Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Farm to Fable: Examining the Culture of Animal Consumption

In his new book Robert Grillo provides a critical discussion of our food choices

Despite the availability of numerous non-animal meal plans, the vast majority of people continue to eat other animals and animal products. In his new book called Farm to Fable: The Fictions of Our Animal-Consuming Culture, Robert Grillo, founder of the organization Free From Harm, examines the animal consuming culture and what can be done to change people's eating habits in the future. The book's description reads as follows:

With permission of Robert Grillo
Source: With permission of Robert Grillo

Why do so many of us continue to consume animals when we could choose otherwise? What are the cultural forces that drive our food choices? These are the fundamental questions Farm to Fable seeks to answer in two ways: by asserting that our beliefs about eating animals remain largely unexamined and therefore unchallenged, and by demonstrating how the fictions of popular culture continually reinforce these beliefs and behaviors. Farm to Fable deconstructs these fictions for those who truly want to know not only where our food comes from, but also why we make the choices that we do. For seasoned animal advocates as well, this book will provide important insights.

I was fortunate to be able to interview Mr. Grillo about his new and excellent forward-looking book.

Why did you write Farm to Fable?

Farm to Fable is the culmination of years of grappling with the question, why in an age when most of us could easily make other choices, do we continue to use and to consume animals and believe we have a right to do so? I think the answer is two-fold. First, the beliefs about eating animals remain largely unexamined and therefore unchallenged. Second, the fictions of popular culture continually reinforce these beliefs. The book examines many of the most common fictions and dissects examples in our everyday lives. It also provides important insights for animal advocates which I believe can greatly empower our work. Carol Adams, the pioneering author of The Sexual Politics of Meat, wrote the foreword for the book which is a great honor. Adams was one of a handful of authors and speakers who helped me evaluate our culture through a certain kind of critical lens that I think is so important.

How does it build on your interest in the lives of other animals?

I’m interested in what we share with, not how we differ from other animals. What we share is far more striking and interesting. We all share a common ancestry and a whole lot more. Farm to Fable attempts to expose the fictions that prevent us from looking honestly at the life experiences of other animals and how they often resemble our own. We can easily recognize these as fictions when we are willing to observe animals with an open mind, through careful personal observation as well as the scientific study of animal cognition and behavior.

What are your major messages?

For the general public, the message is that the fictions of popular culture cannot continue to justify animal consumption on a rational, emotional, or ethical basis. Most of them are ancient, archaic fictions that were also used to justify inferior treatment for certain human groups which we have already abandoned or rejected because they are averse to our modern sensibilities. I urge my readers to examine their beliefs and assumptions honestly against these the cultural fictions upon which they are built.

For animal advocates, I stress two important take-aways from a better understanding of the fictions of animal consumption that can empower our advocacy. The first is that there is an important connection between beliefs and behavior that is sorely overlooked in advocacy today. Most advocacy is focused on behavior change as if behavior exists in a vacuum but it does not. A classic example of this is Meatless Monday. The second is that truth matters. Truth is the basis for establishing trust, relationships, credibility and integrity with our audience. And truth-telling is all the more critical to causes which seek to expose injustices that are intentionally hidden by fictions. In the book I introduce an idea I call truth-centeredness which means fully understanding and communicating three core truths. The first is the truth of the animal’s conscious experience, as best as we can understand it, through careful observation and science. The second is our own true, authentic experience as witnesses and spokespeople for other animals. The third is what I call true empathy, or the ability to see ourselves as the animal victim and to communicate it in a compelling way.

Do you think there is hope for the future in terms of more people becoming vegetarian or vegan?

I argue in my book that the beliefs and values that drive our animal consuming culture must first be successfully examined and challenged before we will see any major shift in behavior away from animal consumption. We must be confident and resolute in articulating our vision of a world in which vulnerable human groups and non human animals are liberated from their oppressors. As the tide continues to turn in that direction, the vast majority of those who continue to unnecessarily consume animals based on social acceptance will face mounting social pressures necessary to dissuade them against it. I don’t pretend to know how or when that will play out, but I do believe that at some point — and it could happen quite rapidly as it has with other major struggles for justice — we will look upon our consumption of other animals with complete disgust and remorse. And remorse is not necessarily a bad thing. It can be a powerful motivator in becoming better human beings.

Is there anything more you'd like to share with your readers?

My hope is that my readers will look at fictions they are presented with in their everyday lives and begin to question their validity and understand their intent to deceive and manipulate them.

What are your current and future projects?

I am exploring the prospects of a Farm to Fable documentary with a filmmaker. It is a subject with such a strong visual vocabulary so it will really lend itself well to the screen. I have a Farm to Fable presentation as well which has been evolving since 2012 which I intend to continue to present at greenfests, vegfests and conferences around the country.

Many thanks, Robert. I hope your important book enjoys a broad global audience because we need a sea change in terms of how people choose their meal plans. As you aptly note, "the beliefs and values that drive our animal consuming culture must first be successfully examined and challenged before we will see any major shift in behavior away from animal consumption."

Marc Bekoff’s latest books are Jasper’s Story: Saving Moon Bears (with Jill Robinson), Ignoring Nature No More: The Case for Compassionate Conservation, Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed: The Fascinating Science of Animal Intelligence, Emotions, Friendship, and Conservation, Rewilding Our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and Coexistence, and The Jane Effect: Celebrating Jane Goodall (edited with Dale Peterson). The Animals’ Agenda: Freedom, Compassion, and Coexistence in the Human Age (with Jessica Pierce) will be published in early 2017.

More from Marc Bekoff Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today