From Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals to Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, there's no shortage of current books about the ethics of meat eating. In The Inner World of Farm Animals (Stewart, Tabori and Chang, 2009), author Amy Hatkoff takes a slightly different tack.
Inner World blends scientific research with stories of farm animals and gorgeous photography. The result is an appeal to both the heart and the mind, says Hatkoff, who will appear in Madison Saturday, March 5, in a benefit for the Heartland Farm Sanctuary.
It's a book that focuses on the "social, emotional and intellectual capacities" of farm animals, and not the details of how they meet their ends. "I wanted to take a much more gentle approach and celebrate who the animals are," says Hatkoff in a phone interview. While the book was meant for adults, "it's not inappropriate for children, who tend to like the photos."
Hatkoff's previous books have been about the emotional and intellectual development of babies and toddlers. One day, she saw a photo of a cow on a New York City bus sign and perceived "something in the eyes of this cow." She was moved by "the intelligence of this animal."
As a resident of New York City, Hatkoff was not much used to encountering farm animals. But the memory of the cow was like "a nagging voice" to her, so she began looking at current research on the sentience of cows, sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, geese, ducks and turkeys. "Grounding this book in the science was very important to me," says Hatkoff. "I didn't want to be thought of as just another person anthropomorphizing animals."
She contacted farm animal sanctuaries across the U.S. collecting stories of the animals housed there. To Hatkoff, one of the most amazing stories in the book is that of a duck in Vancouver who came up to a traffic cop and began frantically pulling at his pant leg. Then the duck would waddle to a sewer grate. The cop eventually investigated, only to find her eight ducklings below the grate, trapped. They were eventually rescued. The story points to how "farm animals are no different from dogs and cats, sometimes smarter," Hatkoff stresses.
Hatkoff hopes readers will come to "truly know who the animals are and that how we treat them matters," but the book doesn't advocate any specific action. "People may make different choices about their diet - in a range from choosing humanely raised meats to eating a vegan diet."
The Heartland Farm Sanctuary, on whose behalf Hatkoff will appear, is a local nonprofit working with the Dane County Humane Society and other agencies to help homeless farm animals in Wisconsin; it is raising funds to create a permanent shelter.