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Making the case for eating our dogs

eatinganimals_200Another book has come out that makes the case for eating our dogs.

On the heels of “Time to Eat the Dog,” by New Zealand professors Brenda and Robert Vale, who admit their title is mostly a shock tactic and who don’t actually propose consuming our pets, comes Jonathan Safran Foer with “Eating Animals,” who says eating our dogs would be no more barbaric than our consumption of pigs, cattle, chickens, etc.

For Foer, interviewed on NPR’s All Things Considered yesterday, the idea of consuming dogs makes even more sense, on some levels, than eating animals raised to be food.

“For the ecologically-minded,” he writes, “it’s time to admit that dog is realistic food for realistic environmentalists.” That last part sounds almost like an advertising slogan, doesn’t it?

Foer’s book was also excerpted in the Wall Street Journal last week, so it’s probably OK if we cut off and chew on a little piece of it here:

“Dogs are wonderful, and in many ways unique. But they are remarkably unremarkable in their intellectual and experiential capacities. Pigs are every bit as intelligent and feeling, by any sensible definition of the words. They can’t hop into the back of a Volvo, but they can fetch, run and play, be mischievous and reciprocate affection. So why don’t they get to curl up by the fire? Why can’t they at least be spared being tossed on the fire? Our taboo against dog eating says something about dogs and a great deal about us.

“… What might be the reasons to exclude canine from the menu? The selective carnivore suggests:

“Don’t eat companion animals. But dogs aren’t kept as companions in all of the places they are eaten. And what about our petless neighbors? Would we have any right to object if they had dog for dinner?

“OK, then: Don’t eat animals with significant mental capacities. If by “significant mental capacities” we mean what a dog has, then good for the dog. But such a definition would also include the pig, cow and chicken. And it would exclude severely impaired humans.

“Then: It’s for good reason that the eternal taboos—don’t fiddle with your crap, kiss your sister, or eat your companions—are taboo. Evolutionarily speaking, those things are bad for us. But dog eating isn’t a taboo in many places, and it isn’t in any way bad for us. Properly cooked, dog meat poses no greater health risks than any other meat.

“…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.

“In a sense it’s what we’re doing already. Rendering—the conversion of animal protein unfit for human consumption into food for livestock and pets—allows processing plants to transform useless dead dogs into productive members of the food chain. In America, millions of dogs and cats euthanized in animal shelters every year become the food for our food. So let’s just eliminate this inefficient and bizarre middle step.

“Few people sufficiently appreciate the colossal task of feeding a world of billions of omnivores who demand meat with their potatoes. The inefficient use of dogs—conveniently already in areas of high human population (take note, local-food advocates)—should make any good ecologist blush. One could argue that various “humane” groups are the worst hypocrites, spending enormous amounts of money and energy in a futile attempt to reduce the number of unwanted dogs while at the very same time propagating the irresponsible no-dog-for-dinner taboo. If we let dogs be dogs, and breed without interference, we would create a sustainable, local meat supply with low energy inputs that would put even the most efficient grass-based farming to shame.”

Foer, whose book includes a recipe for dog, admits to not caring about dogs until he was 26 and took one in from the streets, and he says he now considers himself a dog lover. He’s also a vegetarian. So — even though he may be pointing out a very real hypocrisy among meat-eating dog lovers — him putting forth the case for dog-eating is a little like an atheist telling the church which hymns to sing.

The bottom line is Foer, like the Vales, like Jonathan Swift in his “Modest Proposal” that the Irish eat their own children, is trying to grab our attention — using dogs, and our love for them, as a scare tactic, point-maker and book-seller. Not that there’s anything wrong with at least the first two.


Comment from Anne’n’Spencer
Time November 2, 2009 at 9:27 pm

Well, I find the thought of eating a dog (or cat or horse) physically revolting and doubt I could do it even if I were looking at starvation. I suspect there are any number of cultures and societies where people feel the same way. On the other hand, there are societies where any or all of these animals are consumed. We had a big to-do here about people from the Pacific Islands.

I can’t help wondering if we’ve evolved somehow to feel this way about dogs. Over the long haul, they have been far more useful to us alive than dead–as guards, herders, hunters, and even burden-carriers such as sled dogs. And unlike some other animals, they tend to continue growing in usefulness as they can learn and develop experience even into their old age. Cattle are useful to us both alive (as beasts of burden and givers of milk) and dead, as meat. Same goes for sheep and chickens, which when alive provide wool or eggs, and when dead provide meat. I don’t know what useful tasks pigs can perform aside from, maybe, sniffing out truffles. Horses were killed and eaten in many countries in Europe right up into the twentieth century.

I think what will serve us better than eating our pets is trying to find more sensible ways of raising and consuming the animals we do eat as meat. Our approach to rearing cattle is absurd–we feed them grain (which we could eat ourselves) when what they actually need to eat is grass, which we can’t eat. Our chicken and pig farms, and our slaughterhouses, are barbaric in their cruelty. We’ve turned the production of our meat animals into an industrial operation. It’s wasteful, it’s harmful, and it diminishes us as human beings. If these books can shock us into thinking and acting more sensibly, then maybe we should read them.

Comment from Jerald
Time March 25, 2010 at 11:35 pm

I hope they spent there own money on this study? I just think some people have to much time on there hands. We would eat them then raise more to eat for profit then the pawprint would be more, so you two need another job because you suck at this one!