Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Acting Absolutely Beastly

By Michael Cook

Charles Foster has tried to reconnect with the animal world by living as a badger, a fox, a swift, a deer and an otter.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

In its most expansive mode, bioethics deals with the biosphere and our responsibility for all living things. But it is a bold thinker who dares to tackle this, which helps to explain why the purview of most bioethicists is just Homo sapiens. Animals get short shrift. Somewhere I recall a photo of animal rights theoretician Peter Singer with a very large pig, both smiling broadly, but most of the time the setting for bioethical selfies is conferences surrounded by bottles of spring water.

The English academic Charles Foster, however, has made a valiant attempt to broaden the circle of concern. A barrister, travel writer, veterinarian, theologian, Oxford don, father of six and medical ethicist, the redoubtable Foster recently published a fascinating, if sometimes stomach-turning, account of his attempt to reconnect with the animal world.

In his book, Being a Beast, he tells how he lived as a badger, a fox, a swift, a deer and an otter. “Lived as” means “lived as”. Badger Foster lived underground, ate earthworms, scraped squirrel roadkill off the tarmac and devoured it with his 8-year-old son (cooked with wood sorrel and wild garlic, mind you), and lapped water “from a pool where leeches waved at our lips”.

Fox Foster lived in London like a furtive urban fox, scurrying down laneways, eating rancid pizzas and sleeping in gardens. If he felt sore and...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.