Dog meat isn't special, whether you eat it or not

Recently, much has been made of a passage in Barack Obama's 1995 memoir Dreams from My Father where he speaks of eating dog meat as a child in Indonesia. He described it as "tough", though not as tough as snake meat. Others have claimed that Obama has never apologized since then or expressed any regret over having eaten dog. But regardless of the veracity of these claims, or the ethics of other dog-related acts such as transporting a live dog on the roof of a car, there's little reason why this would be newsworthy. And even if Barack Obama were completely unapologetic about eating dog and continued to enjoy dog meat to this day with no compunctions whatsoever, this still should never have become an issue. Whatever your views on the morality of eating meat, there's no reason why the ethical status of eating dog should be substantially different from that of eating cow, pig or chicken. The concerns that apply to the raising of dogs for meat are equally applicable to other livestock as well.

The need to spare the animal as much cruelty as possible has been raised, but it's not as though dogs have a greater ability to perceive and suffer from pain and discomfort than other meat animals. They feel pain just as much as dogs do. While we might find ourselves much more disturbed and emotionally pained at the sight of a dog being deliberately slaughtered or kept in inhumane conditions, there's no reason to assume that our own unique suffering must mean the dog suffers uniquely as well. If we feel that the circumstances in which a dog is raised or killed cause undue distress to the dog, then we should be just as insistent that pigs or cows be treated equally humanely - whether we prefer that they be treated well before slaughter, or not be killed at all.

Others seem to regard dogs as special due to their intelligence and ability to learn. However, pigs have also proven capable of learning commands and remembering them for years. They've also shown their competence at playing video games designed for chimpanzees. The intelligence of dogs is not qualitatively different from that of other animals, and it seems arbitrary that dogs should define the level of intellect that would rule out using an animal for meat. And even if we do subscribe to that definition, it would still encompass more than just dogs. Yet nobody finds it especially notable if a presidential candidate is found to have eaten bacon.

The question of food safety is an important one, since the unpopularity of dog meat in many areas means that it's often processed and sold with little or no oversight. But this problem is not limited to dogs, and can be remedied by bringing dog meat within the purview of a proper regulatory framework, just as with other meat animals. A lack of regulation is not inherent to the use of dogs as livestock.

Another objection I've heard is that dogs are an inefficient source of food because they don't provide enough usable meat relative to the resources used to raise them. While I haven't been able to find information about the resource consumption of dog meat farming, the raising of cows, pigs and other livestock is remarkably inefficient as well. 100,000 liters of water are used to produce a single kilogram of grain-fed beef, whereas only 2,000 liters of water are required to produce a kilogram of rice or soybeans. The grain being fed to livestock in the United States could be used to feed 800 million people, and livestock production is responsible for a significant portion of greenhouse gas emissions.

If the environmental effects of livestock dogs are a concern, the environmental effects of all livestock should be a concern - and if one is willing to overlook the impact of all other livestock, there seems to be little reason why dog would stand out as unacceptable. In any case, livestock dogs could simply be bred to have more usable meat, as has been done with cows, chickens and turkeys. In fact, there's already a breed of dog in South Korea specifically meant to serve as a source of meat.

Finally, many people have appealed to the history of canine coexistence with humans to justify why dogs deserve special treatment. Given that they're considered "man's best friend", often exhibiting a great degree of personal devotion and serving a variety of useful purposes to us, it's been suggested that we owe it to dogs not to eat them. But the consumption of dogs is just as much of a historical tradition as the companionship of dogs - their relationship to us hasn't ruled out their use as food before, so why would it now? Either tradition can justify eating dogs as well, or their history as pets is as irrelevant as their history as food.

And if a certain lifeform deserves to be treated respectfully and humanely, then they deserve dignity regardless of what services they can offer us or how much they like us. Their entitlement to respect is not contingent upon any particular alliance we have with them. When it comes to devotion, other domesticated livestock are quite capable of exhibiting similar attachments, and people are likewise able to form bonds with these animals as well - it's just that most of us don't have a pet cow or pig to greet us when we come home. Conversely, while cows are deeply respected in India, not many people elsewhere seem to find this a compelling reason to refrain from eating beef. And if canine allegiance to humans is still troubling, we could always try to breed dogs that, while docile, have no special attachment to people. If that's not enough to make them acceptable as food, then it's hard to see why any other livestock would be acceptable, either.

