We hens are squawking in delight about our very first rooster to join Our Hen House! Please welcome our new reviewer, Kyle Knies, to our happy flock.
Livestock. That word is the closest most people get to thinking or talking about live farmed animals. This convenient euphemism makes it easy to imagine all animal agriculture as a vague and vast ocean of faceless, identical beasts. It is perfectly acceptable for many people to eat “chicken” for dinner, but it feels somehow different to eat “a chicken” or “chickens” at suppertime. The animal agriculture industry has spent decades trying to commodify the animals we raise for food, and with alarming success: millions of people only acknowledge these beings when they are no longer animals, but “meat.”
Ninety-Five is a beautiful new book that quite literally forces the reader to see eye-to-eye with farm animals, not as commodities, but as living, breathing, feeling individuals. Edited by No Voice Unheard, Ninety-Five takes a revolutionary approach to addressing the disconnect between meat, dairy or eggs and the animals that produce (or become) them. Every individual character on the pages of Ninety-Five was once destined for a dismal fate, to be slaughtered when the industry decided it was time. Now, these farmed animals have been given a second chance at a meaningful life on America’s animal sanctuaries. The premise of Ninety-Five is extraordinarily straightforward: to show the animals that fall victim to factory farm abuses once they are encouraged to be, simply, who they are. However simple this idea seems, this stunning book accomplishes a bold and complicated task: to celebrate the life and love inherent in these animals while conveying a strong message about the dangers they once faced. The sad and awful truth is that there are 10 billion more beings just like those in Ninety-Five‘s pages being raised and killed every year in our country alone. Ninety-Five gets its name from the number of animals saved annually when just one person eats a vegan diet. While this is a great book for vegans to own and share with everyone they love, affirming our choices and strengthening our resolve to do all we can to help every farmed animal, anyone can benefit from spending some time with Ninety-Five‘s herds and flocks of unique individuals.
After a beautifully written and thoughtful introduction, Ninety-Five wastes no time getting to the task at hand. Each section focuses on one type of animal — from roosters, hens, turkeys and ducks to cows, pigs, goats, sheep and even rabbits — and features first-hand accounts of each individual’s attributes from the compassionate people who now care for them at sanctuaries. The stories range in tone as much as the animals vary in personality, from poetic fables about the animal’s difficult journey to shelter, to light-hearted accounts of the most irrepressible of animal personalities, such as Goosifer, the goose formerly known as Lucifer. One of the book’s greatest strengths is how seamlessly it features statistics, facts and information about the oppressive industries that bred and abused these animals. The focus of each passage is an individual animal’s character, personality and relationships with his/her human and animal companions (both with his/her kin as well as some surprising animal pairings). Instead of focusing on the abuse and death from where these animals originated, Ninety-Five focuses on the animal’s will to live and prosper when given half a chance. It inspires us to rejoice and celebrate who these animals are allowed to become instead of repulsing and saddening us with horror stories. Knowing that these wonderful individuals represent the billions of less-fortunate members of their species is tragedy enough. Ninety-Five celebrates positivity and love instead of negativity and hate, and all readers will want to turn the page to take in more of that love, as opposed to cringing and averting their eyes.
Unfortunately, the scars of these animals’ pasts are always on display, no matter how much they currently flourish. Health problems and even untimely death are not uncommon, lifelong issues incurred from breeding and raising them to be economic commodities. The transition from the unnatural origins of these creatures — bred, artificially inseminated, and crowded in unnatural numbers in an unnatural environment — to a free, natural life in a haven is never seamless. Most of these individuals live longer than they were ever “supposed” to live, well past “market weight.” The common thread that emerges in these separate stories is one of nature’s triumph on behalf of these animals. Against all odds, even scarred, abused and weakened, these animals have found a way to live — thrive, even — when given the opportunity.
The book’s text is engaging, thorough and written in a very emotional, fluid style, but it is not the true star of Ninety-Five. Beautiful, full-page color photographs dominate the book, and they form the true core of its message. It is in these dozens of photographs that Ninety-Five tells its story: each creature on its pages (and there are photographs of nothing else) looks right at the reader and conveys a sense of shared understanding about the world in which we all live. These photographs are each singular character studies of emotional depth that tell a story no less complete than the text that accompanies them. The love in these photographs, whether between the animal companions in the portraits or from photographer to subject, is the true anchor of this book, and the reason that flipping through Ninety-Five without even reading a single word is still a powerful and engrossing experience. The animal stars of Ninety-Five cannot actually speak for themselves, but these photographs convey the book’s importance and meaning, directly from the eyes of these beings to the eyes of the reader.
As an educational tool for activists, Ninety-Five is a must-have. Any time someone looks their cat or dog in the eyes, they see that animal’s soul and want to protect what makes that individual special. Ninety-Five allows any reader to see into the souls of our country’s farmed animals, and reach the same conclusions about helping and protecting what makes them special. For a book about livestock, it doesn’t get more human than Ninety-Five.
Photos: No Voice Unheard
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