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The Modern Savage: Our Unthinking Decision to Eat Animals

3.65  ·  Rating details ·  136 ratings  ·  26 reviews
Just Food author James McWilliams's exploration of the "compassionate carnivore" movement and the paradox of humanity's relationship with animals.

In the last four decades, food reformers have revealed the ecological and ethical problems of eating animals raised in industrial settings, turning what was once the boutique concern of radical eco-freaks into a mainstream moveme
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published January 6th 2015 by Thomas Dunne Books
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Apr 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
The other day a new friend happened to mention that she is a foodie and that she has a great "pork shoulder" recipe, or something like that. I quickly explained that I'm a vegetarian, though perhaps she already knew that, because she immediately asserted that her meat is ethically okay because it's obtained from local organic farms etc.. So I wanly reassured "Oh, okay, I guess that's different" and "my ethical objections are to factory farming" (and environmental reasons too, although I didn't m ...more
Kate Lawrence
Dec 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: food-issues
Once again McWilliams proves that he is one of the most articulate thinkers and writers we have on the subject of how we treat animals used for food. Regarding so-called "humanely-raised" meat, he shows readers that chickens, pigs, and cows have emotional lives, suffer and do not want their lives cut short to provide food humans don't need. It is not ethically acceptable to claim to care about them, give them a more natural life for awhile, and then kill them. And in case you want details on typ ...more
Oct 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
(3.5) McWilliams was inspired to look into the issue of animal rights when he saw a video of a milk cow having her newborn calf taken away. She struggled and cried out a sound he’ll never forget. So this book is born out of emotion, but also out of reason: McWilliams is a philosopher by training. His central argument is that even supporting non-industrial farming perpetuates industrial practices by increasing demand and pushing industrialists to offer cheaper options. “We cannot afford to indulg ...more
Mar 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
I really liked the first half of the book. I am interested in philosophies behind veganism and animal rights. I usually prefer approaches that appeal to reason and not emotions, but I think McWilliams makes some valid points asking us to bond with animals and practice thoughtful observation.

The descriptions of killings were disturbing but I guess these are necessary. But of course the most important thing is that this books shows us that there are no humane farms, no humane killing, that there
Nicole Means
Mar 08, 2017 rated it liked it
"The Modern Savage" attempts to raise reader's awareness that just because meat is labeled as locally grown does not mean that the animals have an ethical ending to their lives. McWilliams asks the reader to ponder what the purpose of a happy life of frolicking in the pastures means when it all ends terribly in a slaughterhouse. Furthermore, the raising of animals for commercial sale (and even for small-scale farmers) often causes many negative implications to the environment including large amo ...more
Keith Akers
Dec 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in local agriculture
Industrialized animal agriculture is morally and intellectually bankrupt. Society is slowly but increasingly becoming aware of the cruel, unnatural, and environmentally harmful aspects of factory farms. But what is going to replace it?

Well-known food intellectuals such as Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman, Joel Salatin, and Jonathan Safran Foer have advocated returning to localized, more traditional ways of raising animals. Encouraged by some environmentalists and even some animal welfare supporters,
Xander Mitchell
May 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: library
I picked up The Modern Savage after hearing about it from a friend, whose copy was backordered until December. After receiving my copy in a week, I was determined to finish only to spite him. What started as a sort of joke turned into a genuine interest into the themes that author James McWilliams raises in his book, and a serious reevaluation into my eating habits.

The logic of this book is basically as follows: We eat animals even though there are serious ethical (and environmental) concerns.
Mar 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
As you might guess, The Modern Savage is not an easy book to read. That's not a reflection on the writing: it is well written, conversational in tone,and well thought out. It is, instead, a reflection of the subject matter. Most of this was not a great surprise to me. I began my journey towards veganism a couple of years ago and get closer to my ideal every day - and that journey was inspired by the animals who, I realized, are beautiful, intelligent creatures who deserve better than what we do ...more
Dec 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
From the page and a half that I read, its clear that McWilliams is a very adept writer. However, I am a vegetarian that does not eat dairy products. I already believe that factory farming and inhumane treatment for profit is unacceptable. This is an excellent book to educate people about the full implications of their actions.
Jul 06, 2015 rated it really liked it
The second half (chapter 5 on) contains many good reminders of the troubles of eating animals. First half was philosophical and dry.
Sarah Nelson
Sep 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book starts out annoying but once through the first two chapters, extremely informative, well-researched, & quite thought-provoking. I read it as a library book but will be buying a copy for myself. ...more
Martin Rowe
Feb 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
I've published an e-book by James McWilliams ("Politics of the Pasture") at Lantern Books, and he contributed an essay to an anthology I edited at Lantern called "Running, Eating, Thinking: A Vegan Anthology." I am also a vegan. So, I'm not a disinterested reader of McWilliams' work or this book. That said, I can't believe I'm so biased that others wouldn't find this work highly readable, mordantly amusing, and persuasive. McWilliams sets himself a particular task: to interrogate the notion that ...more
Miss Scarlett
Feb 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book brought up some interesting points about small scale farming/ranching that I had not previously thought of. Meat eaters try to defend their choice to consume animals and their products with many bad arguments, and one of the more recent ones I have encountered are that the small scale production techniques are better. My gut reaction to that was always, 1) you are still raising an animal for a human purpose, and 2) you are still murdering the animal at the end. I was pleased to see tha ...more
The first quarter of the book was a bit dry, it consisted mostly of quotes from other sources and provided little of its own (as it felt to me) Since it summarized a lot of books I already read, it was a bit of a boring read. Also the part in which the existing situation in slaughterhouses is described wasn't very fresh although it was important to get it into people's minds (again). And I guess this was neccessary to get all readers onto the same level of background information.

