November 10, 2002
An Animal's Place
By Michael Pollan
The frst time I opened Peter Singer's ''Animal Liberation,'' I was dining alone at the Palm, trying to enjoy a rib-eye
steak cooked medium-rare. IF this sounds like a good recipe For cognitive dissonance (iF not indigestion), that was sort
oF the idea. Preposterous as it might seem, to supporters oF animal rights, what I was doing was tantamount to reading
''Uncle Tom's Cabin'' on a plantation in the Deep South in 1852.
Singer and the swelling ranks oF his Followers ask us to imagine a Future in which people will look back on my meal,
and this steakhouse, as relics oF an equally backward age. Eating animals, wearing animals, experimenting on animals,
killing animals For sport: all these practices, so resolutely normal to us, will be seen as the barbarities they are, and we
will come to view ''speciesism'' -- a neologism I had encountered beFore only in jokes -- as a Form oF discrimination as
indeFensible as racism or anti-Semitism.
Even in 1975, when ''Animal Liberation'' was frst published, Singer, an Australian philosopher now teaching at
Princeton, was confdent that he had the wind oF history at his back. The recent civil rights past was prologue, as one
liberation movement Followed on the heels oF another. Slowly but surely, the white man's circle oF moral consideration
was expanded to admit frst blacks, then women, then homosexuals. In each case, a group once thought to be so
diFFerent From the prevailing ''we'' as to be undeserving oF civil rights was, aFter a struggle, admitted to the club. Now it
was animals' turn.
That animal liberation is the logical next step in the Forward march oF moral progress is no longer the Fringe idea it was
back in 1975. A growing and increasingly in±uential movement oF philosophers, ethicists, law proFessors and activists
are convinced that the great moral struggle oF our time will be For the rights oF animals.
So Far the movement has scored some oF its biggest victories in Europe. Earlier this year, Germany became the frst
nation to grant animals a constitutional right: the words ''and animals'' were added to a provision obliging the state to
respect and protect the dignity oF human beings. The Farming oF animals For Fur was recently banned in England. In
several European nations, sows may no longer be confned to crates nor laying hens to ''battery cages'' -- stacked wired
cages so small the birds cannot stretch their wings. The Swiss are amending their laws to change the status oF animals
From ''things'' to ''beings.''
Though animals are still very much ''things'' in the eyes oF American law, change is in the air. Thirty-seven states have
recently passed laws making some Forms oF animal cruelty a crime, 21 oF them by ballot initiative. ²ollowing protests
by activists, McDonald's and Burger King Forced signifcant improvements in the way the U.S. meat industry
slaughters animals. Agribusiness and the cosmetics and apparel industries are all struggling to deFuse mounting public