Book Review - Just Fodder: The Ethics of Feeding Animals

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» Book Review - Just Fodder: The Ethics of Feeding Animals

Researcher network member, Gelareh Salehi, reviews Just Fodder: The Ethics of Feeding Animals by Dr Josh Milburn[1]

  1. Introduction

In this book review, the structure, assumptions and purpose of the book, Just Fodder, The Ethics of Feeding Animals are briefly outlined. First, a neutral summary of the arguments in each chapter is presented to deliver the main ideas to the reader. Second, the perspective of the book reviewer and other scholars' positions are brought up to contextualise the main concepts in the book. Finally, a briefing on its benefits to non-academic interested parties toward the animal-human relationship and how it opens new avenues for future research enquiries will be presented.

For animal lovers, animal activists or animal advocates who have (or don't have) relationships with animals, it is worth reading this book and thinking more profoundly about the ethical questions raised by the author. The book includes eight chapters. Starting with an introduction to the triangle of animals, food, and philosophy, and the animal-human relationship [3,4] practices are questioned in the first chapter. The second chapter addresses the issues of animal carnivory. [5] Chapter three discovers our relationship with our ´animal family': pets or companion animals [6]. Chapter four reflects on our ´animal neighbours´ [7]: urban and suburban animals who live among us but not in our households. Chapter five explores a particular kind of animal neighbour: ´animal thieves´ who want to eat the crops in our farmland that we grow for ourselves [8]. Chapter six turns to the ´animal refugees´, the wild animals needing aid [9]. Chapter seven looks to ´animal strangers´[10]. As it is shown in Figure 1, chapters three to four discuss the five dimensions of our ethical-relationships with animals. Finally, chapter eight concludes with a list of take-away conclusions from this book's analysis.

Figure 1. Five dimensions of our -ethical-relationship with animals, according to Milburn.[1]

  1. Book Summary

2.1 Introduction: Animals, Food, Philosophy

This book is about different questions and ethical dilemmas raised when we decide on food practices as individuals, collectives, and legislatures within the framework of philosophical discourse. In this book, Dr Josh Milburn bridges this philosophical gap through a critical analysis of the normative dimensions of animal-based dietary practices. We find out about diverse ethical Animal-Human Relationships (AHR) and how these relationships influence our "normative (and voluntary) obligations" [21]concerning animals. While the issue is usually rejected by animal ethicists [11], in this book, the author aims to highlight animal foods to raise a clearer idea of just fodder and the justice of feeding animals. This idea is presented by bridging the continuum between (1) "moral, social, and political philosophy"; and (2) "the right of justice and the good of morality".

2.2 Feeding Animals to Animals: The Problem of Carnivory

Animal lovers usually confront a paradox[12] or an ethical dilemma – named "vegetarian's dilemma" 13 – toward feeding carnivorous (or omnivore) companions such as cats or dogs. In brief, feeding carnivorous animals might conflict with our belief that all animals, including farm animals, should not be killed for food. The meat-eating of such animals has a biological explanation, not (as in the occasion of humans) an ideological concern. A moral dilemma [14] accordingly ascends. How will the carnivores live without meat? A variety of hypothetically harm-free sources of meat are recognised for carnivorous animals. This chapter concludes that many companion animals we feed (at least dogs and cats), regardless of their biology or our relationship with them, can be nourished with plant-based options, decreasing the suffering of animals raised for food. This suggestion -companion veganism- is supported by recent academic evidence on plant-based pet diets. [16, 17] However, the best solution recommends further research einquiries on this overlooked question.

2.3 Animal Family

The normative grounds of our obligation to feed animal families, who are our pets (companions), are re-questioned in this chapter through the context of ethic-human relationship (AHR). These obligations rely on how we perceive animal families: (1) our family members, (2) members of other families, or (3) co-citizens. Several factors that may motivate our decisions about how to feed our companions are explored in this chapter. In this sense, phenomena such as food justice, dignity, nature, and freedom are reviewed through the lens of feeding animals. The author later expands the animal-human relationship beyond the guardian/companion bond, arguing that companions' right to be fed expresses their needs to be considered in political decision-making settings.