The main point o
B Meacham
Aug 17, 2015 rated it it was ok
This book basically preaches to the choir. It won't convince anyone who is not already a vegetarian.

It contains a number of flawed premises. McWilliams says that farm animals are "sentient beings with a sense of self."(p. 6) Really? Cows and pigs do not pass the mirror test, a standard method of assessing an animal's capacity for self-awareness ( Arguing for a form of anthropomorphism, he says "Abstract reason can liberate us from logic."(p. 29)
Nov 16, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: giveaways
I received this book for free from Goodreads first reads giveaway.
In this book James McWilliams delves into the deeper motivations that have people clamoring for the humane treatment of animals in industrial agricultural settings. Further, with the understanding that animals that are raised for slaughter suffer, experience distress and have a desire to live, the advocacy of free-range and organic farming does not benefit the animal and is in contradiction to statements that the animals outside o
Jan 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A powerful, often gut-wrenching landscape analysis of the horrors and ethically dubious rationalizations surrounding animal agriculture, whether factory or backyard. He fleshes out well the "Omnivore's Contradiction" of believing, on the one hand, that animals have moral worth and that the harsh reality of factory farming violates that worth, while on the other hand, still thinking it's morally consistent that we treat them as objects, as means to food (which we don't even need to live happy, he ...more
Free-range or factory farmed, McWilliams believes that pigs, chickens, and cattle are sentient beings with a moral right to a good life and not to be killed for food. Eating animals is bad for the environment, cruel to the animals, unhealthy for us and morally wrong, he argues.
"kale and quinoa could be obtained without the additional methane output .. and most important, without the slaughter of sentient animals who would rather not be born in order to be killed and eaten by people with a warped
Jan 09, 2015 rated it it was ok
In The Modern Savage, James McWilliams is trying to do for free-range farming (any animal farming, really, but with a focus on free-range farming in particular) what Upton Sinclair did for slaughterhouses in The Jungle. His goal is to illustrate the inherent cruelty of raising animals for food products, and to convince readers to consider a purely plant-based diet instead. He appeals heavily to emotional reasoning, but the actual examples he uses in the text almost serve to make industrial agric ...more
Jun 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book is definitely in the top five best books I've read on the topic of animal agriculture. The writer debunks the myths so many people believe about "humane meat" and the superiority of the quality of life and the quality of the product that comes from animals raised on small farms. A very eye-opening book for everyone, not just the plant-based crowd.
Aug 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This was a very well researched argument for how "humane" meat is not actually better than factory farmed meat. It was all encompassing and included environmental, ethical, health, and economic reasons for adopting a plant based diet. I highly recommend it!
Apr 11, 2016 rated it did not like it
This is the most boring and useless book I have read in awhile. I have read many other books pertaining to this topic that were actually informative and interesting. This just read like a really bad RANT! I would not recommend this to anyone.
Thaddeus Mountain
May 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
Knowing most of the information contained thus far (I'm a vegetarian) parts of this tome are still difficult to read, especially the chapter titled 'Humane Slaughter,' which goes into a bit of detail to the end-of-life process for the animals.
Aug 29, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed, nonfiction
Please read my full review of this book on my website! ...more
Feb 10, 2015 rated it did not like it
Didn't enjoy it, didn't really seem to address anything new.
Jul 01, 2015 rated it liked it
Good information... wish he had softened his tone and preachiness.
rated it liked it
Feb 07, 2019
rated it really liked it
Aug 30, 2015
Susan Burkhardt
rated it it was amazing
Feb 11, 2015
Sahar Gulu
rated it it was amazing
May 20, 2015
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Animal Book Club: The Modern Savage & Eating with Compassion 7 19 Apr 09, 2015 03:37PM  

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Librarian Note: There is more than one author by this name in the Goodreads database.

Disambiguated authors:
(1) James McWilliams - See below (Current Profile)
(2) James McWilliams - War Historian

He received his B.A. in Philosophy from Georgetown University in 1991, his Ed.M. from Harvard University in 1994, his M.A. in American Studies from the University of Texas at Austin in 1996, and his Ph.D. in

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“This death, no matter how “humane,” no matter how respectfully administered, no matter how thickly clothed in feel-good rationalizations (“it had a good life”), essentially negates the moral consideration that inspired us to condemn factory farms in the first place. You can’t claim to truly care about an animal, alter her environment to demonstrate your care for that animal, and then, when the animal is nowhere near even the middle of her natural life, kill the animal for no vital reason. Doing so is morally and logically inconsistent. It’s worse than ambiguous. It’s wrong. It is, alas, the omnivore’s contradiction.” 2 likes
“When I first began to criticize small farming, a number of critics (most of them small-scale farmers) roundly condemned me for supporting agribusiness. In my favorite example to date, Joel Salatin, who figures prominently in the grass-fed-beef chapter, condemned my “love affair with confinement hog factories”! This reaction, while wildly inaccurate, is nonetheless important to take seriously. Most notably, it’s almost comically indicative of how narrowly we have framed our options. Joel was serious. His accusation shows that by constricting our choices to animal products sourced from either industrial or nonindustrial operations, by holding up the animal-based alternatives to industrial agriculture as our only alternative, we have silenced discussion of the most fertile, most politically consequential, and most reform-minded choice: eating plants. This alternative to the alternatives changes the entire game of revolutionizing our broken food system. It places the food movement on a new foundation, infuses it with fresh energy, and promotes the only choice that keeps agribusiness executives awake at night.” 2 likes
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