Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Not like us

In Aotearoa we are served extremely well by exceptional public radio. There aren't many days when our house doesn't have Radio New Zealand National on in at least one room of our house. As well as delivering really good real-time broadcast RNZ has an excellent website from which you can download most of the programmes after they have been aired. The website also offers some extended programmes and full interviews which had to be edited for broadcast. RNZ is 100% non-commercial and I often wonder if it is because of this that they broadcast such a wide range of opinions and perspectives.

Last Saturday there was an interview with Dr Annie Potts, Associate Professor and Co-Director of the New Zealand Centre for Human-Animal Studies at Canterbury University, in which she talked about her new book Chicken. Dr Potts' new book is the latest in a series distributed by Reaktion Books each of which looks at one animal, it's history and relationship with people.

You can listen to the RNZ interview with Annie Potts here.

Now, I probably need to admit that I don't like Chickens. I'm terrified of them. I'm a really jumpy, nervy person and chickens seem to be the same, so when we get together it's really, really uncomfortable. I've never been around a chicken and felt, 'Oh, that was nice.' When people talk about how nice chickens are I just don't get it. But, I found the interview really interesting. I always like hearing people talking about our relationship with animals and I particularly enjoy listening to people talk about animal rights, mainly because it often helps me challenge and reassess my own thinking about these things.

Ironically, I listened to the interview in the carpark of Arohata Women's' Prison in Tawa. I was waiting for a volunteer training session to start. It really did something strange to my thinking to be sitting outside fences and barbed wire listening to someone talk about animals in cages. I often wonder what would happen to our human to human relationships if we challenged our species to species relationships more. For me animal rights are so often about power and I see so much of the same use of power leak into other parts of our relationships with our own species. I remember a psychologist talking about a link between violence against animals and non-verbal humans (children and the aged). Dr Potts talks a bit about how we often judge sentience on a human scale. I have always found this really interesting especially when it comes to communication and intelligence. After the interview Brent and I had a discussion about how we often feel much closer to animals that look like humans or act like humans than we do to ones that don't resemble us. We both reflected on how fish was the last meat we gave up. I said how I still have trouble with shell-fish and insects, how in I'm pretty sure I could easily eat an oyster or an ant and not feel too bad about it. I always have to remind myself that shell-fish are animals not plants. We talked about what 'animal' actually is. About where the line is drawn. It was a good conversation that left me kind of confused which I think is a really good place for me to be. Any time I get really sure of something I reckon I'm in trouble.

Anyway, I really appreciate RNZ for continuing to broadcast really interesting shows that offer a variety of perspectives. I thought Kim Hill was awesome, as usual. Years ago, like probably ten or more, I heard Kim Hill talking about a book called 'The Single Vegan' and she said, 'Oh my God. This is the saddest book in the world!' It always makes me laugh.

Image: Licensed under Creative Commons by Flickr user kusabi (looking for this image I saw a lot of chicken meat on plates and it reminded me that while chickens freak me out I would far rather look at one alive than one fried or roasted).


  1. Hey Pip, I read this (only now learned from Twitter that you've got a blog, wonderful news) just after reading this: http://alicewalkersgarden.com/2011/05/coming-to-the-end-of-the-chicken-chronicles/

    I enjoyed The Chicken Chronicles except for some whimsical bits that my cynical self struggled with, & they might make you feel differently towards chickens? As for the oyster/ant/plant thing, I find it really hard to eat silverbeet from the garden sometimes, when it's particularly splendid or unwell. Never a problem with fruit. So for me maybe fruitarianism/ eating qi are better choices. It's so complicated in some ways--- There are days when I'd happily barbie a politician and invite the neighbours to share. xx And now have found your PhD blog. O wow.

  2. Thanks Marian. That looks awesome. I know what you mean about vegetables. I often feel really queasy ripping out lettuces and the like but yeah, it's so odd, I have no trouble with fruit either. Hmmm. Oh yes, and be sure to invite me too the barbie! I'll bring the ketchup.