Comment writer Alice Macfarlane discusses the hypocrisy of the Western world’s view on dog meat and the Yulin Festival
With Christmas just around the corner, the majority of us have spent the holiday season fantasizing about what we’re having for Christmas dinner. Turkey? Chicken? Beef? How about dog? Of course not. Are we savages?
There have always been natural hierarchies in the animal kingdom, that’s just a fact. But with humans making our way to the top of the food chain, we have developed our own animal hierarchies, almost entirely based on how cute and cuddly a creature is. You wouldn’t eat a dog, no you wouldn’t dream of it. But why is a cow or a pig any different?
Journalist and activist Pip Tomson and Claire Bass recently appeared on the hit breakfast show This Morning, discussing their campaign against dog meat farms in South Korea. As it stands, 30 million dogs are slaughtered each year for the Asian food market, but in a world where 56 billion farmed animals are killed every year by humans, this figure seems just a drop in the ocean. The two women discussed their efforts to free dogs from meat farms in Korea and their outrage at the idea of Asian cultures serving up man’s best friend in their soup of the day. It remains unclear as to whether both these women themselves are vegan or even vegetarian, but in the same way that this article is not advocating that we add dog meat to our menus, it is also not a lecture on vegetarianism. Instead, I want to point out the glaring hypocrisies surrounding the Western crusade against dog meat farming.
Every year in the summer, the Yulin dog meat festival ignites outrage amongst westerners. This ten-day long event celebrates something that is unimaginable to us: dining on our beloved pets. But with the yearly reappearance of this festival, comes the yearly reappearance of hypocrisy. I have seen countless arguments against the cruelty of the dog meat trade from people who are quite happy to eat other animals in their daily lives. Of course, eating meat is a personal choice, but we cannot pretend that the farming of dogs in Asia is all that different from the farming done here in Western countries.
During their interview on This Morning, Pip Tomson claimed that ‘culture is no excuse’ for the conditions that these dogs are kept in. But if the argument is truly against the treatment of farm animals, then why not accord the same importance to campaigns against our own meat trades, which have often been exposed as equally appalling? In a rather twee ending to the interview, presenter Eamonn Holmes hugs the two women and thanks them for their incredible work…most likely forgetting what he had eaten for dinner the night before.
I do not dispute the importance of these campaigns, but what I do take issue with is the way in which they are used to demonise Asian cultures. The reality is, that with our use of intense factory-farming, we simply cannot moralise about what Eastern cultures, or as Pip Tomson callously puts it ‘them out there’, decide to eat. Our ethnocentric views have allowed the Asian dog meat trade to be presented as barbaric, whilst the rest of us don’t think twice about ordering a burger and fries. Unfortunately, this perspective is nothing new, descending from a long, xenophobic history of Western cultures presenting the orient as the elusive and unfamiliar ‘other’. Of course, nobody wants to openly support the slaughter of any animal but, in this case, branding one form of farming as more cruel than another exposes nothing more than a distasteful criticism of foreign cultures.
Ultimately, eating dog meat will always be unthinkable to us. The way we perceive our canine companions is never going to change. But if you are strongly against the farming practices used over in Asian countries, then you might want to refresh your knowledge on our own meat industry. It could provide some much needed food for thought.