Book review – “The Lucky Ones: My Passionate Fight for Farmed Animals” by Jenny Brown
I’ve had a tough time getting through non-fiction of late. I attributed it to my overall lack of interest in reading due to general malaise etc, but really when I look at it, I just crave something that will pull me in and keep reading, and much of the non-fiction I’ve read of late (ie. the past year or so) hasn’t had a strong enough narrative to do that.
Jenny Brown’s book is a memoir as much as it is the story of getting the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary (WFAS) up and running. She speaks about her experience with bone cancer as a young girl, her struggles with adapting to a prosthetic leg, and her gradual shift from typical American meat-eater (“We eat animals simply because it’s what we’ve always done”) to passionate advocate for animals, and vegan (“We can become prisoners of our earliest indoctrination or we can choose to look critically at our assumptions and align our lives with our values”). I really identified with much of what Brown went through in her ‘awakening’, let’s call it – and also her current approach of educating visitors about the marvels and personalities of farm animals, and what they also suffer through in the farming system.
As I was reading through her ‘transition’ chapters, much of it hit me really hard. From her initial backlash against the system “I wore my impatience on my face and slathered my care and chest with bold messages: ‘Meat is Murder! Fur is Dead!’ I was a bitter proselytizer, which was neither pretty nor effective”, to the realization that no matter what, she’d never be able to take part in the system again after what she’d seen going undercover in farms/stockyards “I loved cheese omelets, but now I was haunted by the image of the critters I’d gotten to know, and I knew I’d feel complicit in the ruthless treatment of cows and chickens if I consumed their ‘products'”.
I have never gone undercover to see what factory farming is really like, because I’ve seen enough to know. I know that I don’t need to bear witness anymore, and it’s actually really upsetting for me (ask Adam, he’s seen me balled up on the couch in a crying jag after seeing just a few minutes of footage) – I’ve never watched anything like Earthlings, either. I just can’t. That’s why I really appreciate the approach that farm sanctuaries and animal advocates like Brown have – show what the animals are like, and capable of, and tie it implicitly to their treatment within the animal farming system to hopefully bring people to make a connection between their food/clothing/products and these animals. “For those of us who claim to love animals, we have an obligation to examine what they must endure for us to enjoy such products.”
It’s also why I appreciate that in the book, while there’s some tough information to swallow as far as how these animals can be treated, Brown talks a lot about these animals and their behaviours, personalities and quirks. There are some times where it can be tough to have people listen to tough information – “faced with uncomfort able truths that involve their participation on some level, people can become very defensive” – that can be a hard balance, getting your message across without scaring people off.
While it’s obviously preaching to the converted having a vegan like me read a book like this, I think it’s always important to remember the reasons why I make the choices I do, and not just for the awful truths, but for the wonderful reasons that Brown talks about a lot when she speaks generally of animals, and of the animals she cares for and is friends with (now at WFAS, and in her time at Farm Sanctuary). I think some of these quotes I picked out highlights that.
“It makes me sad how so far removed people are from the reality that bacon came from a sentient animal who lived a life of deprivation, pain, frustration and fear, all for food we have no nutritional need for.”
“But amazing as these facts are, I wonder should they even matter? Must animals be intelligent for humans to have compassion and empathy toward them? To be spared misery?”
“Their faces may not express emotions the same way ours do, but it’s hard to miss bliss when you see it.”
“All of the animals I love with, from our dog Carli to our rooster Rod, want the same things: companionship, pleasure, good food, room to explore, and the freedom to spend their days as they wish.”
I really admire the work Brown’s done leading up to opening WFAS, and the passion and drive that she and her husband have to keep it going, especially constantly welcoming visitors to engage and inform them. That’s amazing. I’d love to visit WFAS myself, some day. Until then, I would encourage anyone to read this book! Omnivore, vegan, vegetarian – it’s a great and inspiring story about a person that has been through a lot, and used that to connect with her passions and values to do something fantastic. It’s a light read, with a very informal tone and some great anecdotes, and doesn’t get preachy too often. I’ll leave you with this quote from Brown:
“What will matter, what in fact always matters, are the values we uphold and the principles and possibilities we stand for. What will matter then, and what matters now, are the quality of the love we share with the world and the statements we make with our choices and our lives.”