This review appears on
the same page as the conclusion of the first installment of my
"Chronology of Humane Progress," an attempt to put into
context the major ideas and events that over the past 3,300 years
have often falteringly coalesced into the global animal protection
cause of today.
The second installment ends with the major events of 1998, to
give current and recent developments at least five years to settle
before trying to decide what really made a difference and what
was just part of the flow.
Even 1990 is too recent to judge from adequate distance, but as
best I can determine right now, the two most significant animal
protection events of that year were the first March for the Animals
and the incorporation by Karen Davis of United Poultry Concerns.
The March was in effect the beginning of the modern animal rights
movement in which the bad guys were someone else, doing awful
things in either an academic ivory tower or Dr. Frankenstein's
castle. The formation of United Poultry Concerns marked the start
of the second phase, in which activists shifted their attention
to what they could personally do to set an example and make a
difference: fix feral cats, get involved in electoral politics,
and go vegetarian or vegan.
There were active vegetarian communes in the U.S. more than seventy
years before anyone founded a humane society, and there were many
other farm animal advocacy organizations before UPC. Already integral
to the animal rights movement were the Farm Animal Reform Movement
(1981), the Humane Farming Association (1985), and Farm Sanctuary
(1986). Henry Spira, the most accomplished anti-vivisection crusader
of all time, had argued since 1985 that the movement should logically
refocus on diet, since that would be the next opportunity to effect
a steep reduction in what he termed "the universe of suffering."
Neither was Davis the first to point out that chickens and other
poultry, doing more than 95% of all the human-caused animal suffering
and dying in the world, hold a far higher moral claim on humane
movement consciousness than they have ever received. Spira recited
that statistic like a mantra while pushing poultry baron Frank
Perdue in futile hope of getting him to make reforms. Peter Singer,
Jim Mason, and John Robbins had already pointed out the numbers
in Animal Liberation, Animal Factories, and Diet
For a New America.
But none of them had strong big-group support for campaigns on
behalf of poultry. The Humane Society of the U.S. began one campaign
decrying the "breakfast of cruelty" featuring bacon
and eggs, then backed away as if splashed with hot grease. American
SPCA president John Kulberg spoke in favor of vegetarianism and
Who would stand up for the chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese?
"Not I," said one big-group executive after another.
"Then I will," said Davis, flapping her arms and thrusting
her beak at Vegetarian Times founder Paul Obis like one
furious Little Red Hen (with jet-black hair) after Obis accepted
an ad for a prepackaged chicken pilaf mix.
Except for Obis, who could not get away on that occasion, hardly
anyone took the Little Red Hen seriously at first. She had no
money, no major political connections, and was even by her own
admission an extreme eccentric, reportedly allowing rescued chickens
to run in and out her windows and across her desk in the middle
of the few very important mass media interviews that came her
But the Little Red Hen turned out to be the right person for
the job. Reporters left those strange interviews saying to themselves,
and me, in calls seeking further perspective, "Karen Davis
is a chicken! She is telling us what chickens would, if they could."
They couldn't help realizing that chickens are much more intelligent
and sensitive than they had ever imagined. They found Davis likably
charismatic, perhaps because of her oddness, and eventually she
began getting more ink than many of the supposed movement superstars.
More important, some reporters confessed that they could no longer
eat chicken. Somehow the Little Red Hen had gotten to them.
Speaking for turkeys
Those who know chickens really well are aware that they do not
limit their circle of compassion to their own kind. . . . [A]
hen will faithfully sit on any eggs she is given, and will mother
the hatchlings to the best of her ability whether they are close
relatives, reptiles, or even a neonatal kitten placed in the nest
to keep warm - and not because hens are too stupid to know the
difference. On the contrary, many hens will somehow know enough
to lead ducklings and goslings to water, and will even try to
lead a kitten to kibble, skipping the nursing stage perhaps because
they simply lack the means to nurse.
I like to think that such an instinct is why the Little Red Hen
wrote More Than a Meal on behalf of turkeys - and made
it her best book yet. Davis has done some first-rate investigative
reporting to chase down the origins of myths about turkeys, and
the origins of turkeys themselves. Her writing is passionate,
yet not shrill. For me, on a recent flight from San Francisco
to Seattle, it was a page-turner, opened at takeoff and completed
right at landing.
As we taxied to the gate, the young man across the aisle and
one row back tapped me on the shoulder, and asked if he could
have the title, in order to buy his own copy. He had been reading
along with me, he explained, and got hooked.
Handing him my card, I expected to hear that he was an animal
rights advocate and militant vegan.
Not at all. He was a second-generation wildlife biologist. His
dad was restoring huntable turkey populations not far from Davis'
home in Virginia. Still, the young man never knew before that
there was so much to know about turkeys, and he sounded as if
the Little Red Hen had ensured that he would never see turkeys
the same way again. -M.C.
Merritt Clifton is the Editor of ANIMAL PEOPLE,
the leading independent newspaper providing original investigative
coverage of animal protection worldwide, founded in 1992. PO Box
960, Clinton, WA 98236. Tel: 360-579-2505. Fax: 360-579-2575.