Transcript for Hal Herzog on Our Double Standards for Animals

Jim Fleming: But first, Psychologist, Hal Herzog has written a fascinating book called “Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat, Why it’s so Hard to Think Straight About Animals.”  He told Anne Strainchamps that he spent years trying to sort out his own feelings about our furred, finned and feathered cousins.

Hal Herzog: I’ve got to admit I have made my peace, my personal peace with eating animals, and I’m not a vegetarian.  I eat meat, although not as much as I used to, but I have not made my peace with being a cat owner, and our cat, Tilley, although she’s a sweetheart to me and my wife, she’s a stone cold killer when she goes outside, so she delights in killing small animals and then sometimes bringing them home, and you could say, ˜well, keep her in the house all the time,’ but when I’ve tried that, she just hates it, so I’m really very conflicted about being a cat owner.

Anne Strainchamps: Well, that’s actually a fascinating issue because, by loving your cat, loving one animal, you are contributing to the deaths of other animals.

Herzog: That’s absolutely true and one of the things that I’ve done, which I hate this, is I’ve quit feeding birds.  I’ve always been a bird feeder.  We keep bird feeders around the house and I love to look at them and things like that, but I saw her one time knock a Hummingbird out of the sky, and on the one hand, I was amazed by the sheer athleticism of it, on the other hand, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Strainchamps: So part of you wants to say, ˜oh, clever kitty...

Herzog: Exactly.

Strainchamps: ...and the other one wants to say, ˜bad girl.’ 

Herzog: So I don’t feed birds anymore.  

Strainchamps:  You also tell a story about how some of these moral questions about how we treat animals came into your own life.  There’s a story you tell about when your family got a baby Boa Constrictor.

Herzog: Yeah, we basically wound up with this small newborn Boa Constrictor and it ate mice.  You know, we fed him mice, small mice, it wasn’t any problem, and I got this call one day from a friend of mine that’s an animal activist, and she had heard a rumor that I was going to the local animal shelter and picking up kittens to feed to my Boa Constrictor, which was, the first thing I did was just laugh.  I mean that was crazy, number one, Sam, the Boa, could never eat a kitten.  He was only about a foot long.  The other thing is, I wouldn’t do it.  I was just horrified at the idea of feeding a cat to a Boa Constrictor.  But then I started thinking, and it sort of nagged me, I started thinking about, well what would be wrong actually with that?  After all, I’m feeding it mice now and these mice have to be raised for snake food essentially.  In the United States we kill something like 3 million cats each year because they’re unwanted.  What exactly would be wrong with getting a kitten from the animal shelter and feeding to my Boa.  Everything in my body said, ‘no, no, no, that’s not true,’ and that’s when I really began to think about the role of logic and emotion in our relationships with other creatures. 

Strainchamps: So it sounds like what you’re saying is, we compartmentalize.  We create certain compartments in our minds that are labeled “pets,” and those animals we’re allowed to think are cute and adorable, and we would be horrified to feed them to anything or to eat them.  In the other category, we label as “fair game.” 

Herzog: That’s exactly correct and the word “compartmentalization” I think is just a terrific word, and then when we find out not everybody agrees with our categories, we get upset.  For example, when I mention to people, ‘oh yeah, that puppy that’s so cute over here, would be cute in Korea or China, but it would be seen as cute because it might make a nice tasty snack for lunch as opposed to something to love,’ and there’s a huge culture element here.  For example, I’ve got a friend that’s from Kenya.  He’s an anthropologist, but he was born in a village in Kenya, and they have dogs in his village, but they never let the dogs in the house, and they’re basically guard dogs.  People don’t pet their dogs, they don’t play with their dogs.  They keep them around to scare away strangers, and I said, ˜Nyaka [sp?], would you allow your dog to sleep in your bed,’ and his reaction would be like if you asked me if I would let a rat sleep in my bed.  He was just absolutely horrified.  It wasn’t like, no; it was like, oh my God, and his eyes bugged out and, ˜NO,’ but my cat sleeps in my bed.

Strainchamps: Well, one area that often makes people feel very uncomfortable are all the questions around eating animals, and it’s interesting to see that over the last 30 years, concerns about animal rights and animal welfare have really emerged as very mainstream issues, and yet I’m wondering if more people really have become vegetarian.

