THE BLOG

The Modern Savage: A New Book Questions Why We Eat Animals

04/09/2015 05:10 pm ET | Updated Jun 09, 2015

There's a very good life beyond beef and after meat

Dr. James McWilliams' new book called The Modern Savage: Our Unthinking Decision to Eat Animals is a very thoughtful work about our meal plans in which he covers the ecological and ethical reasons for not eating nonhuman animals (animals), and shows that labels such as "cage free," "free range," and "humanely raised" are not necessarily sound and ethical. Furthermore, more "personal" backyard farming in which humans form close relationships with other animals who are usually named before they're killed for food also raises deep ethical questions.

The book's description captures what Dr. McWilliams' book is all about: "In the last four decades, food reformers have revealed the ecological and ethical problems of eating animals raised in industrial settings, turning what was once the boutique concern of radical eco-freaks into a mainstream movement. Although animal products are often labeled 'cage free,' 'free range,' and 'humanely raised, can we trust these goods to be safe, sound, or ethical? In The Modern Savage, renowned writer, historian, and animal advocate James McWilliams pushes back against the questionable moral standards of a largely omnivorous world and explores the 'alternative to the alternative'--not eating domesticated animals at all. In poignant, powerful, and persuasive prose, McWilliams reveals the scope of the cruelty that takes place even on the smallest and--supposedly--most humane animal farms. In a world increasingly aware of animals' intelligence and the range of their emotions, McWilliams advocates for the only truly moral, sustainable choice--a diet without meat, dairy, or other animal products."

I fully understand that some people will be tempted to write off The Modern Savage as just another radical's rant about animal rights, how people who eat other animals are "bad people," etc. etc. However, I hope they don't do this before reading the book because this is not what this book is all about. And, whether you agree or disagree with Dr. McWilliams' analyses and messages, I can't imagine that his book won't force you to re-evaluate your values and views on the lives of other animals and perhaps discuss them with other people.

Dr. McWilliams also provides a large number of scientific references for his claims about why eating other animals are environmentally and ethically unwise choices, and I hope readers will take his message seriously and at least begin a move away from eating other animals and animal products. The last paragraph of The Modern Savage says it well: "What I'm asking you to imagine is thus a movement that requires us to become more emotionally in tune with animals, ethically consistent in our behavior, and better informed about the evolutionary heritage we share with sentient creatures. This movement, whether we join it all at once or gradually, with immediate zeal or reluctantly, will, in the end, triumph over industrial agriculture because it will be, above all else, a bloodless revolution based on compassion for animals, the environment, and ultimately ourselves."

Dr. McWilliams is right on the mark here and throughout his book. It's clearly true, and solid science clearly shows, that factory farming is not sustainabile and is an utter waste of water, land, other resources, and of course, the lives of billions of animals. The award-winning documentary "Cowspiracy" is a great source for viewing these data objectively.

When read with an open mind, I think that The Modern Savage could be a game-changer, especially for those who have resisted making changes to their meal plans concerning whom, not what, they're eating, because they were unaware of the ecological and ethical issues or because they wrote them off as being sensationalist -- radical -- fiction. They're not. One surely can have a very wholesome, good, and active life beyond beef and after meat.