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Author makes case to avoid eating animals

James McWilliams hasn't eaten animals since 2007. He's hoping the time comes when other ethically minded Americans don't eat them, either. "If you have a choice between eating animals or not eating animals, it is more ethical to choose not to eat...

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James McWilliams hasn’t eaten animals since 2007. He’s hoping the time comes when other ethically minded Americans don’t eat them, either.

“If you have a choice between eating animals or not eating animals, it is more ethical to choose not to eat animals. The fact of the matter is, the animals we eat have a sense of self - they’re sentimental, they feel pain, they don’t want to feel pain - and (eating them) is causing unnecessary harm,” he says.

McWilliams, an Austin, Texas-based historian, professor and animal rights activist, has written “The Modern Savage: Our Unthinking Decision to Eat Animals.”

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The book has drawn advance praise from people such as Peter Singer, author of “Animal Liberation,” and Paul Shapiro, vice president of the Humane Society of the United States.

Previous books by McWilliams have received favorable reviews from publications and organizations such as The Atlantic, Kirkus Reviews and Texas Monthly.

McWilliams talked about The Modern Savage in a telephone interview with Agweek.

He stresses that some Americans can’t choose not to eat meat. He also stresses that he doesn’t want to point fingers at Americans who do eat meat.

Over time, many Americans have come to dislike what McWilliams describes as large-scale industrialized agriculture, and are looking for animal products raised in alternative ways, he says.

But those alternatives don’t measure up to expectations, McWilliams says.

The Modern Savage focuses on small farms “that make promises to raise animals a certain way. I argue (in the book) that, in fact, a lot of what we believed about these small farms being sustainable, practicing humane rearing practices, treating animals in a more natural way - a lot of these promises are empty promises.”

Given that, “radically minimizing or eliminating our consumption of animal products” is the ethically superior choice, he says.

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McWilliams acknowledges that position isn’t popular with many consumers in countries such as China, where the growing middle class wants to eat more meat.

China offers “very little to grab on to in terms of hope” his choice not to eat meat, he says.

But the outlook is brighter in India, which also has a growing middle class. That country has strong, deep tradition vegetarianism, he says.

McWilliams says, as a historian, he realizes Americans have inherited their values, beliefs and existing food system, and that change will come slowly.

“I’m articulating an ideal that may take a very long time to achieve. It’s a process that, even if it happens, will take hundreds of years,” he says.

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James McWilliams

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