I’m clearly not breaking this streak of coming into a seasonal reading list until the season’s almost done, so here we go with the Go Dig a Hole Fall 2017 Reading List.
The Summer 2017 Reading List left off with ‘The Art of Raising a Puppy’ in honor of my puppy, Baloo, and I hinted at following up with some readings on human-animal interaction. This topic is both incredibly deep and incredibly varied, but here’s a good starting point:
Pig/Pork: Archaeology, Zoology, and Edibility
Pig/Pork is a cookbook, a zooarchaeology textbook, a health study, and a sobering look at the interconnectedness of the economics, public health, and environmental impacts of pig domestication. As someone who grew up in the part of the United States that has deep traditions involving pork barbecue, I had some visceral reactions to this book. I learned some quite startling things about the health implications for pig domestication and consumption – the sheer number of pig-bourne parasites and diseases to which humans are susceptible seems greater than most other animals. Pig/Pork is written in a very accessible prose that’s super fun to read (and to listen to, if you’re a fan of audiobooks), yet chock full of detailed information.
If only they weren’t so delicious.
The take-aways from this incredibly thought-provoking book are: pig domestication was incredibly complicated in prehistory and continues to be complex today, cultures all over the planet have entire cuisines and social structures organized around how to eat pigs, pigs are bizarrely similar to humans on so many levels. All of this adds up to an entertaining, provocative, and even life-changing read. I’ve definitely eaten way less BBQ and sausage since reading this book. I don’t know if that’s what Spry-Marques intended, but here we are.
Jonathan Safran Foer
If reading Pig/Pork didn’t change your eating habits, Eating Animals certainly will. Foer pulls no punches in arguing for the personhood of animals, with clear calls to action on the way we raise and slaughter animals for food. Humans face dire threats to their domesticated animals by the human-animal relationship itself. Domestication has manifested in the genetic manipulation of livestock to the point that almost all are developed solely for yielding profitable food with no regard to the function of the living organism, costing the animal a brief but agonizingly painful and disease-ridden existence, where human social organization has constructed industrial farming and slaughter operations of cruel, nightmarish forms (Foer 2009). Likewise, humans have placed too heavy a reliance upon industrial farming and are vulnerable to disease outbreaks, chronic illness, and a slew of other maladies related to the structure of the human-animal relationship. Furthermore, ecological pressures have made it unfeasible to hunt or gather wild game as a viable food source without assuring these animals a swift and irretrievable disaster. Removing humans from the driver’s seat in this relationship, Foer quotes Pollan in summarizing simply, “domestication took place when a handful of especially opportunistic species discovered, through Darwinian trial and error, that they were more likely to survive and prosper in an alliance with humans than on their own”. It’s a lot to take in, and quite uncomfortable at times, but very necessary in understanding our role in the global scale of human-animal interaction.
Man the Hunted: Primates, Predators, and Human Evolution
Donna Hart and Robert W. Sussman
Man the Hunted takes a critical look at the anthropocentric view that humans are apex predators – the keystone species that dominates all others. This perception permeates virtually every aspect of Western society, from religion (the Enlightenment-era philosophies of a hierarchy of beings favored by the Christian god), to economy (that resources are a gift for human exploitation regardless of the impact on other animals), to diet, social hierarchy, and human physiology. Several detailed, well-researched examples from archaeology and other disciplines build the evidence that humans evolved as prey, not as predators. This turns a lot of things on their heads, but provides another mode of explanation for human culture as an adaptive behavior. Plus, it has one of the coolest diagrams I’ve ever seen:
Deadly Powers: Animal Predators and the Mythic Imagination
Paul A. Trout and Barbara Ehrenreich
Humans may not presently be common prey to large land carnivores, but this is certainly a recent development. For most of our evolutionary past, humans have been prey to animals with terrifying strength and abilities beyond our defenses (Trout and Ehrenreich 2011). We conceive of ourselves as the dominant species on the planet, yet our terror of ancient foes persists. Throughout recorded history, various human cultures have conjured imagery from the strengths and deadly powers of predators – the stealth and ruthless, piercing gaze of big cats; the terror of an undefeatable pack of wolves; the crushing might of a bear (Trout and Ehrenreich 2011). These threats are a shadow of human evolutionary past, because human cultural adaptations overcame individual physical weakness by exploiting group strength, tactical skill, and technological innovation, as well as our reliance on the symbiotic relationship with our domesticated animals.
Humans and Other Animals: Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Human-Animal Interactions
The use of “domestication” as a term for human interaction with animals has traditionally taken an anthropocentric perspective, supporting the assumption that humans are a keystone species that dominates and controls animals with little to no reciprocal impact on themselves, however alternate explanations of domestication have recently offered more robust analyses of whole systems of human-animal interaction (Hurn 2012). However, humans are not exempt from the pressures of domestication. It’s a process that cuts both ways. Human-animal interaction is described as a “poison gift” (Hurn 2012), where both human and animal engage in a sort of symbiotic relationship in which both become dependent upon each other for survival. Domestication is also termed a “poison gift” in that humans have had to deal with known and unknown zoonotic disease burden for tens of thousands of years as a result of our relationship with domesticated animals. Nor should humans be assumed to have conscious control or dominance in human-animal relationships; many argue that animal agency plays a role in which animals become domesticated and how they negotiate this relationship (Hurn 2012). Ask any house cat owner, and they’ll tell you it’s more likely that cats domesticate their owners than the other way around.
Where will the Winter Reading list take us? If you have recommendations, feel free to comment or send an email!
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