When the media and the blogosphere started going crazy writing about China’s plans to ban the eating of dog meat, I made clear to myself that I was going to stay out of it. There was just no way I was going to join that bandwagon. First off, I just did not see it as a big deal. More on that below. Secondly, I have always hated the whole dog meat issue because when Westerners discuss it, they so often do so in an irritatingly self-righteous and ethnocentric (please note this is the first time I have used this word on this blog) way. More on that below also.
So why then am I writing about it now? Because I long ago vowed that whenever I get at least three emails from readers requesting I write about a topic, I will do so, and my third one just came in:
I know you don’t eat meat so I am surprised you have not written anything about China’s new law on the eating of dog meat. Do you see this as China’s becoming more humane? Will the law be enforced or is this just being done for PR?
No, no, and no.
I feel I must set out my bona fides at the outset. I love dogs. They are my favorite animal by far. I am a dog person. On top of that, I have not had a bite of meat for 17 years. Not one. I do NOT consider those who eat meat any less moral than me. Two reasons for this. One, eating or not eating meat is just one small aspect of a person’s morality and I absolutely can understand those who think it is no aspect at all. Who is more moral, a vegetarian serial killer or someone who eats meat but devotes their whole life to helping the homeless mentally ill? Who is a better “environmental steward, a vegetarian who owns a massively polluting factory that engages in illegal dumping or someone who works for Greenpeace, eats and walks everywhere? Two, I know very few people well enough to be able to judge their moral standing and that kind of judging just ain’t my bag.
The new laws will also deal with animal cruelty issues, which I view very differently than the provisions on dog meat.
Many years ago, I was at lunch with a group of law students after having given a talk at their law school. When my meat-free entree arrived, one of the students launched into a mini-speech about how great it was that I was “such a steward of the earth.” As soon as she finished, I jokingly said that I did this to make up for owning two large Hummers and not recycling a thing (neither true but said for effect). This poor student looked horrified, but everyone else laughed. I felt only a little bit bad.
So I just cannot ascribe much at all to whether a country eats dog or not. I also cannot see any real difference between eating dog meat or any other meat. Where does horse meat fit on the moral scale? Are countries that eat horse meat (France for example) less culturally developed than those that do not? Does anyone disagree with me on this? Or should the cuteness or friendliness of the cut count towards the morality of the eating? The US is not necessarily more sophisticated, not necessarily more moral, not necessarily more advanced than countries in which dog (or horse or whatever) meat is eaten. In France they love mussels, yet clams are generally considered dirty. It’s a cultural thing.
I once had a dog meat discussion with some Koreans who complained of how Americans act as though all Koreans are “horrible people” because some eat dog. They told me their retort is to point out how badly the US takes care of its homeless humans. Touché.
I have been to Korea so many times that the Westin Chosun in Seoul had a mini-celebration for me on my 100th stay there about five years ago. And though this happens less often than it did, I still occasionally encounter someone who wants to let me know that they would never go to Korea “because they eat dog there.” My favorite was when a butcher told me this. I kid you not!
So here is how I see China’s plans to ban dog meat.
I do not think China is doing this to placate the West. I think China is doing this because dogs are becoming increasingly popular pets in China among its wealthier citizens and this planned ban is a great way to placate them. I do not see it as a sign of anything else.
There is a saying on how the Chinese will eat anything “with four legs that isn’t a table, anything that flies that isn’t an airplane, and anything that moves that isn’t a bike.” Apparently dog is an exception.
What do you think?
UPDATE: Someone pointed out to me that I failed to distinguish between eating endangered animals and animals that are not threatened or endangered and that this distinction proves my thesis wrong regarding the cut of the meat being irrelevant in terms of determining morality. I agree that I should have excluded endangered and threatened species when I talked about not being able to see any difference between eating one animal as opposed to another.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Nice post on the topic of animal rights in China at the China Geeks blog [link no longer exists]. Makes the important point (though one that should be unnecessary) that, hey, not all 1.3 billion people in China think alike on these issues.