Book Review: Erik Marcus (2005) Meat Market: Animals, Ethics, & Money (Bio Press: Boston, MA)

Price: *****
Ease of use: *****
Value for EAA beginners: ***
Value for EAA pros: **

This book is divided up into several different “parts” or sections, each of which fulfils quite a different function and would appeal to different readers.

  • The first part, “Animal Agriculture”, pages 1-60, covers the state of animal agriculture as it was in 2005, with some statistics in chapter 1, some descriptions of the suffering of various types of animal in chapter 2 and some suggestions for possible reforms in chapter 3. This will likely be a useful resource for newer advocates.
  • The second part of the book , “Dismantlement”, pages 61-126, analyses “the three existing movements for animal protection” – “the vegetarian movement”, “the animal rights movement” and “the animal welfare movement” – and suggests the creation of a fourth movement, to unite these various parts – “the dismantlement movement”. This is primarily a call for a shared proactive approach to helping farmed animals, including both institutional and individual outreach. The idea was proposed a while ago, and does not seem to have been taken up (a Google search revealed nothing obviously relevant, except a single reference back to the book itself), even if some elements of Marcus’ ideas are now fairly commonly held views in the EAA community. Nevertheless, some more experienced EAAs might be interested in the term as a potential driver of progress and unity within the movement. For instance, if we think that more consistent messaging is a priority for animal advocates, might this be the sort of term that they could unify behind?
  • The “Activist Essays”, pp. 136-178, summarise various intervention types, but some are outdated from an effectiveness perspective. For instance, the EAA community has shifted away from a focus on leafleting. They may, however, be useful for those seeking motivation – reading about the actions of others may inspire you to act too.
  • The appendices, pp. 179-232, focus on discussion of some issues related to the animal advocacy movement. These may be useful starting points for advocates, although there are a variety of free websites which address these issues equally well. Many animal advocacy non-profits cover such information in their “why” or “about” sections online. Additionally, some of the data may be a little dated now, though I only skim read these sections.

The book is therefore partially intended as a “go-to” introductory resource. It could still serve this function, but some content is outdated now. It is also partially intended as an argument in favour of specific suggestions for reforms to animal advocacy. This is primarily through the idea of the “dismantlement movement”, but contains some other core ideas, such as the note that individual outreach hasn’t been very successful to date, an emphasis on increasing the use of institutional outreach, and support for measures which might decrease trust in the animal agriculture industry, to pave the road for more radical reform at a later date. Some of the ideas are quite well-supported among more experienced EAAs, while others may prompt a little reflection.

As with the recently reviewed book by Ball and Friedrich, the book is notable for sharing some ideas which later became associated with the EA and EAA movements, despite being written before these movements were established. For example pp. 93-4 attempts some rough and ready charity evaluation (although it misses the EA focus on cause prioritisation), with quotes reminiscent of the story of the foundation of GiveWell: “donating is, after all, simply a form of investing – with the payback being social progress rather than money”. Pages 112-119 give some career advice similar to that of 80,000 Hours, including a focus on “dabbling” and career exploration.

At many points, the book touches on some of the key questions that face the EAA movement today. For instance, chapter 9 on “the militancy question” is similar to the confrontation vs nonconfrontation debate (and reflects a common EAA perspective), though it is more about use of illegal tactics compared to outreach.

The book starts by providing some useful statistics about the animal agriculture industry in the USA, but as a whole is based mostly off personal experiences and intuition. References to external research are few and far between after first two chapters. There is some reference to evidence from historical social movements on pages 81-82, though this is neither thorough nor well-explained, and as such is potentially more misleading than helpful.

The book is very easy to navigate, with a clear contents page, and is available very cheaply on Amazon. I think the title is misleading, as only a relatively small portion of the book focuses on the “meat market” or on the role of “money”. Discussion of “ethics” is also quite limited.

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