lost a Pet (New World Library, 2006); Blessings of the Animals: Celebrating Our Kinship with All Creation (Lantern, 2012); and The Bible According to Noah: Theology As If Animals Mattered (Lantern, 2001). The Rev. Gary Kowalski, who has served on the board of the UU Animal Ministry, has explored the animal-human relationship from a liberal religious perspective and produced several great resources for congregations and individuals.

Reverence for Life (PDF) is a program the UU Animal Ministry offers to congregations, with a manual, a one-hour recorded course called “Reverence for Life: Transforming Belief into Practice through Animal Ministry,” and a six-week recorded course called “Connecting Our Hearts to All Life: Compassionate Relationships, Care, and Advocacy.”

Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animals, by Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009); also Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior (Harcourt, 2006). Some slaughterhouse and meat-production farms have made dramatic reforms in both practice and transparency in recent years, often due to the ground-breaking work of animal scientist Temple Grandin. The first autistic person to earn a doctorate, her insights into the quality of both farm and pet animals’ lives will inform both consumers and pet owners in their choices.

“Dog Is My Co-Dependent,” by Meghan Daum, in Howl: A Collection of the Best Contemporary Dog Wit, from the editors of Bark (Crown, 2007). A very funny writer, Daum looks at whether you can own a dog without becoming a “dog person,” as she moves her mutt out of a Nebraska barn to a New York City apartment, and considers what she has done to his quality of life.

Dogs: A New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior, and Evolution, by Raymond Coppinger and Lorna Coppinger (Univ. of Chicago, 2002). Nothing has rocked what I thought I knew about dogs, and my commitment to adopting “rescue” animals without homes, like a new theory by evolutionary biologist Raymond Coppinger. He says dogs evolved—not as previously believed, by artificial selection, domesticated by nomadic hunter-gatherers to help them hunt and guard their campsites—but rather by natural selection, as a distinct species to fill a specific ecological niche, scavenging the refuse dumps that humans left when they began to live in villages. That is dogs’ natural place in the world, and they have not necessarily benefited when humans have taken them in for our own species’ purposes.

Biophilia: The Human Bond with Other Species, by Edward O. Wilson (Harvard Univ., 1984). In this very readable book-length personal essay, the famed biologist argues that the essence of humanity is our affinity for the rest of the living world.

Animal Liberation, by Peter Singer (1975), and The Case for Animal Rights, by Tom Regan (1983). These two books seeded the contemporary animal-rights movement.

What’s Wrong with Animal Rights: Of Hounds, Horses, and Jeffersonian Happiness,” by Vicki Hearne (Harper’s, September 1991); also Bandit: The Heart-Warming True Story of One Dog's Rescue from Death Row, by Vicki Hearne (Skyhorse, 2007). The late dog trainer and poet Vicki Hearne, who taught at Yale, always went deep into issues that concerned animals and justice. After adopting a dog with biting issues, I sought out her training center and worked with her widower, learning so much about the animal mind.

Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal, by Eric Schlosser (Houghton Mifflin, 2001). Journalist Eric Schlosser has been compared to a modern-day Upton Sinclair, exposing how the fast-food, agribusiness, and meat-packing industries have lawlessly wreaked havoc on the American diet and environment.

Food, Inc., directed by Robert Kenner (Magnolia, 2008). This documentary film investigates how corporate food companies like Monsanto, Tyson, Smithfield, and Perdue do business. The treatment of human suppliers and workers is as shocking as the treatment of farm animals.

Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health, by Gary Taubes (Knopf, 2007), advocates eating mostly animal protein and eliminating carbohydrates. The China Study, by T. Colin Campbell (BenBella, 2005), recommends eating a plant-based diet and avoiding animal products. Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats, by Sally Fallon of the Weston Price Institute, (Newtrends Publishing, 1999), promotes eating both plants and meat, but only in traditional ways (e.g., raw, fermented, bone broths), and eschewing processed food, in particular soy. I’m fascinated by all three of these researchers, and I have UU friends who are disciples of each. Together, these books demonstrate the range and inconsistency of nutritional advice today and a picture of optimal nutrition that is still not completely understood.

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