Animal Rights Articles

Michael Pollan and Anthropomorphism

By James McWilliams
August 2012

If only Pollan and his foodie followers would own the emotions they project onto animals, validate them, and, thusly empowered, take on the food system as vegan revolutionaries rather than pandering scribblers twisting logic at every turn so they can have their elite cut of meat and eat it too.

Michael Pollan, in his Houdini-like efforts to escape the ethical implications of eating animals, has come down hard on the practice of anthropomorphizing. Speaking in a PBS interview, he said of cows, “I’m very careful not to anthropomorphize them.” This stance is common among the Pollanites in the sustainable food movement.

First off, a clarification. In praising anthropomorphizing, as I’m preparing to do, I am not suggesting that humans should exclusively view animals through the lens of human characteristics. That would be an intolerable form of speciesism. We must recognize—imagine, really—that different species have qualities and feelings independent of our own. That said, the art of responsible anthropomorphizing—by projecting human emotions onto non-human animals—acknowledges our shared evolutionary heritage with those animals.

It confirms that my experience of suffering has a counterpart in the suffering of another species. I’m speaking about anthropomorphizing, in essence, as a basic way for humans to connect with and better understand the emotional lives of animals, however impartial that understanding may be. (Maybe there is a better word for what I’m doing?

Anyway, why do Pollan and the foodie hordes reject the idea of anthropomorphizing? I think it’s a defense mechanism that serves the purpose of maintaining distance between the human heart and the emotional richness of the farm animals we raise and kill for food we don’t need. Rather than exploring the implications of what benefits studious anthropomorphizing might bring, it makes more sense for those who refuse to confront the ethics

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