Ultimately, the cuteness and friendliness and unique companionship of dogs is less like a serious argument, and more like an anti-abortion billboard that says, "Your baby's heart is already beating!" - true, but irrelevant. In the present context, highlighting Obama's consumption of dog meat as if there were something strange about it is likely meant to depict him as some kind of alien "other" who's violated one of our most deeply held taboos, marking him as part of a foreign culture and mindset. Meanwhile, few people have bothered to question whether this taboo has any actual merit. If we're looking for a reason not to eat dog, there are plenty of better arguments which don't rely on the assumption that dogs are categorically different from other livestock. Unfortunately for some of us, treating other livestock as not categorically different from dogs may have undesirable implications.

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5 responses to Dog meat isn't special, whether you eat it or not

  1. Doug Beatty says:

    Very eloquent. The dog eating thing was obviously a pundit response to the dog carrier on top of the car thing.

    On cruelty reduction I admire vegans. Cruelty free? Nope. Agriculture to feed humans with out meat is more efficient, but you still can't make a vegan omlette without fornicating up some habitat.

    It's a question of degree. Vegan is definitely greener, and involves less cruelty to animals.

  2. KALYANI says:

    firstly...i will try to curb my wrath as i write this reply. nothing on the internet is capable of causing as much rage as your post here .
    do u realize that u hav just given mindless dog eating freaks the justification they needed for their unholy dietary habits ? i am sure you have recieved a lot of undue respect from dog eaters.

    im a hindu. i used to eat beef but i dont anymore ,out of humane reasons . i eat chicken n fish ..but they havent d intelligence or thought process dogs have ,as anyrespectable dog owner will tell you. and if i am not mistaken..jesus himself had nothing against eatingmeat.

    dogs are very much capable of emotions ..i dont know about pigs .
    dogs are loving,caring and trusting ,and as such magnificent beings ,they are second only to humans or chimps and deserve to live. just because v r more evolved than them doesnt entitle us to kill them . this passes for all living things too.. n cos i personally realize this.. i make an effort to b a veg. im wrong for eating flesh . i accept that . i am ready to change.
    so please dont start supporting killing dogs just because obama is unapologetic or watever. the guy doesnt know better , apparently . we should bring about the change ,we ourselves should ,we are here to empower others to change. not encourage the killing of creatures that is easily the best species alive.
    please. think .

    • Krystal says:

      Pigs are also highly emotional and sensitive creatures. Zinnia is not saying that we should eat dogs, but that dogs do not deserve special treatment. In fact, she says that livestock production is responsible for pollution, implying that we shouldn't eat meat at all. So, in the American culture, if people decide that eating meat is fine, then they should accept that eating dogs is fine as well. People think that dogs are special because they spend more time with dogs and see them on tv more. But according to research, they are not more intelligent or sensitive. Pigs are capable of experiencing the same pains as dogs do. People need to be consistent in their ideals, instead of creating irrational exceptions.

  3. TomBcat says:

    I don't know why I can't resist to comment on such an old entry, but here it is anyway:
    The main difference between eating a dog and a pig is that dogs primarily live off meat, so the cost to the environment might actually be different. I don't know if it actually is and if dogs bread for consumption would require even more meat to be produced or if they would just get meat we would otherwise throw away, and one would also have to look into nutritious benefits of different animals.
    Also, if we ignore the quality of meat and the social implications, we would have to do the same with cannibals as well.
    Of course while that would be a reason not to eat carnivores it doesn't explain the outcry because some politician ate dog meat once. While the social implications might be obvious in the US, the same has to be taken into account in different countries(like one wouldn't eat cow in India or pork in a Muslim country).
    So, there's that.
    Personally, I just wouldn't eat any animal that I also keep as a pet, because befriending an animal and eating it's relatives seems strange to me, but I try to live as vegan as possible, anyway, so....

  4. Dog Steakes says:

    I have a beagel fillet on the grill right now!!

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