Animal rage, terror and stress – Are we eating that?

John Robbins made an interesting claim 37 years ago. I hadn’t really thought much about animal rage… until I read his claim.

Who is John Robbins?

  • He’s the son of Irv Robbins, a co-founder of Baskin-Robbins, one of America’s most prolific and visible corporations.
  • At 21 years old, the would-be heir walked away from the family business and potential inheritance associated with it to become an author and an activist focused on plant-based eating and sustainability.
  • John Robbins is a vegan.
  • In 1987, he published Diet for a New America, which summarized his extensive research into the reality of animal products, their impact on Americans, American land and the world and includes his accounts of visits to factory farms and CAFOs. 

For those unfamiliar with what a CAFO is, the acronym CAFO stands for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation. Fast facts:

  • A CAFO is a large-scale industrial facility where a large number of animals — e.g., cows, pigs and poultry — are raised in confined spaces. 
  • In CAFOs, animals are typically housed indoors in crowded conditions and fed a high-calorie, grain-based diet to promote rapid growth.
  • Concerns around these operations include issues related to animal welfare and public health.
CAFO animals and animal rage

When I read Diet for a New America 18 years ago, I was struck by his claim on page 356. His claim, though not science-based, is compelling. It resonated with me. I thought his comments were profound and thought-provoking. He wrote:

“Certain Indian tribes would not eat the flesh of an animal who died in fear, because they did not want to take into themselves the terror of such an animal. When we eat animals who have died violent deaths, we literally eat their fear. We take in biochemical agents designed by nature to tell an animal that its life is in the gravest danger, and it must either fight or flee for its life. And then, in our wars and daily lives, we give expression to the panic in which the animals we have eaten died.

A new direction for America’s diet style would be a significant step towards a nonviolent world. It is a way of saying: “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” A non-violent world has roots in a non-violent diet.

Diet for a New America – John Robbins – pg. 356

Is his claim, particularly the highlighted portion, preposterous? Or does it have merit? Let’s talk about it. Before we can discuss this, we need to touch on two facts: violence in U.S. society and the shortcomings of science.

There’s no denying the United States is a violent society. Sociologists and others posit various reasons for this, including:

  • Socioeconomic disparities
  • Widespread availability and easy access to guns
  • The fact that American culture is marked by individualism, competition and aggression
  • Structural racism and discrimination
  • The criminal justice system

It’s worth mentioning the United States is a meat-eating culture. A recent Gallup poll shows the following:

  • 95% of us are meat eaters
  • 1% – vegans
  • 5% – vegetarians

However, in the discourse around the high levels of violence in the United States, John Robbins’ claim is not mentioned — at least not by the loudest or most mainstream voices. No doubt there are folks on the fringes or quieter voices who find merit in his claim and speak on it.

I don’t know to the extent to which Robbins’ claim has been researched or proven scientifically. As I understand it, there’s no credible science to support his assertion.

Of course, there is the unknown, the unseen, the unexplained. We know there are things that occur — phenomena of various kinds — that are not explained or fully explained by science. Here are some examples of phenomena that science has not fully explained:


Doctors cite the deathbed patient who made a miraculous, scientifically inexplicable recovery. Many of us contribute these events to divine intervention or miracles of God.

Alternative medicine

The practices and principles of, for example, Reiki, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Ayurveda are rooted in ancient traditions and holistic philosophies. While some aspects of these healing modalities may have empirical scientific evidence supporting their effectiveness, not all of their workings are fully understood or proven by modern science.

Mystical, paranormal phenomena

  • Can people tell fortunes?
  • Can mediums, spiritualists and astrologers see the future?
  • In criminal investigations, can psychics lead detectives to the location of a corpse?
  • Can people cast spells – good or bad?
  • Are there ghosts and spirits?
  • Is voodoo real?
  • Does magic exist?
  • Are there potions, pills and elixirs with effects we don’t understand?

Who knows? Your guess is as good as mine. But for centuries humankind has believed in such events or witnessed such events, according to their recollections and interpretations.

Point is, science doesn’t explain everything or doesn’t easily explain it, especially those topics that fall outside the scope of scientific inquiry or are simply beyond the limits of our understanding. As amazing and necessary as science is, it does come with limitations when it comes to explaining certain phenomena, whether due to the complexity of the subject matter, technological constraints or inherent limitations in our current scientific understanding. Science continues to advance and expand our knowledge of the natural world, yet there are aspects of reality that remain mysterious and elusive and inexplicable by science.

However, if you consider modern factory farming conditions, you understand that these animals endure a life of stress, rage, pain, fear, discomfort, angst and terror. Do these emotions embed in the tissues of the animal? Are they transported to you when you consume the tissues of the animal? Though you can’t or measure see rage, pain, terror, angst, stress and fear in a chicken wing or slab of steak does that mean it’s not there?

Robbins’ passage still resonates with me. Frankly, when you consider CAFOs, violence in our society and things unexplained by science I don’t believe it’s a stretch to consider there’s some merit to his claim. We may never know.

His claim makes sense to me. Has violent crime increased in the United States over the years? It’s a complicated question, beyond the scope of this article. But what I have observed over the decades, is increasing levels of anger in Americans. One of the things I find shocking and incomprehensible about modern American life is how angry people are. So, yes, I question if people are acting out their inner tormented bovine, porcine or avian selves. I think it’s entirely possible that stress, rage, pain, fear, discomfort and terror lives in CAFO animals’ tissues throughout their lives. And if we eat their tissues, we might be eating their anguish.

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