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An Animal’s Place

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  • Pages: 3
  • Word count: 684
  • Category: Animals

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Michael Pollan’s article, “An Animal’s Place,” offers an in-depth analysis of the animal rights question. The essay outlines the arguments of animal rights activists and furnishes examples of the cruelty they argue as being perpetrated upon animals. Yet this essay also views the issue from another perspective. It focuses on the view of those who would advocate the minimization of animal suffering, offering humane slaughter as a feasible alternative to the brutality of capitalist-driven slaughterhouses. Pollan’s concludes by demonstrating how the simple act of making the meat industry more transparent—that is, by granting people the “right to look” at the rearing and slaughter of animals might improve the general conditions of animals raised as commercial raw material.

The “right to look” is identified by Pollan as a crucial solution to the current suffering that animals experience. The author of the book Animal Liberation, as well as many animal rights activists, appears to be driven to horror by humans’ cruelty to animals. Because of his research done in slaughterhouses, in pig farms, and in the coops of commercial laying hens, Pollan is forced to concur with the author of that text, Peter Singer, about existence of animal cruelty.

The drive toward financial enrichment at all costs has, according to his descriptions, evidently driven men mad and revealed “the tendency of the economic impulse to erode the moral underpinnings of society” (Pollan, 2003). Yet Pollan also cites the John Berger essay, “Why look at animals,” that attributes humans’ ability to avoid eye contact with animals as the major contributor to our capacity to continue harming them. This sets up Pollan’s later idea that the granting humans the “right to look” might force the amelioration of practices concerning animals.

However much Pollan may sympathize with the views of those who argue for animal rights, he does detect a note of “sentimental conceit” in their unwillingness to exercise their right to look at the bigger picture. While they argue that all animals deserve to be preserved, they prove short-sighted in their reasoning and in their ability to weigh the importance of an entire species against that of one of its members. They are unable to see the necessity of individual slaughter for the preservation of the species as a whole. This can clearly be viewed in the necessity of predation for such animals as deer, which would otherwise thrive to the point that they consume all their food and end up dying off in much larger numbers (Pollan, 2003).

The author, therefore, demonstrates the necessity of killing animals. As an extension of this, he points toward the symbiotic relationship that has developed between man and domesticated animals over millennia, demonstrating the favorability of this arrangement for the animal. He writes, “The surest way to achieve the extinction of the chicken would be to grant chickens a ‘right to life,’” as freedom would inevitably lead to predation. (Pollan, 2003). Though domesticated animals do end up getting killed in the end, their prospects are universally more favorable on humane farms than a life of freedom and predation would grant them.

The humanization of slaughter is therefore, according to Pollan, much more desirable than all other alternatives, and it is his belief that this can be achieved (even in the most inhumane slaughterhouses and chicken coops) by enforcing the human’s right to look. He describes an open-air abattoir as a “morally powerful idea,” continuing to observe that anyone “slaughtering a chicken in a place where he can be watched is apt to do it scrupulously” (Pollan, 2003).

The right to look would affect large scale commercial farms that rely on cost cutting at the expense of the animal’s welfare, by alerting the public to the cruelty that stems from the unrelenting drive toward profits. Public outrage stimulated by a transparent meat industry (coupled perhaps with an enhanced tolerance for higher-priced meat) should have an ameliorating effect on the welfare of these animals and afford them a death filled with dignity.


Pollon, M. (2003). “An animal’s place.” Best American Essays. Houghton-Mifflin.190-211.

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