NOTE: I started this piece with the intent of writing a review of Reese’s novel, but as I went through my notes, I realized that too much vital information would be glossed over if I tried to cram it all into 1000 or so words. So I decided instead to do a section-by-section deep dive into the book. This first installment covers the introduction. Each subsequent one will cover one or more chapters. The novel is laid out in such a neat and logical fashion, it only makes sense to follow its order.
“This is not a book about the problems of animal farming,” begins Jacy Reese’s 2018 novel The End of Animal Farming. “This is a book about exactly how we can solve those problems.”
Despite the above statements, Reese starts off his novel by giving readers a lay of the land as regards the current state of animal farming. This includes some truly mind-boggling and heart-wrenching stats: at this very instant, there are more than 100 billion farm animals alive, globally; chickens and fish make up about 93% of them; over 90% of them are on factory farms and the number is 99% in the US. Reese also talks about how the scientific consensus is and has been for some time that these animals are conscious, sentient beings with the same capacity to feel joy and pain as any of us.
All of the above lead Reese to conclude that animal farming in its current form is a “moral catastrophe.” He’s not alone in holding that viewpoint. Yuval Noah Harari, author of the book Sapiens and other popular best-selling novels, calls the practice “the worst crime in history.”
Many people reject the idea that animal farming will ever stop. They say that meat, eggs, and dairy — the big three — are just too ingrained in our lives. To them, Reese points to examples from history of drastic changes like the large-scale abolishment of most child labor and women, people of color, and other oppressed groups gaining the rights and freedoms they were long denied.
In the realm of animal farming, we have already seen major progress since the days of Sylvester Graham (of Graham cracker fame) and John Harvey Kellogg (of cereal fame) advocating for a “bland vegetarian diet” for health and libido-curbing reasons. Nowadays, we have companies such as Memphis Meats and Impossible Foods employing culinary expertise and cutting-edge food science to make delicious cultured and plant-based meats, respectively. We also have many of the world’s largest corporations like Google trying to invest and buy their way into the animal-free food market.
But according to Reese, the real “ace in the hole” when it comes to bringing about the end of animal farming is the inefficiency of the practice. Just like the rest of us, farm animals burn energy over the course of a day by virtue of being alive and moving around. This makes them terrible calorie converters. In fact, for every ten calories of feed they eat, they only produce around one. Cultured and plant-based products can give us identical — or almost identical in the case of the latter— end products, without all this waste.
In Reese’s words, “[T]he end of animal farming doesn’t have to mean the end of meat.”
Reese’s story is an interesting one. He grew up in rural Texas, surrounded by “Old MacDonald” farms, believing all farms were just like them. At fourteen, he found a website that opened his eyes to truths of industrial animal farming and “went vegetarian on the spot.”
He cites his reason for making that change as effective altruism — a philosophy “based on taking action that results in the greatest positive impact.” Guided by this principal, Reese initially worked on issues such as fighting malaria, before becoming convinced that ending animal farming was his Cause X — his way of doing the most good. And that’s what he’s been working on ever since.
Reese views The End of Animal Farming as a road map to improve what he sees as a broken food system, and accordingly, he organizes the book with a logical ordering. The first two chapters deal with where we stand now with respect to animal farming and animal welfare, how we got here, and also which activism strategies have proven most effective. The next two chapters discuss the origin and the current condition of the animal-free food industry, as well as potential prospects and pitfalls.
In chapter five, Reese examines the burgeoning cellular agriculture industry — already producing cultured meat, eggs, and dairy “molecularly identical to animal flesh” — and the business tactics being employed by companies trying to market these new products. Chapters six, seven, and eight take a deep look at the history of activism, advocacy, and social movements, and lay out some effective evidence-based strategies for expediting the growth and acceptance of the “animal-free food system.”
Reese puts on his soothsayer hat for chapter nine, the last chapter, speculating what a world without animal farming may look like, the timeline for bringing about such drastic change, and which issues currently residing outside of our “moral circle” might be the next Cause X.
That’s the road map, as Reese puts it. The journey’s not especially long but it’s eye-opening, informative, and timely. So, if you’re willing to climb aboard and come along for the ride, let’s hit the road!