The annual Yulin Dog Meat Festival in China came and went but not without strong opposition to the slaughtering of some 10,000+ dogs for food. This year many high-profile celebrities added their names to the fray, raising the scope of awareness. While attempts to close dog abattoirs in China are laudable, Western revulsion and outrage at the consumption of dog meat reeks of hypocrisy and American exceptionalism.
Killing animals for the taste of their flesh is not unique to China. Just as there are some Chinese who care little for the lives of dogs beyond the perverted pleasure they get from eating them; there are plenty more Americans who care even less for the lives of farmed animals for similarly immoral reasons.
The United States consumes 10 billion land animals every year for their flesh, milk, and eggs—one million times more animals than those killed at the Yulin Dog Meat Festival!
In a campaign video, Matt Damon, Alyssa Milano, Andy Cohen, and other Hollywood stars voiced their concerns regarding the treatment of dogs at the festival: "We're here asking you to stop the cruelty, stop the beatings, stop the burning, stop the hangings, stop skinning them alive, stop the stabbing, stop boiling them alive, stop the torture."
American methods for butchering farmed animals are no less cruel and violent than Chinese practices. In fact, the same savageries that Damon, Milano, Cohen, and other non-vegan Americans want stopped for dogs are the same savageries they sanction against pigs, chickens, turkeys, cows, goats, ducks, and other animals every time they sit down to eat.
So why do so many Americans concentrate exclusively on the needs of dogs and cats in China and other Asian countries while ignoring the plight of farmed animals here? What's more, how can they disregard the direct impact their own non-vegan choices have on animals? There are three ideologies at work that explain these incongruities: racism, carnism, and most of all, speciesism.
"There are many animals that [sic] we do kill and eat in America—indeed, more than twice as many animals per person than the average Chinese," said Wayne Hsiung, co-founder of Direct Action Everywhere (DxE). "But somehow, when the Chinese do it, it is disgusting, contemptuous, an indication of a perversion in their culture and race. When Americans do it (and on a far greater scale), it's just the way things are—unthinkingly accepted by the masses and rarely protested even by those who have sworn their lives to defending animals."
Even more than racism, speciesism and carnism are so indoctrinated into human society that cat and dog lovers are often impervious to their own duplicity and dissociative behavior when it comes to other animals. For instance, after I pointed out Matt Damon's hypocrisy** on a Facebook post regarding the festival, a man named Seth responded: "This is not about eating meat, it's about trying to end the abuse and torturing of animals."
Are you frigging kidding me? Of course this is about eating meat, only, for most, the grievance is in the type or species of meat. And if the aim of these protesters were really to end the abuse and torturing of animals, then they also would be working toward securing legal rights for nonhuman animals and demanding a vegan course of action.
Seth's comment was ludicrous and naive but, unfortunately, it reflects the prevailing mindset of speciesists who believe it is morally acceptable to compartmentalize nonhuman animals into categories of human worth and usage. Like when a coworker insisted that she can love animals and eat them; she defended herself by emphatically reiterating "I don't eat dogs!"
"What are pigs," I asked her, "vegetables?"
Dr. Melanie Joy explains how carnism works in Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows:
"We love dogs and eat cows not because dogs and cows are fundamentally different—cows, like dogs, have feelings, preferences, and consciousness—but because our perception of them is different. . . . We have a schema for every subject, including animals. . . . when it comes to meat, most animals are either food, or not food. . . . We aren't born with our schemas; they are constructed. . . . This system dictates which animals are edible, and it enables us to consume them by protecting us from feeling any emotional or psychological discomfort when doing so. The system teaches us how to not feel. The most obvious feeling we lose is disgust, yet beneath our disgust lies an emotion much more integral to our sense of self: our empathy."The slaughter of dogs for food in China appears more egregious because of the species and the relationship Americans have with dogs, unlike the limited experience, if any at all, they have interacting with farmed animals. In addition, the killing of dogs in China is primarily conducted in the open and at festivals, whereas Americans rarely witness the execution of farmed animals on their behalf. In the US, the violent processing of nonhuman animals for food is systematic, invisible, and strategically kept at a distance from consumers. Americans don't treat nonhuman animals any better than the Chinese, we're just less forthright and transparent about our animal exploitation and abuse, which allows us to remain in denial, both personally and nationally.
The primary defense of the system is invisibility;" continued Joy, "invisibility reflects the defenses avoidance and denial and is the foundation on which all other mechanisms stand. Invisibility enables us, for example, to consume beef without envisioning the animals we're eating. . . . [it] also keeps us safely insulated from the unpleasant process of raising and killing animals for our food."
Animal advocacy campaigns in foreign countries are easier to support because they are elsewhere, and it is far less threatening (and more self-satisfying) to point fingers at someone else half way around the world than it is to critically look inward at our own daily cruelties and deceits. In the same vein, those who skirt around racism and speciesism in their claim that All Lives Matter are not being honest.
The campaign to end China's Yulin Dog Meat Festival is completely justified for its unwarranted abuse and suffering, but it also mirrors the same us-versus-them mentality that contributes to both racism (white privilege) and speciesism (dog and cat privilege).
US charities frequently exhibit this oppressive bias when they serve other animals to be eaten at fundraisers to help cats and dogs. Case in point, an ad (above) for a recent event held by the Jersey Animal Welfare Society.
"Racism, like speciesism, is not a product of individual prejudice but systems—broad cultural patterns of thought that often are entirely subconscious," continued Hsiung. He added, "Open racists are a dying breed."
Speciesists, on the other hand, are unreserved and sanctimonious; they claim to love some animals while sustaining the torment of others; they pound their fists demanding action for dogs while living their lives at the expense of chickens, turkeys, fish, wildlife, the environment, starving humans in developing countries, and most everyone else, and they cling tightly to the Orwellian notion that some animals are more equal than others.
**(Neither Damon, Milano, nor Cohen are vegan, and Milano is actually a paid spokesperson for the Atkins Diet, which relies heavily on meat, dairy, and eggs.)
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