Book Review: The Lucky Ones

» March 8th, 2013

The Lucky Ones: My Passionate Fight for Farm Animals by Jenny Brown

Book Review: by Jennifer Molidor


What is the dream of sanctuary? A rescue ranch? An educational resource? Utopia? And what is the connection between the politics of eating, the activism of one, and the dream of sanctuary? In The Lucky Ones: My Passionate Fight for Farm Animals Jenny Brown, founder of Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, takes the reader through these questions.

As an almost relentless attempt to touch upon all the interconnections that branch out from issues of animal rights, The Lucky Ones feels like an octopus, lovingly spreading his tentacles. “Eating is a political and social action” she writes. “Environmental destruction, public health, workers’ rights, decaying rural communities, world hunger, and global poverty are all deeply affected by our eating choices.”

But she doesn’t stop there. She takes on the wide expanse of animal exploitation, discussing her personal attempts to persuade her mother and sister to stop using animal-tested household products. With endearing detail of teenage squabbles, Jenny recounts that she once worked for a fast-food restaurant before she realized the cognitive disconnect of loving one animal while eating another. Now, with a farmed animal sanctuary that brings visitors from all reaches of the country, she has become the educator, explaining why supposedly “happy farms” aren’t really happy for anyone –and she challenges the notions of “free-range,” “cage-free” and the impossibility of producing “humane” eggs.

As if that wasn’t enough, Jenny describes the thrill – and the fear – of participating in protests against animal cruelty. She also explains, with absolute honesty and courage, what it was like to be an undercover investigator, bravely making a video of the conditions horses suffer to make the drug Premarin (a video widely available on YouTube). Later, investigating a brutal cattle stockyard, she remembers dead, dying, and debilitated animals lying out in the heat, with no care. “I was terrified someone would find me out – would see that I was an enemy because I had a camera and a heart.” And that heart comes through in every detail of her story.

Jenny Brown is at home in a voice that distinctly lacks the inflated ego of some activists. Her words are warm and engaging, although occasionally angry. After telling us that humans are the only species that drink milk from another species (or after infancy) she writes “And we never stop to think about what it really is: the breast milk of a cow. BREAST MILK, PEOPLE! From a COW.” While the abject horrors of the dairy industry provoke inner revulsion for most ethical vegans, the writing in this book sometimes feels almost too personal, too informal; it is as if, in understandable frustration with omnivores, the author wants to hit us over the head with the facts, which perhaps might be better conveyed, as the rest of the book does so well, through narrative trajectory of her own ethical evolution. The Lucky Ones is genuine and charming, much as I imagine Jenny is in person.

That sincere passion drives the reader from cover to cover. It is hard not to be fascinated by her journey, especially through her experiences volunteering at Farm Sanctuary and how that helped her learn how to open her own sanctuary, Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary. For her, the sanctuary is paradise.

The Lucky Ones is part personal memoir and part plea to protect animals. It is not an academic book, nor a work of complex moral philosophy. Rather it is one woman’s honest, pull-no-punches account of her life as an activist – from meat eater to vegan, from fast-food worker to founder of one of the best farmed animal sanctuaries in the U.S. It is the story, rich in personal perspective, of a young woman’s evolution into animal activism. From the loss of her leg to childhood cancer, to the death of her dear kitty Boogie, to the relationship with her once-carnivore husband, readers of this book not only gain insights into animal activism, but will feel a connection with the author herself, as a human, a survivor, and a fighter.

One of the things that originally drew me to James McWilliams’ Eating Plants blog was his frank honesty about his own ethical evolution. Very few of us are born animal activists and ethical vegans. We are all in progress and what would life be without growth? If we can grow, so can everyone else – and it is that humility, that honesty, that drew me to Eating Plants, that is also eminently present in Jenny Brown and The Lucky Ones. In essence, her book suggests that veganism is a process, and through sheer infectious passion, we may change the hearts and minds of those that unthinkingly harm animals.

The dream and the ideal of a cruelty-free world drive her work at the farm. A PCRM study, she notes, suggests that 74% of our federal subsidies go to meat and dairy, despite the fact that vegetables, fruits, and grains are more conducive to a healthy diet, according to federal nutrition recommendations.“ So not only does choosing a plant-based diet save animal lives, it leads farmers to turn to healthier, more environmentally friendly agriculture. This means the price of organic produce goes down and our quality of life goes up. Eventually, if the pattern continues, the only farm animals around will be beloved, respected companion animals living healthy lives. At least this is the dream.” And a good dream it is.