2.4 Animal Neighbors

Animal neighbours are those animals who are not fully wild, not controlled by us, but live among us without being in our household. They are in the "contact zone" [18]between animals and humans. Our feeding decision is different towards them: (1) sometimes, we choose to nourish them (e.g., garden birds); or (2) sometimes we avoid feeding them (e.g., like the rats with under-maintained compost loads). Dr Milburn proposed that the "hospitableness" concept identifies our relationships with these animals. Briefly, according to the author, we can choose to spread hospitality to our animal neighbours, but we don't have any obligation to do so. We may undertake assured responsibilities regarding our guests' well-being when we do extend hospitality.

2.5 Animal Thieves

Animal thieves are those who usually live around or among arable farms or (un)cultivated spaces. For example, rats, rodents, birds, or reptiles could be categorised in this group. The human-animal controversy with animal thieves occurs because these groups are seeking the food humans are growing for themselves (or for other animals) through harvesting practices. As a concluding remark, the author claimed that the existence of animal thieves calls for the development of vertical, indoor agriculture. This is a form of arable farming that could, in theory, crop food without any effect on our animal neighbours. 

2.6 Animal Refugees

In this chapter, regarding the feeding situation of "animal refugees,", the author argued that not only should animals in these wildlife institutions not be nourished meat, but that 'rehabilitated' destructive animals should not be unrestricted. The underlying reason for this argument is that the rescuers' involvement in these animals' lives endorses noteworthy accountability for the animals' following actions on the heads of humans. Released predatory animals will, in all probabilities, place significant responsibility on the rescuers.

2.7 Animal Strangers

We might rethink the norms about what we do and do not owe to "wild animals." In this book, it is argued that even if we have a responsibility of protecting wild animals from their predators, there are limits to what we may do in quest of that objective. Instead, it is argued that even if we do not have a duty to feed "wild animals", we can gain such a commitment when we become intertwined with these animals in an ethically salient manner. Our responsibility for harm caused to animals due to climate change may result in responsibility for those animals.

2.8 Conclusion

The author did not pretend that this book has seized all the possible relationships that we have with animals. That is why the outlined relationships in Figure 1, are named ethical relationships. It has not explored the outlines of the most significant relationship, the un-ethical food-related relationship between humans and non-human animals. We raise farmed animals to produce our food which brings unnecessary harm to them, to the environment, and brings food injustice. As it is explored in chapter 2, this is a relationship that should not be endured. Whereas there are certainly imperative concerns for advocates and activists concerning feeding these animals, this book is not about activism, it is a book about how we – with our normative obligations and responsibilities – may relate to animals.

  1. Overview of the book

The question of the choice of pet food to feed companions, neighbours or other animals in need, is raised and explained in the book. At the same time, some animal advocates consider it reasonable to not expand the human veganism concerns to carni-omni-vorous, non-human animals. Expanding veganism to non-human animals who are under care is still debated. In addition to the available scientific evidence on human well-being by following a vegan diet, the moral arguments of veganism for carnivore companion animals is supported by multidisciplinary research attempts, including in both social and veterinary science. [19]

Second, in the debates for human veganism, we as humans discuss ethical choices forourselves. However, in non-human animal veganism, we discuss the appropriate dietary decisions about other sentients – at least for companion animals. In other words, our moral responsibility not only influences our choices for ourselves but also, considering this book's arguments, it could also be expanded to our choices for others.

This book's well-developed philosophical reasonings on our normative obligation [22,23] could be conceptualised not only in critical animal-human studies [23,24] but also in other moral dilemmas related to non-human animal rights. For example, vegan parents' decisions to raise vegan children could be thought of in a similar way [20]

It is also worthy of considering that the arguments on feeding animals, although supported by some examples, are developed abstractly. Conceptualising each question, in a specific context or case study, may bring better clarity.

To close, whether convincing or debating, whether applicable for all people or situations, this book brings a significant and imperative contribution for animal advocates (and/or activists), social scientists, philosophers and other academic sectors parties to think about and understand the animal-human relationship from a broader point-of-view. Through deeper analysis and understanding, we can also understand the opened avenues on the moderating role of animal-human relationships on different lifestyle practices, including veganism and vegetarianism.

