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November 2, 2009

Man eating dog

Daniel Radosh

hot-dog-mustard-small[1].jpg A few days ago in the Wall Street Journal, novelist-turned-vegetarian activist Jonathan Safran Foer offered a modest proposal.

Despite the fact that it's perfectly legal in 44 states, eating "man's best friend" is as taboo as a man eating his best friend.... unlike all farmed meat, which requires the creation and maintenance of animals, dogs are practically begging to be eaten. Three to four million dogs and cats are euthanized annually. The simple disposal of these euthanized dogs is an enormous ecological and economic problem. But eating those strays, those runaways, those not-quite-cute-enough-to-take and not-quite-well-behaved-enough-to-keep dogs would be killing a flock of birds with one stone and eating it, too.

It's an intriguing argument, and one that, for this reader at least, completely backfired. Foer's tongue-in-cheek argument against the dog-eating taboo is intentionally well-reasoned, designed to fail simply because the irrational taboo is so strong. His intended, as opposed to stated, goal is to persuade readers to adopt a similar taboo against eating any animals.

Food is not rational. Food is culture, habit, craving and identity. Responding to factory farming calls for a capacity to care that dwells beyond information.... And despite it being entirely reasonable, the case for eating dogs is likely repulsive to just about every reader of this paper. The instinct comes before our reason, and is more important.

The problem is, I am not a teenage girl who fetishizes my own "capacity to care" above all else. Do I put instinct before reason when it comes to not eating dogs. Sure. But just because I can't reason my way out of that, it doesn't follow that I should unreason my way into vegetarianism. (Besides, I can certainly envision trying dog were I traveling in Thailand or something. After all, I hate horse -- raw, no less -- in Japan.) Foer's satiric argument is much stronger than his genuine one.

Interestingly, Foer's satiric argument does include one genuine one that is persuasive.

This need not challenge our civility. We won't make them suffer any more than necessary. While it's widely believed that adrenaline makes dog meat taste better--hence the traditional methods of slaughter: hanging, boiling alive, beating to death--we can all agree that if we're going to eat them, we should kill them quickly and painlessly, right?... There is an overabundance of rational reasons to say no to factory-farmed meat: It is the No. 1 cause of global warming, it systematically forces tens of billions of animals to suffer in ways that would be illegal if they were dogs, it is a decisive factor in the development of swine and avian flus, and so on. And yet even most people who know these things still aren't inspired to order something else on the menu.

I know the point he's supposed to be making: banning cruelty and factory farming wouldn't be enough to get you to eat dog, so we shouldn't accept such half measures when it comes to killing and processing other animals. At least I think that's his point. It also seems possible that he's making a genuine case against factory farming as a stand-alone target, thereby muddying his case for vegetarianism -- in which case I'm totally with him. (I'm less sold on the environmentalism angle.) Just as I would want dogs to be humanely raised and killed, I do want the same for pigs and cows. And while it's true that I frequently fail to live up to my highest asperations here, I do make an effort to account for such things when buying food.

But even if I would eat dog, I'd still be a "selective carnivore" as Foer mockingly puts it. Unfortunately, though, when he tosses out, and dismisses, the supposed criteria selective carnivores use, he misses the one where I think ethics, rather than culture, actually can draw the line: sentience.

Although, confusingly, I mean the word the way it's used in sci-fi, connoting self-awareness, as opposed to the diluted definition preferred by the animal rights community, which has to do simply with ability to suffer.


I, for one, am resolutely opposed to the eating of replicants. Or, at least, to eating those raised in factories.

Were meat-eaters required to slaughter their own meals or raise them in the filth and terror of factory farms, rather than leave that dirty work up to the menial underclass workers they would never associate with, there would be many more vegetarians.

J.D. the next time you go down on someone, remember: they also pee out of that thing.

J.D., but most of the people used to do it and not so long ago. In countryside, it is still normal practice to "slaughter their own meals". So, I don't see any fundamental problem here.

Beef industry shills are just so damn touchy and cognitively challenged. Better diet would fix that.


I have to admit I rather enjoy horse. A high-quality cut of horse is about 2/3 the price of a similar cut of beef but still about 5/6 as good so it's really worth it. AND NO FACTORY FARMING!

I know some people in the food animal industry (mostly vets, coupla farmers) and they're all pretty disgusted by factory farming. Animal welfare is generally a high priority for them. Good animal conditions also usually translate into good worker conditions.

But none of these people would eat dog. Why? Because of a generally held belief (among vets at least) that carnivore meat doesn't taste very good.

"I mean the word [sentience] the way it's used in sci-fi, connoting self-awareness, as opposed to the diluted definition preferred by the animal rights community, which has to do simply with ability to suffer."

Fer reelz? So I guess eating anencephalic babies would be all right with you? Smells like denial to me. But never mind, I learned long ago you can't really teach empathy. Perhaps were you to be sentenced to a special re-education camp, where morning til night you were forced to watch Bambi, and nature films of animal mothers nurturing their young, interspersed with video taken in slaughterhouses. Yum yum.

Ah, the totalitarian substrate of human idealism, even of the warmest kind, bubbles finally and grotesquely to the surface! Welcome to the human race, JD, have a complimentary KFC Famous Bowl!

If there's one thing I learned reading Elizabeth Costello and watching Conquest of the Planet of the Apes it's that there is nothing natural about rights; you have to reach out and take them. When the dogs are willing to talk about this I am willing to listen. Until then, fetch.

Woof. All right, I ain't gonna lie, I'm part dog on my father's side so this hits home.

The present system requires a permanent underclass assigned to labor in factory farms inhaling ammonia fumes and shit and all day, and in abattoirs where they experience the same, plus blood and terror. Eat what you want, get sick sooner and die younger, I don't judge that -- but spare me the magical thinking rationalizations and faux superior moralizing. They are about as convincing as the bullshit "explaining" why the US should continue to fund Israel's apartheid/genocide of the Palestinians.

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