Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Morality of Eating Dog

In the eight months I've maintained this blog, nothing I've written has generated as much reaction as my last post: a trip to a Hanoi dog restaurant. This wasn't entirely unexpected. Talk to somebody about the treatment of animals in factory farms, and they nod their heads in sympathy, then order another burger. Tell them you're eating man's best friend, however, and they're aghast: "How could you!?" "What's wrong with you?" "It's immoral!"

Rationally speaking, I have no problem with anyone who argues against meat eating as a whole. While I am not vegetarian, I understand the moral basis for vegetarianism, and respect that it applies a uniform standard to the question of eating animals. I also understand not eating beef if you're Hindu, or pork if you're Muslim or a Jew. But these are personal choices, based on religion and culture, and I see few Hindus, Muslims, and Jews attempting to dissuade others from making a different choice.

I do have problems with arguments, however, that apply absolute standards of morality to proscribe the eating of certain animals, and permit the eating of others. This is exactly what happens with dog. Animal rights activists, most of them based in the West, have been lobbying Asian governments for years to ban the dog trade. Comparisons have been made between dog-eating and cannibalism, slavery, child prostitution, and other heinous practices, to argue the inherent immorality of eating dog.

So let's ask a simple question: why is it wrong to eat dogs? Specifically, why is it MORE wrong than eating any other beast?

The most common arguments against dog-eating revolve around the idea that, alone among all animals, dogs are bred for their loyalty and companionship, raised to be "man's best friend." Their companion status offers them protection from our appetites.

The problem with this argument is that it basis the value of an animal entirely on how we treat it. If we raise it as a pet, it's our friend; if we raise it for food, it's meat. By the same standard, if a dog is raised to engage in dog fighting, is dog fighting okay? By the logic of the companion status argument, it is.

Aside from the companion status argument, what else is there? Dogs are no more (or not much more) intelligent than pigs, nor gentler than lambs, yet both those animals routinely find themselves on the Western table. What is the uniform standard by which to argue that dogs are morally wrong to eat, culture notwithstanding?

Absent a clear moral foundation, anti-dog-trade activists often rely on the argument that it is "uncivilized" to eat dogs. Coming from countries where factory-farmed livestock need to be blasted with antibiotics to survive the appalling conditions in which they're kept, this argument reeks of hypocrisy.

Consider that Vietnam consumes an estimated four to five million dogs per year. This is roughly the number of cats and dogs that are annually euthanized in U.S. animal shelters. So which country is the paragon of civilized virtues, the nation that incinerates the animals it murders, or the nation that eats them?

I think there are valid arguments to be made against eating dogs, but they don't rely on moral relativism or vague appeals to the virtues of civilization.

The first argument is political. Unlike Korea, which mainly relies on farm-raised dogs, almost all the dogs that are used for meat in Vietnam are either imported from other Southest Asian countries (especially Thailand) through a mafia-controlled underground network, or stolen from pet-owners. While some argue that this trade eliminates unwanted strays and nuisance animals, it also empowers criminal syndicates and corrupt government officials. Likewise, it's hard to condone the theft of family pets, with all the emotional devastation it causes.

The second argument is a basic matter of animal cruelty. Throughout Asia, food dogs are often horrifically slaughtered: either beaten or slowly bled to death, supposedly to improve the quality of the meat. Absent government regulation or oversight, there is little to protect these animals from their fates, so it is up to the consumer to prevent this method of slaugher by not contributing to the demand.

Let me be clear that dog-eating is by no means universal, or even popular, in Vietnam or any other Asian country where it is practiced. Only a small number of Vietnamese have any interest in eating dog. But few of them seek to prohibit their neighbors from doing it.

Having had the experience of eating dog, I doubt I'll seek to have it again. But this is a personal choice.

Links:
Wok the Dog: What's Wrong with Eating Man's Best Friend? (
http://www.slate.com/id/2060840/)
Asia's Dog Meat Trade: A Look Inside a Seedy World (
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/12/01/asias-dog-meat-trade-a-lo_n_375249.html)
How Many Cats and Dogs are Eaten in Asia? (
http://www.animalpeoplenews.org/03/9/dogs.catseatenAsia903.html)

17 comments:

  1. Please look at these dogs before saying it is okay to eat dogs as one argues that they are just no different than other animals' meats. So Sad!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u_2X1cF7X-M

    At 4:23, these dogs in the cage look like our pets in America. Not farmed dogs at all.

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  2. Oh you haven't seen people kill pig or heard it squealing, have you? But the pigs are unlucky. They aren't smart, cute as dogs and have a smell. People don't like them and eating them is normal.

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    1. Stupid. The IQ of pigs are comparable to dogs. You complain how eating dog is inhumane, but this comment just proves how inhumane YOU are.Just think about it.

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  3. consumption of any type of meat is purely relative to the culture that practises it. so long as over-fishing doesn't occur, who am i to tell a japanese person that eating whale meat is wrong? i might as well insult their traditions and culture whilst i'm at it.

    who ever said that democracy was a good thing?

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  4. A very well reseached and thought out response to the argument; I couldn't agree more with your stance.