Herzog: Well, my answer to that is simple, and the answer is no.  There’s been relatively little change over the last 10, even in the last 30 years, in the number of people that are vegetarians.  The fact is that 97 to 99 percent of Americans sometimes eat meat.  Furthermore, when Peter Singer wrote his magnificent book “Animal Liberation” in 1975, which was really the kick start of the modern animal rights movement, the average American ate about 170 pounds of meat a year.  Now we’re up to about 230, 240 pounds of meat a year.

Strainchamps: So we’re eating more meat now than we did when vegetarianism was just emerging as a movement?

Herzog: Yes, absolutely more meat.  Furthermore, we’re killing vastly more animals.  When he wrote that book, we killed about 3 billion animals a year for our dining pleasure, and now we’re up to 10 billion animals a year.  This is one of the great shocks that I learned in writing the book.  It turns out that most vegetarians eat meat.

Strainchamps: What?

Herzog: Uh-huh.

Strainchamps: Explain that.

Herzog: I hear a stunned silence.

Strainchamps: I’m thinking what the, I’m thinking of the grief my vegetarian friends are going to give me after they hear this.

Herzog: Oh, I know.  I get this all the time from my vegetarian friends too.  There have been several studies, and the best one was a large study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture where they called something like 30,000 Americans, did a telephone survey, and they asked them about their diet, and a chunk of them said that they were vegetarians.  Well, then a couple of weeks later they called these people back up and they said, ‘all right, tell me what you’ve eaten in the last 24 hours.’  Now this isn’t the last month or the last year, it’s the last 24 hours, and they found that over 60 percent of the “vegetarians” had eaten animal flesh, within the last 24 hours. 

Strainchamps: So do you think they thought of that as falling off the wagon?

Herzog: No, they do it by not considering some animals, animals, particularly fish and chicken. 

Strainchamps: Aren’t there categories of vegetarianism?  I mean, don’t some vegetarians simply say up front, ˜I’m a vegetarian, but I eat fish and chicken?’

Herzog: Well, if you were to say that, you would call me a vegetarian, but I’m a vegetarian because I eat vegetables.  I also happen to eat fish, and I also happen to eat chicken, and I also happen to eat pork, and I also happen to eat beef.  Come on.

Strainchamps: It’s getting back to that thing about compartmentalization.  You know that something maybe seems worse about eating the animals that have four feet.

Herzog: Yes, and sometimes you’ll hear never eat an animal, somebody will tell me, well they don’t eat an animal with a face.  Well they don’t consider that a fish or a chicken has a face.  These are human foibles.  I don’t want the thought that I’m sort of making fun of vegetarians, I’m not.  What I’m arguing is that this is the human condition and I have these same things in my  life and everybody does.

Strainchamps: I mean we’re talking about the logical inconsistencies and the ways in various people attempt to be vegetarian, and we’re laughing about it, but if we just think about it in a purely ethical, moral sense, what do you think about eating meat?  Is it wrong?

Herzog: Yes.

Strainchamps: And yet you just told me you eat meat, right?

Herzog: Yes.  I consider vegetarians sort of moral heroes.  I’m convinced, and I did a lot of reading on this, various arguments about the question whether or not humans are natural meat eaters, and I concluded that we are, that we have an inherited proclivity.  Most people do, not everybody, but most humans have an inherited, evolved proclivity for a taste for animal flesh.  The thing that’s interesting about vegetarianism, things that I admire about them, is that they are able to disavow the whisperings of the body, and I think that if you look at the arguments against eating meat, both from a health perspective and ethical perspective, and an ecological perspective, the arguments are profound.  The interesting thing is, why do the animal rights activists fail to moralize meat?  Why are we eating more of it than ever?  Why aren’t most of us vegetarians?  Why are 98 percent of us not vegetarians? 

Strainchamps: Why are you not a vegetarian if you think it’s wrong to eat meat?

Herzog: Because I’m willing to live with inconsistency in my own, as moral failings go, I consider that a smaller one than others. 

Strainchamps: You’re making in some ways, a kind of higher point which is, it’s worth accepting our inconsistencies.  That’s part of what it means to be human.