Human veganism is considered ethical, supported by reasonable and evidence-based arguments. Future research focusing on comparative arguments of human veganism, and non-human animals' veganism may bring deeper conceptualisations on the questions about feeding animals.


[1] 1. Milburn, J. (2022). Just Fodder The ethics of feeding animals. McGill-Queen's University Press Montreal & Kingston, London, UK.

[2] 2.

[3] 3. Waiblinger, S., Boivin, X., Pedersen, V., Tosi, M. V., Janczak, A. M., Visser, E. K., & Jones, R. B. (2006). Assessing the human–animal relationship in farmed species: a critical review. Applied animal behaviour science, 101(3-4), 185-242.

[4] 4. Amiot, C. E., & Bastian, B. (2015). Toward a psychology of human-animal relations. Psychological bulletin, 141(1), 6.

[5] 5. Hedrich, R., & Fukushima, K. (2021). On the origin of carnivory: molecular physiology and evolution of plants on an animal diet. Annual review of plant biology, 72, 133-153.

[6] 6. Walsh, F. (2009). Human‐animal bonds I: The relational significance of companion animals. Family process, 48(4), 462-480.

[7] 7. Largen, K. (2017). Neighbors, Neighbor-love, and Our Animal Neighbors. Word and World, 37(1), 37-47.

[8] 8. as Pride, E. (1996). Narrative Resourcefulness and Strategies of Normativity among Cretan Animal-Thieves. Disorderly discourse: narrative, conflict, & inequality, 7, 72

[9] 9. Derham, T., & Mathews, F. (2020). Elephants as refugees. People and Nature, 2(1), 103-110.

[10] 10. Cornell, D., Franklin, J. H., Kendrick, H. M., Mendieta, E., Linzey, A., Cavalieri, P., ... & Sloterdijk, P. (2012). Strangers to nature: animal lives and human ethics. Lexington Books.

[11] 11. Milburn, J. (2015). Rabbits, stoats and the predator problem: Why a strong animal rights position need not call for human intervention to protect prey from predators. Res Publica, 21(3), 273-289.

[12] 12. 2017b. 'The Animal Lovers' Paradox? On the Ethics of "Pet Food".' In Pets and People, edited by Christine Overall, 187–202. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[13] 13. Rothgerber, H. (2013). A meaty matter. Pet diet and the vegetarian's dilemma. Appetite, 68, 76-82.

[14] 14. Rothgerber, H. (2014). Carnivorous cats, vegetarian dogs, and the resolution of the vegetarian's dilemma. Anthrozoös, 27(4), 485-498.

[15] 15. Espinosa, R., & Treich, N. (2021). Animal welfare: Antispeciesism, veganism, and a "life worth living". Social Choice and Welfare, 56(3), 531-548.

[16] 16. Dodd, S. A., Dewey, C., Khosa, D., & Verbrugghe, A. (2021). A cross-sectional study of owner-reported health in Canadian and American cats fed meat-and plant-based diets. BMC veterinary research, 17(1), 1-16.

[17] 17. Michel, Kathryn. 2006. 'Unconventional Diets for Dogs and Cats.' Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice 36 (6): 1269–81.

[18] 18. Palmer, C. (2010). Animal Ethics in Context. New York: Columbia University Press.

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[20] 20.

[21]21. MacCormick, N., & Raz, J. (1972). Voluntary obligations and normative powers. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volumes, 46, 59-102.

[22]22. Kalfagianni, A. (2015). 'Just food'. The normative obligations of private agrifood governance. Global Environmental Change, 31, 174-186.

[23]23. Abbate, C. (2019). Save the meat for cats: Why it’s wrong to eat roadkill. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, 32(1), 165-182

[24] 24. Adams, C. J. (2005). Robert Morris and a Lost 18th-Century Vegetarian Book: An Introduction to Morris’s A Reasonable Plea for the Animal Creation. Organization & environment, 18(4), 458-466.

[25] 25. Pohlmann, A. (2021). Intransigent compassion: Human and non-human animal self-similarity and meat avoidance intent dataset. Data in brief, 38, 107318.

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