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  5. As my Grandpa said "one mans pet is another mans meat".Grandpa also advocated turning the MothBall Fleet(U.s.a. Fleet reserve) into floating kennels
    and clearing out the U.S. animal shelters,and shipping the animals to nations where people had real need .As children we were horrified by this.
    I think that G.Pa was right.People should put human need before their knee jerk anthromorphisiesing
    The cruelty of the conditions and the beatings of the animals before they are consumed is all that I find distressing.

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  6. I have never tried eating dog..but given the chance I would try it.

    I have friends who have pet dogs, so they become offended when I say I would try dog meat. To me if the animal was raised and cultivated humanely, then I don't have a problem.

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  7. So the voice next to me says: "Ever eat one of your own ?"

    I paused at my immediate good fortune of having been asked,
    drew a grin, and, keeping my profile parallel to his own, and said:

    "No, no I haven't."

    The prospects were felt to me to be 3 three fold:
    - A good joke is wryly forthcoming.
    - He's mildly insane and let's hope entertaining.
    - He'll say nothing more.

    I favored the last. That one could last a life time.

    "Me neither ................ Ya ever keep pets ?"

    "Sure I have."

    He had the look of preferring the out of doors, probably hunting over water sport.
    The type who could say without irony nor the need to that he loves the bitches
    and the bitches love him. He had beautiful brown hair, sinewy forearms and deeply
    focused if not entirely relaxed eyes. He had a manner & presence that seemed
    to say :"This is who I am, what I am, And I Know It. F with me brother and you'll
    know All About It." Familiar but distinctive features. Comforting even, though
    somehow a world apart.

    He wasn't trying to intimidate. I didn't feel that at all. I didn't feel that he was just
    trying to unload his thoughts either but that, in the honest sharing, something might
    get smoothed out inside, if only a little.

    He took another swallow of what looked & smelled to be some sort of boulibase
    with coarse dumplings, chewing with his mouth half open.

    Almost impassively he says : "My last one was interesting, he .."

    Feeling the need to insert my person I unintentionally interrupted with "Oh yeah ?"

    I hadn't so much glanced at him as had checked our reflection in the mirror behind
    the lines of top shelf booze. I watched as somebody put quarters into the jukebox
    on the far side of the room, then, hearing nothing, walked into the johns.

    "Yeah, he wasn't mine for too long, we were just getting to know each other, trying
    to figure each other out ......"

    "Right .... yeah ....."

    "Rare breeded. Got him in a trade ....... "

    I was losing interest a little and took my first sip since he/we had started to talk.

    "You uh, trade him away for something ?" .......

    "No. No I didn't. He died. I had him all set up in my loft ................ hmmm, there's a song
    I haven't heard in long time .......... "

    Without an obvious care he lapped the bottom of his bowl and scratched his ear.
    His teeth needed cleaning and his nails needed a clip, but otherwise he was immaculate.

    I took a look at my watch.

    "Yeah, one day I came home and he was dead .................. "

    "......... That's a shame .......................... what kind was he ?"

    "An architech. Came home and found that he'd died by falling on his mechanical pencil,
    Japanese style ......... so I ate him."

    I froze. My head felt vulnerable. Silence my closest friend.

    "What I did, some find weird ..... not all, but some ....... im-moral, right ? ...... spare me."

    I continued to say nothing.

    He turned to face me, eyes laughing, and says : "Ya ever eat dog ?"

    I lied.

    - Randy

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  8. Great essay! I love your opinions and dogmeat!

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  9. Kinda sick of people who think what they think represents absolute truth. For me most animals are way more enlightened than human beings. Sitting in front of a computer drinking beer criticising Asians eating dog is just stupid. So-called technology science arts whatsoever are simply meaningless. They don't mean nothing. Morality does not essentially exist. It is created so that we may lie to ourselves that our life mean something. Killing another person is 'uncivilised,' fine, but why not? Law, morality, religion... these are all the things that make the world so absurd and weird. I mean, a computer, so what? Human lives longer, big deal. Happiness is simple, but human tend to make it so complicated, because they're stupid. They're simply too afraid to admit the reality of this universe. That's why they must fight for values that don't even make sense. This planet is going down because of the stupidity of human beings. But it's okay, because the ending of the Earth would harm no one. It is what it is, and that is it.

    On the bright side lying to yourself or banning dog-eating would cause no harm too, because nothing actually matters. So feel free to feel good by doing whatever you think is cool. They eat dogs, you stop them eating dogs, everyone is happy. After all what we need is to find something to do until we stop breathing.

    There's no evil, there's just them.

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  11. anyone who thinks eating dogs is wrong is messed up. i personally do not eat dogs, but this stereotype just makes me angry.

    how can you say eating dogs is wrong and say that eating pork is ok? in case you forgot, pork is sacred in a religion.

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    Replies
    1. People eat rabbits. Rabbits are pets. Excellent, rewarding pets. Better than dogs. Yet rabbit meat is legal. I think the government is confused.

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  12. a dog can be a persons best friend would you really eat someones best friend

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  13. must stop killing dogs its soo cruel.

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  14. Eating dogs is only immoral because humans have bred dogs to love and obey them.

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