Skip to content

On “That’s Why We Don’t Eat Animals”


"That's Why We Don't Eat Animals: A Book About Vegans, Vegetarians, and All Living Things," written and illustrated by Ruby Roth, has gorgeous and haunting illustrations. And it gently tells the story of why we shouldn't eat factory farmed animals. And there is a prominent pro-environment theme as well, in addition to the notion of choosing respect.

Its target audience is children 4-10, which I never understood as a category because 4-year olds are nothing like 10-year olds cognitively.

The significant problem with this book is that the solution to the problems posed (which begin with "On factory farms . . . ") could easily be some Farm Forward-endorsed small operation where many of the horrors of factory farming don't exist. There is no mention of that solution, but I worry.

Is a 4- or 10-year old going to say, "Oh these places sure are terrible, but is there any place where babies get to stay with their mamas and walk around? Because if there's one of those places, can we eat those animals?" Who knows. Okay, a 4-year old's probably not going to say that. But a 10-year old might.

And then what?

It is true that the vast majority of animals raised for their parts are factory farmed. But it would seem to me that, especially when it comes to children, a consistent message of respect and justice, emphasizing it's not okay to eat animals because it's not okay to eat animals, factory farmed or not, would have been a better angle.

Interestingly, the book begins with "Pets," explaining that "All animals deserve the care and protection we give our pets," which is a promising notion for the start of this type of children's book. I think I would have felt much better if Roth had developed that angle, helping the kids see that pigs and cows aren't that much different from dogs and cats, thereby providing logical building blocks for their thinking to develop.

But instead, we go in the treatment direction and develop a negative emotional connection to factory farming that can probably be ameliorated, if not extinguished, if we remove the factory. And I'd prefer a different message.

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Your attention to animal welfare is heartfelt and greatly appreciated, thank you, thank you.

    I am curious about your reference to Farm Forward. I have been watching this organization for some time now, and am very impressed with the way they are, incrementally, achieving real change for animal welfare. That Jonathan Safran Foer is endorsing and supporting their work will certainly give them a boost.

    Interested to know your opinion about FF's work–I have to say I am impressed, and since you share their ethical perspective, want to know how you think those of us out here can be helpful in advancing this critical work.

    thank you for your work!

    December 28, 2009
  2. Hella Gamper #

    Animal welfarism has never helped any animals. We have had
    (incremental) animal welfarism for dozens of years & all it has achieved is more subjugation & slavery for the animals.It's simply an easy cop-out for people who don't want to give up feasting on carcasses,albeit with a happier,less guilty conscience."Treatment" of animals should never be the pivotal message we are disseminating but "use/abuse" must form the axis of any major shift in our prejudiced thinking.

    December 28, 2009
  3. Farm Forward is a terrible corporation. They are intergral in bridging the divide between advocacy groups and industry, causing ever-increasing industry co-optation of the movement.

    See the evidence here of what happened to one activist who went from abolitionist to industry:

    "From COK to HSUS to Whole Foods Market"

    December 28, 2009
  4. Mary #

    My reference to Farm Forward might not be in the direction you're thinking. I do think that Foer being on the board and endorsing their work will give them a boost.

    But I don't think I share "the ethical perspective" of Farm Forward because I don't believe that there is a way to take someone's life or parts or secretions or freedom or reproductive freedom and call that "humane." I object to the very thesis that there is a way to use animals that is ethically justifiable when you don't need to use them.

    I'm not a vegan who campaigns for better treatment and less suffering because that leads to/is tantamount to saying that if we treated animals better it would be okay to eat/wear/hunt/experiment on them (contrary to Foer in his book). It's not okay, in the developed world, in just shy of 2010, to say that we need to use animals. So I would rather campaign for not using them, as I think that's the only moral thing to do.

    I hope that helps.

    December 28, 2009
  5. Al #

    I own this book and read it to my 3 1/2 year old. I have the same issues with it that you detail here, Mary. Here's how I get past it: When I read the book, I remove the word "factory." Easy peasy (um … until she learns how to read, that is).

    The other thing that just drives me crazy is the beginning of the book where she says that we're all earthlings: humans, animals and plants and that we need to take care of earthlings (I'd pull the quote, but it's in my daughter's bedroom and she's sleeping). It just seems so unnecessary to include plants, and it leaves the whole book open to those annoying "plants are people too" counter-arguments. I know it's a small thing, but it really rubs me the wrong way.

    January 1, 2010
  6. Ah… what to tell the children? I recently had a conversation with a woman and she asked (and answered) that same question. "Well, what should you tell kids? You certainly can't tell them the truth!"

    And this falls in line with all the other myths adults continue to perpetuate, Santa, tootfairies, etc. I think they are all irresponsible parenting "traditions".

    The best thing someone in charge of a child's mind can do IS to tell the truth. Especially about activities the kids are participating in, such as the worship of men in red suits and eating "friends".

    Some of these fairytales and lies seems harmless on the surface – And really many are there it seems, just to keep (strange) "grown-ups" amused. But my issue is that I don't think these many adults ever square up with the truth – Ever.

    What I mean is, I don't think most parents ever deliberately sit down with a child and fess up that bunnies don't deliver baskets, that they aren't made of chocolate or that they are actually eaten. These are all things that they leave to kids to "figure out" on their own. That's the subtlety of indoctrination. It's not like most parents explain that an animal was "killed" for food, fur etc. They generally leave it at the last known state of pleasant communication: Cows "give" us milk, sheep "give" us wool, chickens give eggs and so on. Without the details, parents can completely avoid the whole nasty confrontation themselves. It's a poor excuse to let a child navigate their own conclusions – sometimes heartbreaking decades hence. For then comes the knowledge of unwitting betrayal…

    I am a lover of truth. I don't believe it's to anyone's advantage, (at any age) to be denied this "right" of truth. Offering placebos and fantasy is akin to a mother bird plucking the wings from it's young before ejecting them from the nest.

    The biggest responsibility of a parent is to offer a child a fact based reality – Life's hard enough without the b.s. "That's Why We Don't Eat Animals" is a step in the right direction – I think it's a great idea to "re-write" it by eliminating reading the word "factory"… Eliminating it with a large, black marker would be even better! 🙂

    BTW – My library is refusing to carry it… But that's another story entirely.

    January 9, 2010

Leave a Reply

You may use basic HTML in your comments. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS