The Modern Savage And Humane Meat


FullSizeRender (9)Have you ever started a book and thought, “I’m going to destroy this with highlighter marks and put so many Post-It™ bookmarks in it that 3M will send me a Christmas card”?

That was me within the first few minutes of reading James McWilliams’ book The Modern Savage: Our Unthinking Decision to Eat Animals

I’ve been wanting to do a post on the increase in prevalence of “humane meat” especially at farmers markets. This book eloquently brought the thoughts from my head and onto the page.

Just like the title says, people eat animals without thinking. It is something that is ingrained in our culture for centuries. The new trend toward believing there is a humane and better option for meat eaters is sad and alarming. More consumers are buying animal products from farmers claiming their meat is better than that coming from factory farms due to the close care the animals receive. The gourmet food industry has grabbed onto this trend and we see “experts” touting the benefits of small farms and the meat, dairy and eggs coming from their land.

In his book, McWilliams calls out the heavyhitters such as Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Vegan Before 6 author and former New York Times columnist Mark Bittman and Jonathan Safran Foer, NYU professor and author of Eating Animals on their hypocrisy (the hypocrisy which he diplomatically refers to as the “omnivores’ contradiction”) when they advocate for meat from humanely raised animals. He sums up this hypocrisy by saying it, “encapsulates our aspiration to grant animals moral status and yet eat them.”


McWilliams reminds his readers that humane meat farmers “at the end of the day…have the same blood on their hands as the factory farmer”. He also points out that the common acceptable practices and ultimate goals regarding animals in both factory farms and small alternative farms is: “to get fat fast, die relatively young, and feed people food they do not need”. 

Food they do not need.

In the chapter entitled Humane Meat, McWilliams tells the stories of several backyard butchers and the emotional anguish they endure leading up to the slaughter of their beloved animals. Almost all of them expressed the need to “know where their food comes from”. It seems to me you can do the same by growing carrots and potatoes and spare you and the poor animals emotional trauma.

“…nothing is humane about shooting a pig in the face with a .22, no matter how lovingly he was raised…”

Did you know most free-range, organic chickens are still vaccinated against a highly infectious disease called Marek’s? In the wild, these birds are not exposed to the conditions that cause Marek’s. However, the small environments in which they are raised are the perfect breeding ground to spread the disease. Because these farmers don’t want to lose their money by losing their flocks, most are quietly vaccinated.


Roundworms are devastating to human health and pigs infested with them are more common on small farms than in factory farms. In addition, 80-88% of the pigs raised on free-range and organic farms carry the intestinal parasite coccidium which can make humans very sick but can be fatal to cats and dogs. This doesn’t mean everyone should continue to buy their bacon from the big companies; this means no one should be eating pork if they want to avoid certain illnesses.

Many more myths from the humane and organically grown meat industry fill the pages of this book. However, despite James McWilliams careful research and outstanding writing, the sad irony is that this book will most likely only be read by those already fighting the good fight; the people who have already made the compassionate decision to leave animal products off their plates.

My hope is that those compassionate few will read The Modern Savage and study the profound way James McWilliams presents the data-driven facts and use this work to communicate more effectively to those who have not made that change.


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