Reading Jenny Brown’s inspiring story, one feels one might not be doing enough for animals – because whatever we might be doing, Jenny Brown is probably doing more. But this comes without judgment, because there is activism possible in every action. She ends The Lucky Ones with a collection of vegan recipes- as if unable to resist one last attempt to sway the reader to a compassionate lifestyle. ‘Wait, wait!’ this section seems to beckon, ‘if all my endearing stories didn’t persuade you, why don’t you try the “Best Chocolate Cake Ever!”’

Who can say no to that?

Jennifer Molidor is a staff writer for the Animal Legal Defense Fund. If you would like to review a book for Eating Plants, please contact me at for details.

Tomorrow: a scientist and his ants

9 Responses to Book Review: The Lucky Ones

  1. Oops! Double post, dude. Other thank that, good read

  2. Bonnie says:

    I love people like Jenny Brown, who live their passion for animals. I will definitely read this book. I just wonder why, with great people like Jenny and other formidable people speaking up for animals, we haven’t made greater progress in the fight against exploitation and abuse. Sometimes I give into despair, and then I realize I have to snap out of it because my being down is not going to help the animals, and that’s the bottom line.

    • ingrid says:

      Bonnie, I can relate to that despair. When I first became a vegetarian, then vegan, in the early 80s, I wouldn’t have believed, for instance, that people would still be wearing fur this many years into the future. I thought, of all issues, the frivolous exploitation of animals in entertainment and animals as fashion materials would be moot points. Of course, that time period also coincided with a conservative political backlash and other social changes. I know the consciousness curve looks much different and better, spread over many lifetimes. It’s tough, though, to retain equanimity in the face of incremental progress in my own limited time on this earth.

      I think that’s why I liked Jenny’s book so much. It’s a book I can easily recommend to people who would otherwise refuse to watch or read truthful materials about farm animals. The balance between hard reality and positive outcomes in her book makes the heartache of abuse psychologically manageable by virtue of the hope and compassion she inspires. I deeply appreciate authors and filmmakers who can effectively bring resistant people to that point of view through their experience and craft.

  3. Katrina says:

    I devoured this book. She has such a fascinating history. The undercover stockyard scene was incredible. If you ever get the chance, you should listen to Our Hen House’s interview of her on their podcast.

  4. Eva says:

    Thanks for this- ill be finding this book right away! It sounds inspirational.

  5. Katia says:

    Thanks for the review of this book and making it a must read book. My main concern is animal farming and the suffering of all of them, calves, cows and piglets more especially. Like many of you, from your comments, I am a vegetarian, and try to awake people telling them that what they have in their plates is death and suffering. Like you I fight for causes and some days I despair, and lose hope to see changes occur . But like Bonnie says:
    “Sometimes I give into despair, and then I realize I have to snap out of it because my being down is not going to help the animals, and that’s the bottom line”.
    We have no right to give up trying…to make the world a better place for our animal friends.

  6. I read Jenny Brown’s book when it first came out a few months after visiting Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary. If you have not visited, you really should go. When we arrived, the sun was setting and the last tour was about to begin. Mike Stura was our volunteer tour guide and Ms. Brown showed up midway through the tour holding one of the roosters from a laying hen deemed by the industry to have a monetary value of less than a penny. She really helped personalize this beautiful animal as we all took turns petting and talking to him. He really seemed to enjoy the attention. Ms. Brown’s book punches you in the heart. If you didn’t care about animals prior to reading it, you certainly will afterwards. Her story is honest and she is not afraid of revealing her mistakes along the way. What she has done for animals takes a lot of courage and determination. Her experience documenting downed calves in a Texas stockyard is what touched me the most. Here is the link to that footage.

  7. Bea Elliott says:

    That video that Jennifer Mora posted a link to is so, so sad! It almost looks like it was filmed in another country… Ah, but a stockyard in Texas – Must be a different world for sure. :/

    Thank you Jennifer Molidor and James for posting this great review. I’m hounding my library to make sure The Lucky Ones is on the shelves. As it should be!

    What a story and an indisputable example of a purpose-filled life! That Jenny Brown lives it so graciously and compassionately is deserving of all the more praise. Truly inspirational. Thank you!

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