Many years ago, while studying in France, I visited an outdoor market. Up till then, vegetarianism was to me a quirky habit: farm animals were for eating. But when I witnessed chickens, rabbits, and other gentle creatures caged and trembling with fear, seeming to know only too well what was about to happen to them, it was a transformative moment. Since then, I’ve become a vegetarian.
This makes me an ideal audience for The Lucky Ones: My Passionate Fight for Farm Animals. But nonvegetarians shouldn’t turn away too quickly. This book is a page turner. It’s an absorbing and inspiring autobiography, and it’s also a love story – between author Jenny Brown and the animals she wants us not to eat. In addition, it’s an eye-opening behind-the-scenes look at our food industry.
Brown begins “The Lucky Ones” with her own saga, how, as an active 10-year-old girl, part of one of her legs was amputated during an illness. Then she shares how, through pluck, and with the love of her family and of Boogie, her cat, she was able to persevere. Her introduction to animal advocacy took place in the frothy atmosphere of her college orientation week. She happened to pick up pamphlets from PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). Later she determined that “animals in the dairy and egg industry actually have worse lives than their meat-producing counterparts.” So she moved from vegetarianism to veganism.
Brown studied film at college, and ultimately worked on prestigious projects for Boston’s WGBH and the Discovery Channel. It was while she was volunteering for animal rights organizations that Brown got a behind-the-scenes understanding of what happens to farm animals and even went undercover to do some filming at a Texas stockyard. (If you have the stomach for it, you can see her work by searching “Texas stockyards Jenny Brown” on YouTube.)
Ultimately, Brown ended up leaving her film career and spending almost a year working and training at Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, N.Y. There she got the experience necessary to start her own shelter. Today, Brown provides a happy life for rescued farm animals in New York’s Catskill Mountains at the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, founded by Brown and her husband, Doug Abel.
Brown attempts to win readers’ hearts and minds by introducing them to animals she’s rescued. She dispels the myth that they are just “dumb animals” that don’t suffer by showing us their endearing individualities. Brown refers to these animals as her “friends,” and enables readers to make the connection between the chicken or steak on their plate and the thinking and feeling creatures they once were.
There are no dull passages in “The Lucky Ones.” Brown astutely intersperses accounts of animals she’s rescued with the story of her own transformation – from a teen who worked and ate at McDonald’s to a woman who works and lives for animals. And she appears never to do less than give us the whole – and sometimes heart-wrenching – story.
Brown offers her own reasons for respecting the lives of farm animals (“Their lives are as precious to them as ours are to us”; “Animals are here with us, not for us”) in addition to sprinkling her book with quotes from famous individuals (Albert Schweitzer: “Until we extend our circle of compassion to all living things, humanity will not find peace”; Paul McCartney: “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian”).
Poet and journalist Gretchen Primack co-wrote “The Lucky Ones” and provides a chapter of vegan food recipes.
Brown concludes by summarizing her convictions, including her belief that an animal-free diet is not only humane, but is also the most environmentally sustainable life practice. I recommend this book to all readers but with a warning to meat-eaters: You will be challenged to contemplate a lifestyle change.
David Hugh Smith is a communications specialist from Brookline, Mass.