Review by Karen Davis, PhD,
President of United Poultry Concerns

News of how our consumer choices and commercial industries are affecting our planet has made terms like fossil fuel, carbon footprint, greenhouse gases and global warming commonplace. Carbon dioxide is most commonly associated with global warming, but in Comfortably Unaware, Dr. Richard Oppenlander argues that while it’s important to minimize CO2 emissions from cars and industry, “the single most devastating factor that affects global warming and our environment is caused by what you eat.” Methane and nitrous oxide, he says, “are much more powerful than carbon dioxide as greenhouse gases.” These treacherous gases enter the atmosphere mainly through the flatulence and manure of the 65 billion land animals who are now being raised for food – a number predicted to double by 2050. 

Global warming is but one component of global depletion. Comfortably Unaware insists that animal agriculture, including fishing and aquaculture (factory farming of freshwater and sea creatures for human, companion and farmed animal consumption), is the primary cause of global depletion – the loss of our renewable and nonrenewable resources including our drinking water, air quality, land, oceans, rainforests, and biodiversity. Reports on the health and environmental havoc of farmed animal production and consumption stop short of advocating the animal-free diet that would solve the problem. For instance, 80 percent of the world’s protein-rich soy crop is not being fed to starving children, but to farmed animals, and most of this soy “is now grown on rainforest-cleared land.” In 2004-2005 more than 2.9 million acres of rainforest were destroyed, “primarily to grow crops for chickens used by Kentucky Fried Chicken.” 

Oppenlander explains why “grass-fed, pastured” animal production is a false solution to factory farming and why small-scale operations cannot sustainably meet the demands of billions of people wanting cheap, readily available meat, dairy and eggs. Smaller farms don’t alter the amount of resources required to raise, transport and slaughter hundreds of billions of animals. Currently, 55 percent of our fresh water is given to animals raised for food, and 89,000 pounds of excrement are produced by farmed animals every second in the United States alone. Moreover, what is fashionably called “humane” farming does not meet the behavioral and cognitive needs of, or show any genuine respect for the chickens, cows, pigs, goats, rabbits, turkeys and other animals trapped in our food production systems and belittling attitudes.

[Comfortably] Unaware represents the enormous benefits of a nutritious, animal-free, vegan diet while explaining why organizations and individuals who are “aware and are in various positions to get the message out so that it could make a difference do not speak about it.” While castigating their failure to do so, Oppenlander argues that the realities of our food choices are what they are, and we can ignore or face these realities. He says that with “every burger, steak, pot roast, turkey sandwich, fried chicken, rib, barbecue, pork chop, bacon, ham, or whatever you want to call it or however you want to cook it, you are perpetuating the demand, which furthers the business of raising animals and then slaughtering them for you to eat. You can turn your head the other way, but the process continues.” It continues to the detriment of animals, our health, and the health of our planet.  

We can reverse the ill fortune, however, if we care deeply enough. The power to create a totally different outcome resides in our determination, our collective intelligence, and our pocketbook. 

Karen Davis, PhD is the founder and president of United Poultry Concerns, a nonprofit organization that promotes the compassionate and respectful treatment of domestic fowl including a sanctuary for chickens on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Her articles have appeared in Animals and Women: Feminist Theoretical Explorations, Terrorists or Freedom Fighters: Reflections on the Liberation of Animals, Critical Theory and Animal Liberation, Spring: A Journal of Archetype and Culture, Sister Species, and the Encyclopedia of Animals and Humans. Her books include Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs: An Inside Look at the Modern Poultry Industry, More Than a Meal: The Turkey in History, Myth, Ritual, and Reality, The Holocaust and the Henmaid’s Tale: A Case for Comparing Atrocities, and A Home For Henny. Karen and her work were profiled in “For the Birds” in The Washington Post and she was inducted into the U.S. Animal Rights Hall of Fame “for outstanding contributions to animal liberation.”