For the Birds: From Exploitation to Liberation - Karen Davis, PhD
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Author: Karen Davis, PhD, President United Poultry Concerns

Reviewed by: Several reviews

Publisher: Lantern Books

Karen Davis
For the Birds: From Exploitation to Liberation
Available from Lantern Publishing & Media
ISBN-10: 159056586X
ISBN-13: 978-1590565865


Animal Culture Magazine

We interviewed Karen Davis, PhD, of United Poultry Concerns for an article published in the May 2019 issue of Animal Culture. This time we are featuring her new book For the Birds: From Exploitation to Liberation, published by Lantern Books. Organized as an anthology, it contains new material created expressly for this book and previously published material.

The book can only be described with superlatives – extraor­dinary writing, exemplary research, and heart-wrenching pathos. Davis is a compelling storyteller and an accomplished academic, and this effort runs the gamut, from an examination of bestiality in all its dimensions, to a brilliantly written essay, “The Mental Life of Chickens Observed through Their Social Relationships,” in which Davis shares her poignant observations of the chickens at her sanctuary.

Readers will alternately be enlightened, cry, and rage as they progress through this work. Those who are familiar with Davis’ other efforts will not be disappointed. Once again, she has delivered a book which should be in the library of every animal rights advocate. Of particular interest is “The Disengagement of Journalistic Discourse about Nonhuman Animals: An Analysis,” a topic Davis approaches with much passion. The introduction to “The Ethical Deviant” is on point, stating:

Psyche and socialization are complicated, but let us assume that there is a compassionate “child”—a primal sympathy for animals in most of us. One of the saddest ironies in life, I believe, is that there are adults in every community who love and empathize with animals, only they don’t know that there are others among them who feel the same way, because everyone keeps quiet about it. Fear of ridicule and rejection, isolation and ostracism, enables people to bully one another into silence and submission. Ethical deviance challenges the tyranny of custom and compliance.

Reading this book will remind you that you are not alone. Others share your concern for nonhuman animals. For the Birds will inspire you to stay the course. Gift this delightful book to your friends; they will thank you for your thoughtfulness and know they are not alone.

Deborah Tanzer

This magnificent book is a "must read" for everyone.

Karen Davis’s book For the Birds is a masterpiece. Brilliantly written, passionate, eloquent, engaging, and witty, it combines Davis’s vast knowledge of facts about the lives of chickens, turkeys, and other birds, with her gift for presenting multiple perspectives on the problems facing them and the horrors we humans inflict on them. These essays span political and advocacy issues, beautiful and fascinating descriptions of the lives of these magnificent birds and their capacities, courageous and helpful stories from Davis’s own life, and more, always informed by Davis’s unwavering adherence to her moral principles and her example to all of us in this.

As a psychologist, I was particularly struck by Davis’s keen psychological insights and her exquisite sense of empathy for these innocent creatures we humans do such violence to. Her depictions of the psychological experience of a battery hen and the ancestral memories in a “broiler” chicken house cannot fail to change us and our outlook, if we have any empathy ourselves.

This is a “Must Read” book for laypersons and experts alike.

Bill Crain

Brilliand and  moving...

This is a great book. It cries out on behalf of the billions of farmed animals who are suffering so horribly, and, at the same time, provides a brilliant analysis of the social assumptions that promote this suffering. Weaved throughout the book is Dr. Davis's personal story, which is the story of one of the heroes of our time. This book may bring tears to your eyes, but you also will be inspired.

George N. Bates

A remarkable book by an extraordinary woman, "For the Birds" is part memoir and part collection of essays all having to do with gallinaceous birds (chickens, turkeys, etc.) and how they are treated in modern human society. Some of the essays (chapters) are long and some are short but most deal with how chickens and turkeys are exploited and abused by the poultry industry. Several chapters instead deal with the natural behaviors of the wild progenitors of modern-day chickens and turkeys and how quickly chickens and turkeys revert to these natural behaviors, insofar as they can, when released from the cruel shackles of factory farms. I say insofar as they can because many of these birds have been genetically altered to incorporate various grotesqueries that add to their profitability from the standpoint of poultry farmers but condemn the birds to a life of disability and torment.

Of particularly interest for readers already depressingly-familiar with the ghastly treatment meted out to "food animals" are chapters dealing with the environmental and journalistic communities' chilly reception of animal rights and Dr. Davis's own background before founding United Poultry Concerns, an organization unique in the world. "Deep ecology" obsessed strictly with the Big Picture and mainstream journalists more attuned to pandering to the wants and prejudices of their readers have scant time for the "little" cruelties being routinely visited upon the pre-mortem stars of their papers' culinary section.

"For the Birds" is not an easy book to read for it is fundamentally a tragic tale of human misconduct only made palatable by Dr. Davis's erudition, honesty, sensitivity and command of the facts. It should be required reading for anybody who utilizes poultry products (eggs, meat, feathers) and thereby becomes complicit in an enterprise of such scale and cruelty as to truly beggar the imagination. Nobody with a conscience who reads this book and seriously considers the issues it raises can ever be the same.

Mike S.

If you care about animals and you like humans you should read this book. When reading a book written by Karen Davis you sense that she is determined to pull the weed out by the roots. The "weed" is the belief that we are justified in torturing and killing other animals. Her philosophy runs deep and the connections are intriguing. To what degree is there an urge to control the reproductive ability and process of farm animals and how is that related to the human abortion discussion? From a religious standpoint, if you are responsible for creating something are you entitled to treat it as you wish? What common threads exist that connect things like racism, concentration camps, sexism, hatred of immigrants to our treatment of innocent farm animals?

