Book Review: Making a Killing

In the past month, I have read 3.25 animal/vegan-related books – that’s a new record for me. 🙂 Here is my first animal book review.

I just finished reading Making a Killing: The Political Economy of Animal Rights by Bob Torres (2007). It’s not terribly long (153 pages) and not very difficult to read. Overall, Torres’ ideas are interesting, but they aren’t on the whole particularly original, as you might expect, nor very complex. This isn’t all bad per se, but I do want to explain what the book is.

The most exciting and memorable points of the book for me are where Torres tells stories from his own life as a student and as a teacher. He tells of how his own interest in food politics began while taking a dairy production course toward his ag science major in college. Later, he brings up a class he taught on anarchism and the anarchist power relations he tried to set up within it, as well as the not-so-surprising discussion the students and professor had on the topic of veganism. Not only is story-telling great in and of itself, but it gives something more original to the book. The lesson he draws from the latter story about the parallels between sexism, racism, and speciesism is interesting, but there is a risk here of ignoring the differences between the three forms of oppression. As H.E.A.L.T.H. blogger Adam Weitzenfeld points out, parallel lines don’t intersect or touch, but perpendicular ones do. At one point, Torres even mentions the concept of “equality of unequals,” or equality between different individuals/groups.

Torres spends most of the book summarizing the arguments of others, from Gary Francione to Karl Marx, Murray Bookchin, Will Potter, and many more. Having been to his website, I wasn’t surprised to see Francione’s ideas again, and for me those parts were mostly a review (I’ve already read the two books by Francione cited in Making a Killing). Some of the other ideas, i.e. on the general problems of neo-liberal capitalism, were also just in review for me. I did like how the book simplified some of Marx’s ideas for me because I’ve never seriously studied Marx to understand them: exchange value comes to usurp use value in capitalism.

Some of Torres’s anti-capitalist ideas I found questionable. For example, he says, “corporations are of one mindset: to deliver value to shareholders” (103). Here he seems to be suggesting that this is the only way that corporations can be, although it’s not clear if he is in fact saying this or just choosing not to get too deep into the issue. In Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street, Karen Ho compellingly suggests that corporations can and should be by and for the people, though she spends a lot of time critiquing the current state of things (she also doesn’t agree with doing away with capitalism entirely). Admittedly, this wasn’t a significant part of Torres’ argument.

The bigger issue is that I was waiting for him to explain the alternative to commodities and property, which he spends a good portion of the book deconstructing. He ends by restating Francione’s argument that veganism should be the “baseline for animal rights.” My understanding is that he is simply saying that veganism is the solution to property/commodities, at least the commoditizing of animals / animal laborers. I still wonder what we will do without commodities at all, or if Torres means to say that getting rid of commodities actually isn’t really a concern because the main issue is hierarchy. The problem of the way that commodities mask production and social relations seems potentially soluble through education. One other thing that would have been useful is a clear definition of “exploitation,” since vegans have used it to mean either all use or only what is decided to be violent/oppressive use.

At the end of chapter four, Torres mentions, “the anti-speciesist necessarily does not consume animals, …” Even though Torres tries to be cognizant of the fact that inequalities amongst humans make it easier for some to be vegan than others, he seems to be ignoring that fact with this statement-in-passing. Not to mention, there may actually be some humans who cannot survive without animal flesh (judging by a few people I’ve heard personal accounts from who really tried), and therefore, in accordance with Torres, one would have to say that not all humans can be anti-speciesist, maybe ever.

One idea in this book that may be original is a brief critique of Hribal’s article “Animals are Part of the Working Class,” which I need to finish reading; Torres makes a distinction between the human working class, human slaves, and animal slaves.

Despite some problems I see with this book, on the whole it could make an engaging introductory book. The argumentation is much simpler than Animal Geographies and probably somewhat simpler than Animals and Women or even the books of Gary Francione himself, and it reminds me of a textbook or reader in the way it collects the ideas of various writers about animals. What is unusual about it is that it explicitly addresses the intersection of economics and animal rights, citing both animal studies philosophers and anarchist/socialist philosophers; on the other hand, I can’t say that my understanding of the economy of animal rights is now much deeper than it was after reading Francione’s work. If I were teaching a high school class and just wanted to introduce students to the idea of challenging speciesism/misothery or even of anarchism/socialism without having to delve too deeply, I might choose this book – in the former case, for the sake of simplicity.

See here for another review of Making a Killing. As far as general book recommendations for the already-vegan, sophisticated student, I probably would not recommend it unless you are looking for a light, glossary read. I might recommend it to some non-vegan acquaintances, depending on the individual’s interests.

I wonder if Bob and Jenna Torres’ Vegan Freak book is more creative.

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~ by Louëlla on August 1, 2010.

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