NPR and Animals

It’s been a long time since I posted something not related to nutrition. And as exciting as nutrition is, once in awhile I can use a break!

There is an animal advocacy-related issue that has been sticking in my craw for the last few years. I listen to a number of NPR shows on my iPod while exercising, driving, and doing house chores, and for the most part I really enjoy them – that is, except for the lack of sensitivity and sophistication with which they treat animal issues.

On the one hand, you have Terry Gross on Fresh Air who does stories on how intelligent some animals are, and then doesn’t blink when a researcher talks about invasive research on them. Similar experiences can be had listening to Radiolab and This American Life. But they are much better than the Planet Money crew who consider farmed animals inanimate objects at best and worthy of contempt at worst.

These are programs that show a great deal of sensitivity to most progressive issues. And while I have a pretty high tolerance for our meat-centered, animal-unfriendly culture, it really burns me to hear these otherwise-enlightened people talk so insensitively. At the very least, they could care about offending their audience, which has many animal advocates.

Much worse than being personally offended, I am concerned that millions and millions of progressive listeners who might otherwise care about animal issues are listening to intelligent, sophisticated radio show hosts and guests dismiss animals’ suffering as unworthy of concern on a daily basis. It cannot be good for what we are trying to accomplish.

After hearing This American Life’s episode “Animal Sacrifice” I reached the tipping point and decided to write them. Below is my email. I am posting it here in hopes that it will help bring some awareness to what I think is a significant, though very subtle problem for our promotion of animal liberation.

This American Life:

I am a longtime listener to This American Life and an occasional donor. I absolutely love the show and am amazed at how you can produce such interesting content week after week.

I know you probably get a lot of feedback any time you mention animals and so I hesitate to write you about this, but your website says that you pass the email around and take comments seriously, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

I have been disappointed in how NPR shows, in general, treat the subject of animals. I realize that NPR is not made up of animal rights advocates, but for a network of people who are so progressive and forward-thinking on so many other issues, the views on animals are not enlightened. The Animal Sacrifice episode (which I listened to weeks ago and have been contemplating writing about ever since then) underlined this point for me. The way animal issues are dealt with on NPR must offend a large portion of the audience in ways that NPR would never be willing to do with any other issue.

I would like to give the entire network a sensitivity training on the subject, but, obviously, that is not realistic. What might be realistic would be for TAL to do a program with some serious thinkers on the issue, such as Peter Singer of Princeton University or Wayne Pacelle of the Humane Society of the United States. I hope you will consider it.

And thank you again for all the great stories you continue to provide!


Jack Norris
Davis, CA

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16 Responses to “NPR and Animals”

  1. Bertrand Russell Says:

    Good letter, Mr. Norris.

  2. Annoula Wylderich Says:

    Spot-on comments, Jack.

  3. Stacy Sutton Kerby Says:

    I agree entirely with you, Jack. I wrote an email to TAL after the animal sacrifice show as well. I have heard NPR hosts stifle giggles when introducing stories that feature animal rights activists & advocates – because, you know, the subject is just that funny. Thank you for saying so well what I have thought many times about NPR’s insensitive handling of this issue.

  4. LynnCS Says:

    Great post, Jack. I have to admit that I didn’t come to a healthy diet, now raw vegan, from an animal advocacy point of view. I didn’t want to put bad stuff in my body. Dead animal flesh being the place to start back in 1980. I see how detached we are from our food sources. Amazing that we can compartmentalize so well, but I did, so I get it. Your letter is a great example of how we all can talk about this subject. Using terms like disappointed is useful. Just putting a bee in someones bonnet makes them think. Glad you are putting a bee in the bonnet of NPR. Thanks for getting ball rolling.

  5. Michael Friesen Says:

    Superb letter: concise, respectful, but firm. One question: is there a reason you recommended Peter Singer rather than Gary Francione? If I’m not mistaken, Singer is okay with conscientious meat-eating, assuming the person purchases their meat from “humane” farms. Is that the message we want to send as vegans?

    The above question isn’t intended as a challenge, but rather as an honest question.

  6. Jack Norris RD Says:


    Thank you for the kind words – I’m glad you liked the letter!

    I’d be surprised if Singer is “okay” with conscientious meat-eating (or he’d be a conscientious meat-eater himself), but as a utilitarian he’s always going to be in favor of doing something that causes less harm over doing something that causes more harm.

    I do not care for Gary Francione as a spokesperson for our movement and do not agree with his views on how important purity is to veganism nor his view that we should actively work against the people who are trying to pass animal welfare reforms.

    That said, the battle between the anti- and pro-welfare reform activists might make a pretty good This American Life episode!

  7. Michael Friesen Says:

    Fair enough. Thanks for the answer!

  8. Sandi Lancaster Says:

    Excellent letter, Jack. Here’s hoping there’s a favorable response!

  9. Barbara Bingnear Says:

    I’m responsible for fundraising at a public radio station that carries NPR’s morning and afternoon news programs. They bring in a lot of money. I stopped listening to NPR years ago because of a poem ending with the reader killing an animal. Thank you for writing to them. I guess I should have instead of tuning them out. Thank you, Jack!

  10. Scott L. Says:

    Great letter. I totally agree. One thing we should keep in mind though is that not all public radio is NPR. This American Life isn’t an NPR show–it is produced by Chicago Public Media and distributed by PRI (Public Radio International). Radiolab isn’t NPR either, but is produced by WNYC New York. Fresh Air is an NPR show, and Planet Money is half NPR (co-produced). Public radio stations are independent and buy content from various producers; NPR is just one such producer–although the best known. APM (American Public Media) is another–it brings us A Prairie Home Companion and Marketplace.

    I think they all could use such a letter from Jack! They have a long way to go . . . .

    Thanks to Jack.

  11. lisa shapiro Says:

    excellent letter and post. i have written them, as well, although not as elegantly as you. thanks, jack!

  12. Guy Grayson Says:

    Thanks Jack, for offering up Peter Singer as the go to guy, I see most great people eye to eye,because we all can fight factory farming as they do, but I look up to Mr. Singer and he’s never not deserved our admiration, I hope many more like he and you Mr. Norris rise to greatness

  13. Joe Espinosa Says:

    Well stated Jack. I have been disgusted with NPR several times and written them several times over the years due to the great disparity between the absolute reverence thay have for other victims of oppression and complete disain they offer for the largest population who suffer the most intensely of all.

  14. coffeebrain Says:

    Two thumbs up.

  15. Jessica D. Says:

    Great letter, Jack!

  16. Carrie Poppy Says:

    Well stated and very reasonable. Let us know if you hear back.

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