‘Modern Savage’ explores moral contradictions of eating meat

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modernsavageAustin author James McWilliams is back with his latest book, “Modern Savage: Our Unthinking Decision to Eat Animals” (St. Martin’s Press, $25.99), in which he argues that Americans’ growing obsession over how animals are raised only masks the inherent immorality of eating sentient beings in the first place.

McWilliams is a historian and Texas State professor who is well versed in dispelling assumptions in food culture and rocking the proverbial foodie boat, most notably in his 2009 book, “Just Food,” which forced us to be more critical of our conclusions that local is always better when it comes to food.

In the past few years, he’s been writing prolifically about animal rights issues on his website, james-mcwilliams.com, and he digs deeper into many of those topics in “Modern Savage.”

Like Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Eating Animals,” the crux of his argument is the inherent cruelty that comes with raising and killing animals for human consumption, even on what we believe to be humane farms, which are often less than the idyllic places we imagine them to be, especially when slaughter is the inevitable end.

Even as an omnivore, I’ve long appreciated McWilliams’ ability to push readers to question their own contradictions and come to their own conclusions that come with that kind of self-examination, and his writing always makes me think about the food system, especially the psychology behind it, in new ways.

“Modern Savage” hasn’t pushed me to give up eating animal products, but it has helped me understand the lapses in logic I’ve been known to use to justify it. It’s a worthwhile read, no matter the conclusion at which you arrive.


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