Herzog: I think that’s exactly the point.  I think you got it and I think it’s inevitable.  One of the things I learned in writing this book is that the drive for consistency, moral consistency, can make you crazy.  I’ve studied a lot of animal people over the years.  This book was really the culmination of 30 years I’ve been studying human and animal reactions.  I’ve interviewed a lot of animal activists and a lot of my friends are animal activists, and in some ways, they have an admirable lifestyle, but in some ways their lives can be pretty tough, giving up leather, giving up meat, sometimes giving up friends, and so moral consistency can be really tough and it’s not always a healthy thing I think.

Strainchamps: We should talk a bit about the way in which we treat animals, especially the animals we adopt as pets.  Well, there are often stories about people who are very cruel to animals, to dogs and to cats especially, and one of the things, it’s a piece of folk wisdom, I’ve also heard lots of moms say about usually other children, is that children who are cruel to animals grow up to become violent people or even serial killers, and I’ve read that all serial killers have a history of being cruel to animals.  Is this true?

Herzog: I think it’s not true.  I don’t have the majority opinion on this, but the United States Department, I think it was the Department of Justice did a study of serial killers and they concluded that most serial killers did not abuse animals, and interestingly enough, there’s sort of two schools of thought on this.  There’s one school of thought that animal abuse in children is a strong predictor of socio-pathology that can be life long and can lead people to become violent adults.  The other school is that, like it or not, an awful lot of people, especially male children abuse animals, and it can be even a ritual part of growing up like cursing, or shoplifting or something like that, a lot of kids do...

Strainchamps: Really, is that true? 

Herzog: Yeah, there’s studies for example, there’s a lot of states that have college students, where if you ask college students, ‘did you ever abuse an animal when you were a kid,’ most studies have found about 30 percent of college students, males, admit to that.  One study found 60 percent of college students, males, admitted to that, and most of them did not become serial killers or even bad people.  It was simply an isolated event or isolated stage that they went through in their lives.  Now I think we should be concerned about animal cruelty in children, but not just because it might lead to adult violence, it’s because cruelty is bad in anyone.

Strainchamps: Well, it’s interesting, this issue of what’s cruel to animals, so if on the one hand, we’re horrified that children are cruel to animals, then at the other end, we have this ongoing debate about how we create lab animals.  For instance, you have an entire chapter on the moral status of mice.  What are the moral questions on how we treat mice?

Herzog: Oh, I think there’s a host of them.  Even in labs, you have different categories of mice.  For example, I point out in the lab that I worked at, the animals were covered by Federal animal care regulations.  Let’s say you wanted to do an experiment where you were going to glue a live mouse to a piece of cardboard and leave it overnight to measure stress, they would never allow you to do that, but that’s exactly how, in that facility, they handled the test mice.  They used glue boards which is a horrible death, but yet that was perfectly acceptable for the test mice, but not for the subject mice, and the funny thing was, the test mice in that lab were virtually all subject mice, mice that had been research subjects that had escaped, and the animal in one second is a good mouse, he’s giving his life for our benefit, and in the next second, once he hits the floor, he’s now a bad mouse and we can trap him and kill him by gluing him to a piece of cardboard overnight.

Strainchamps: What about the question of whether mice feel pain? 

Herzog: You sometimes hear the claim that most scientists don’t believe that animals feel pain.  I don’t think that’s true.  I think that was true at one time, a long time ago, but I don’t think that’s true anymore.  More and more scientists, especially [inaudible] animal care technicians, are increasingly aware of the moral problems caused by our use of animals in research.  I’m a believer in animal research, but on the other hand, I am troubled by it.  Put it this way, I think the case for using animals in research is much better than the case of using animals to eat because they taste good. 

Jim Fleming: That’s Hal Herzog, a Psychologist at Western Carolina University.  His book is called “Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat, Why it’s so Hard to Think Straight About Animals.”  He spoke with Anne Strainchamps.


Comments for this interview

education (jasim12345, 01/28/2015 - 5:58am)

hi how are you

Read the book, I love it (Tere Yons, 02/04/2013 - 7:41pm)

I found this book fascinating. I've recently read several criticisms of the book and they are in sync with the poster above: Mr. Herzog's personal "inconsistency." Not to specifically attack the commenter above, but I feel like it's taking too much of a personal condemnation of the author... He's written a very interesting book that considers many different things, and I commend him for it. I think the book is something all vegetarians should read, because it proposes a lot of philosophical issues that I think very few people ever consider.

