United Poultry Concerns December 20, 2003

Book & Film Review

The Pig Who Sang to the Moon:
The Emotional World of Farm Animals

By Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson
Ballantine Books, 2003
Hardcopy, $25.95 + $4 shipping. Canada $37.95

Film: The Emotional World of Farm Animals With Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson
Directed by Stanley M. Minasian. Executive Producer, Kim Sturla
$19.95 + $4 shipping

Order book and film from Animal Place, 3448 Laguna Creek Trail, Vacaville, CA 96588. Tel. (707) 449-4814; fax: 449-8775
See: www.animalplace.org

Reviewed by Karen Davis, PhD

To the extent that you prevent an animal from living the way he or she evolved to live, you are creating unhappiness for that animal. – Jeffrey Masson

“We are expected to keep them out of sight.” – “meat”-chicken farmer

The fate of farmed animals since World War Two has been to be locked up. Their fate is to be buried alive in a brown wash of one another and one anothers’ manure, sealed up in bodies and buildings that reflect not their will but ours until we kill them or they have the luck to die first. Their feelings are buried inside. “Farmers” can say they don’t have any feelings. Their sound is either shrieks or silence – that and the sterile scientistic jargon in which we’ve impounded them.

The Pig Who Sang to the Moon is a must read for humane educators and for anyone who thinks that animals exploited for food are emotionally eviscerated brainless automatons. The “farmers” and corporations want us to think so, like the guy who wrote in The New York Times in November, regarding industrially-raised turkeys: “every bit of natural instinct and intelligence has been bred out of these turkeys.”

Masson takes us on a journey to meet and experience animals who are commonly regarded as “food,” before they are stupidly hacked and squished into blobs and icky liquids packed in cellophane and grease. He invites us to empathize with “a pig looking up to the full moon, emitting mournful sounds much like singing,” the exuberant rooster who having found food, “calls both hens and chicks together to eat it while he stands like a father and host at a banquet,” the sheep who responds to his name being called by jumping through the clover with “all four feet a few inches off the ground at once,” the goats who so “loved to hear the sound of their hooves” on a corrugated roof they would wait in line and take turns, the calves signaling “to let other calves know that they are about to commence play.”

He invites us to listen to the “penetrating piping of abandoned ducklings,” “the slow quacks between adult ducks indicating affection,” and a gander trying desperately to help his mate with a broken wing limp over a vast plain to their southern wintering grounds:

She had set out on the long journey to the Falkland Islands by foot. He would not leave her, so after flying for a few hundred yards, he would alight and wait for her to catch up. He would fly ahead, to show her the way, then return “again and again, calling to her with his wildest and most piercing cries, urging her to spread her wings and fly with him to their distant home.”

Having gotten to know chickens and turkeys and ducks and studied the faces of factory-farmed animals in footage and photos over the past twenty years, I see in this image of the desperate gander and his struggling mate a symbol of the agony in the birds and mammals we’ve imprisoned “in situations where they cannot express the emotions they inherently possess" apart from desperation, fear, loneliness, degradation and defeat. Farmed animals carry within themselves an imprint of their “distant homes.”

Those of us who run farmed animal sanctuaries try to create places where the animals we rescue can express many of the vital emotions they inherently possess. If you haven’t visited a farmed animal sanctuary, but would like to, The Pig Who Sang to the Moon takes you to several of these earth islands and tells you how to reach them literally. It was lovely having Jeffrey Masson, the author of When Elephants Weep and many other bestselling books, and the award-winning filmmaker Stanley Minasian, visit our sanctuary in preparation for the book and the marvelous film about making the book, The Emotional World of Farm Animals with Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson.

The Pig Who Sang to the Moon is a stirring, wryly humorous, sorrowful and engaging book that left me wondering why, after all Masson knows and declares – that animals cannot be humanely raised for food, that we should stop raising them for food and that he would not help a farmer with advice on how to raise animals less inhumanely – he himself is not yet vegan: “From theory to practice has not been easy for me,” he confesses.

My opinion of this imposition is given in part on page 227: “Many people who have thought about it even more deeply than I have, like Karen Davis,” Masson writes, “will not eat eggs even when they come from the chickens on her own sanctuary and even though they have the best life you could imagine for a chicken. She wants people to move away from the idea that their taste has a ‘right’ to be satisfied and that animals in general, and chickens in particular, may be used to satisfy that taste.”

This said, I highly recommend the book and the film. For those who are not yet vegan, the suffering animals you meet in both works will haunt you with their imploring question, “Why are you doing this to me?” You will want to stop doing that to them, and you will stop, because there are abundant vegan food choices available to all of us, while the animals called “food” are stripped to the bone of comfort and joy, and because, as Masson and the film both say and show, “farm animals have the capacity for all the deep feelings of their forebears [and] they are remarkably similar to human beings in their ability to feel anxious, bored, sad, lonely, or deliriously happy.” What more do we have to be told to show compassion in our diet?

Karen Davis, PhD, is the President of United Poultry Concerns, a nonprofit organization that promotes the compassionate and respectful treatment of domestic fowl. www.UPC-online.org


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