It is a well written and thought provoking book that will stand the test of time. I highly recommend it.

John S. Sanbonmatsu

An urgently necessary, deeply moving work...

Karen Davis is one of the most important voices in the animal advocacy movement today, so it was with great interest that I recently read "For the Birds," her powerful and deeply moving new book. The fifteen essays in "For the Birds," many published previously, span decades in Davis's life as a researcher, activist, and founder and director of United Poultry Concerns, one of the nation's premiere animal rights organizations. It is a stunning work.

The book begins with a moving account of Davis's childhood growing up in an avid hunting town in Pennsylvania. Davis was an unusually sensitive child and young adult, painfully attuned to the suffering of others. (When Davis learned about the Holocaust for the first time, she recounts, the experience proved so psychologically shattering to her that she briefly had to drop out of school.) Eventually, after college, Davis applied her long commitment to human social justice to advocacy for farmed animals, founding a national nonprofit and opening an animal sanctuary. She has since become one of the most effective and fearless advocates for animals anywhere in the world.

Subsequent chapters in "For the Birds" cover such diverse topics as the ontology and experiences of chickens in the poultry industry, animal cognition, debates in environmental ethics, analysis of news media coverage of animal issues, and much more. Every chapter is well worth reading, each offering frequently brilliant insights into the nature of speciesism as ideology and as brutal practice. As indicated by the book's title, "For the Birds" centers on the experiences of avians (chiefly chickens) in the poultry industry. Davis shows how chickens and other animals are mutilated not merely physically, but psychologically and even ontologically, as the meat and egg industries employ every possible means of force to shape the chicken's very being to conform to the prime directives of efficiency and profit. Even readers familiar already with intensive animal agriculture will learn something new here about the unspeakable cruelty enacted daily against chickens, turkeys, and other sensitive beings languishing in the human gulag. Reading about such horrors, we cannot but share the author's indignation and outrage at the barbarism of humankind.

It takes a skilled writer, however, to be able to make us feel more than horror, and Davis, who earned her doctorate in literature (with a thesis on Thomas Hardy), approaches her material in an engaging way that never fails to hold our interest. When I put down "For the Birds," I wanted to know more about the complex issues Davis had raised, not less. The spare, cogent quality of Davis's prose only heightens the pathos of her unsparing arguments, which burn with restrained anger and are framed by the author's uncompromising moral vision. "For the Birds" is a call to moral arms, and there are few who could resist so eloquent and powerful a call.

Some of the most affecting passages in "For the Birds" are to be found in Davis's personal observations of the chickens and turkeys in Davis's sanctuary. Davis vividly conveys the intelligence and dignity of these beings, revealing them not as "types" but as individuals, each with a distinct personality, likes and dislikes, relationships, and emotional complexity. That the birds are also rescues who, in many cases, suffered severe physical and psychological trauma, only makes Davis's stories of the birds' resilience, affection, and trust that much more poignant.

"For the Birds" will appeal to anyone who cares about animals. However, the book will hold special interest for readers who are themselves involved in animal activism, and who stand to benefit from Davis's invaluable, hard-won reflections on movement tactics and strategy. In her exemplary life, as in her new book, Davis demonstrates the importance of remaining true to one's ideals and principles--no matter how long the odds. It takes courage, she shows, to hold a mirror up to society and to demand that society see itself as it truly is, rather than as it imagines or wishes itself to be. Though it is hard to find such courage, and harder to maintain it, Davis shows us why that courage is so necessary--"for the birds." And for all the animals.

Mary Britton Clouse, Chicken Run Rescue

A road map from exploitation to liberation...

I can only echo the Amazon Customer Reviews already posted here about For the Birds by Karen Davis.

“This book may bring tears to your eyes, but you also will be inspired.”

“It should be required reading for anybody who utilizes poultry products (eggs, meat, feathers) and thereby becomes complicit in an enterprise of such scale and cruelty as to truly beggar the imagination.”

“The book will hold special interest for readers who are themselves involved in animal activism, and who stand to benefit from Davis's invaluable, hard-won reflections on movement tactics and strategy. In her exemplary life, as in her new book, Davis demonstrates the importance of remaining true to one's ideals and principles--no matter how long the odds.”
Resoundingly, YES.

Since founding Chicken Run Rescue in 2001, I can personally attest to the depth and breadth of Karen Davis’s tireless work and how it has shaped activists like us who have been impassioned and educated by her mentorship. We too know the birds intimately, making their suffering and their capacity for joy our own. This book offers a way to reason ourselves out of the hole humanity has dug for itself with regard to other species. Every animal counts, and the birds are at the bottom of the moral heap. Help them and you help us all. This book is a road map from exploitation to liberation.

About the Author:

Karen is the President and Founder of United Poultry Concerns, a nonprofit organization that promotes the compassionate and respectful treatment of domestic fowl including a sanctuary for chickens, peafowl and ducks in Virginia. Inducted into the National Animal Rights Hall of Fame for Outstanding Contributions to Animal Liberation, she is the author of Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs: An Inside Look at the Modern Poultry Industry; More Than a Meal: The Turkey in History, Myth, Ritual, and Reality; The Holocaust and the Henmaid’s Tale: A Case for Comparing Atrocities and other works including her children's books A Home for Henny and Instead of Chicken, Instead of Turkey: A Poultryless “Poultry” Potpourri, a vegan cookbook.

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