I really enjoyed the book, it was a fascinating read that I think many people would also enjoy, regardless of their ideology.

Interview with Hal Herzog (Isabella La Rocca, 03/20/2012 - 4:36pm)


I enjoy listening to your show and I often find it inspiring. However, I was very disappointed with your uncritical and unbalanced interview with psychologist Hal Herzog.

Dr. Herzog admits that eating meat is ethically wrong and that vegetarianism is better from a health perspective and an ecological perspective. And yet he continues to consume animal products. He justifies his hypocrisy by calling it a moral “inconsistency” that is smaller than other moral failings.

There is no evidence that Dr. Herzog’s proclivity for eating meat is biological. Unlike carnivores, humans have no claws and our teeth are not sharp. We have long intestinal tracts for the digestion of plant-based foods, and in which meat rots. The consumption of animal products by humans has been shown to cause obesity, cancer, and diabetes, among other diseases. According to the U.N., animal agriculture produces more greenhouse gases than all the automobiles in the world; it is clear that global warming has already caused irreversible destruction and even if we change our course, this will continue for generations to come. The land used to grow crops for livestock feeds far fewer people than if it were used to grow crops consumed directly by humans, which wastes fuel and other resources, and contributes to human starvation. The systematic cruelty inflicted on 10 billion animals raised for food in the US (approximately 60 billion worldwide), the great majority of which live lives of tortured misery from birth to slaughter, is well documented. This is no small moral “inconsistency.”

Of course, there is no perfect morality; inconsistency is often inevitable. As Dr. Herzog noted, vegetarians occasionally consume animal products. Many vegans feed their obligate carnivore pets meat and fish. Rodents are killed in the production of vegetables and grains. But why not aspire to limit your inconsistencies to those necessary for the wellbeing of others, rather than merely for your own convenience and pleasure?

Contrary to Dr. Herzog’s claims, there is evidence that meat consumption per capita is down ( There is also evidence that veganism and vegetarianism is on the rise. In any case, if you must present the view of the uninspired majority as represented by Dr. Herzog, please also present the view of the inspired, progressive - heroic, in Dr. Herzog’s words - minority, whose choices, however imperfect, are motivated by compassion and justice.

"For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seed of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love." ---- Pythagoras

"The time will come when men such as I will look upon the murder of animals as they now look on the murder of men." ~Leonardo da Vinci

“All ancient philosophy was oriented toward the simplicity of life and taught a certain kind of modesty in one’s need. In light of this, the few philosophic vegetarians have done more for mankind than all new philosophers, and as long as philosophers do not take courage to seek out a totally changed way of life and to demonstrate it by their example, they are worth nothing.” ~ Nietzsche

"A man can live and be healthy without killing animals for food; therefore, if he eats meat, he participates in taking animal life merely for the sake of his appetite. And to act so is immoral." ~Leo Tolstoy

“I am in favor of animal rights as well as human rights. That is the way of a whole human being." ~ Abraham Lincoln

"To my mind, the life of a lamb is no less precious than that of a human being." ~Mahatma Gandhi

Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet. ~Albert Einstein

"Very little of the great cruelty shown by men can really be attributed to cruel instinct. Most of it comes from thoughtlessness or inherited habit. The roots of cruelty, therefore, are not so much strong as widespread. But the time must come when inhumanity protected by custom and thoughtlessness will succumb before humanity championed by thought. Let us work that this time may come." ~Albert Schweitzer

The right way is not always the popular and easy way. Standing for right when it is unpopular is a true test of moral character. ~ Margaret Chase Smith

ps Dr. Herzog can continue feeding birds if he puts the feeder where cats cannot reach it. I put my hummingbird feeder outside my second floor window, which I keep closed. Our human brains are quite adept at finding clever solutions to small obstacles.

Factory Farms (Marian Kelner, 03/18/2012 - 10:31am)

If one does eat meat, it is important not to eat animals that have been tortured and executed under terrible conditions on factory farms.