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THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED: ‘What’s your real footprint on the animal world?’, asks writer Henry Mance

Much of the book illustrates a very troubled, unloving relationship between humans and animals, not only in the livestock and fishing sectors, but in our treatment of captive animals in laboratories and zoos and our encroachment on the natural world.

ELIZABETH CLAIRE ALBERTS: Many of us love animals. At least, we think we do. We may serve our cats gourmet food and let them sleep in our beds. We may buy our dogs expensive squeaky toys and take them on vacations with us. But the love we have for our pets doesn’t always translate to the pigs, chickens and fish that end up on our plates, or the cows used to make our shoes or belts. Why is this? The book ‘How to Love Animals in a Human-Shaped World’ by British writer Henry Mance explores this conundrum: Why do we love some animals but not others? The first chapter takes a hard look at one of the most obvious places for humanity’s strained relationship with animals: factory farms.

Mance, who converted from vegetarianism to veganism while writing the book, got a job at an abattoir to learn the true reality of what it takes for meat, milk and eggs to end up on our dinner tables. “[O]ccasionally I would look up and see animals being killed, and I would just think, ‘Why do we think this is necessary?’” Mance told Mongabay. “If this were essential for human culture to exist, then maybe there is a justification. But what I realized at the abattoir is … how much power we have over other animals’ lives and how unthinkingly we wield it.” Mance also briefly worked at a “good pig farm” to see if the argument of only buying “good meat” stands up to scrutiny. But after scooping up dead piglets from straw-filled sheds, he concluded that it really doesn’t.

Despite the book’s title, much of the text illustrates a very troubled, unloving relationship between humans and animals, not only in the livestock and fishing sectors, but in our treatment of captive animals in laboratories and zoos and our encroachment on the natural world. Other parts look at what might seem to be more positive aspects of the human-animal relationship, such as our love of dogs. But even here, there is a dark side in the way we overbreed our canine companions to have certain looks or personality traits.

Mance grapples with some tough questions in his book. For instance, he questions whether hunting has any kind of conservation value. He describes a deer hunting expedition in England that he didn’t enjoy, noting how “pathetic it is to pull the trigger.” Yet he concedes that hunting, at least in some cases, may be able to protect land and wild animal populations. “If anyone wants to stop wasteful killing for pleasure, they should focus on farming,” he writes. He also delves into the argument that zoos can help sustain and regenerate populations of wild animals that cannot easily survive in the wild. While zoos have been able to successfully breed and reintroduce species such as the California condor (Gymnogyps californianus), he suggests that zoos are likely doing more harm than good, and all in all, they’re focused more on humans than on animals.

Another part of the book challenges the reader to consider the way we objectify fish and other sea creatures, rather than seeing them as individual animals that feel pain and share many of the same genes as humans. “Some animals are dehumanised; fish are de-animalised,” Mance writes. This de-animalising process is epitomized in the way we kill them — often bluntly and without pain relief. Not only that, but the fishing industry only counts dead fish by weight, while an abattoir will at least count killed animals by number, he notes.

Mance has a clear view that animals should be treated with more respect and kindness than we currently give them, but he doesn’t come to this conclusion lightly. Besides throwing himself into abattoirs and hunting expeditions, he gathers as much information as he can from a rich array of sources and speaks to many experts to understand the full picture. At one point, he nibbles on a pork chop to see what it is he’s missing out on as a vegetarian. But when the taste leaves his mouth after a few seconds, he realizes that eating meat isn’t worth it. “Is that what we do all this for?” he writes. “That was the last time I ate meat, and I have never regretted leaving it behind.”

Embedded in the book’s pages is the personal challenge to understand our own relationship with animals. Do we really love animals the way we say we do? Are we doing enough to protect the animals we profess to love? “This book is mostly about what we’ve got wrong,” Mance writes. “But I hope for a future where humans recognise what they share with animals — where we put less effort into owning animals, and more into accommodating them alongside us”… Mongabay spoke to Mance the day before his book’s U.S. launch. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. SOURCE…


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