Thoughts on the family dog and eating meat
July 25, 2018 8:50 PM   Subscribe

As humans gain an ever-increasing understanding of animals’ ability to think, feel, and experience pain, many of us are asking whether eating meat is morally acceptable. Can you care for animals and also eat them? There’s a difference between compassion and sentimentality and, after all, it’s a dog-eat-dog world. As I’m grilling steaks later, trying to visualize the cow killed for this meal, I wrestle with the question. (Ephrat Livni, Quartz)
posted by Johnny Wallflower (22 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
This has been really weighing on me lately. I saw some pictures of dogs destined to be eaten, and I was horrified - but pigs and cows are also very highly emotionally developed animals as well. For me, though, the being killed is less of an issue (as the author of the piece puts it, it's a part of the natural order) than what animals go through en route to slaughter. Factory farming is horrific for the animals involved.

I do also believe that individual consumption is a lot less important than institutional behavior - but for my own moral being, it's harder and harder to justify meat eating, and I've been gradually eating less and less of it. I'm still not a vegetarian or vegan though, for some complicated personal reasons.
posted by lunasol at 8:58 PM on July 25, 2018 [11 favorites]

This has been weighing on me a lot as well. I've been wanting to go vegan, or at least vegetarian, for a long time now, but a lot of my issues with eating are wrapped up in other psychological issues. From a privileged standpoint, it's easy for me to eat meat, especially if I've been depressed in my bedroom for a couple of days and have only eaten bread and hummus that entire time. I sincerely think I'd lose a ton of weight if I became vegan or vegetarian, although I totally understand that there are non-meat foods that have proper fats and protein that a body needs. For me though, it's easier to have no dietary restrictions, and it's something I've been trying to come to terms with. As much as I'd love to restrict my diet for moral and ethical reasons, my diet is already "restricted" in a different manner. I'm 6'1 and 130-140 pounds depending on how much I eat in a given month. This feeling of inability and hopelessness in regard to eating food, along with the urge to "do the right thing", has created a massive debate within me.

A lot this comes from body image issues. I look at myself and think "god, I look like a skeleton", and I can't imagine cutting out more foods from my diet when I already look like this. I try to remind myself "whether you eat meat or are vegan/vegetarian, you can lift weights and change the way you look", but I am so tired all the time that it feels like more work. I hate the feeling of contributing to issues that I find important, or contributing to the murder of animals that I know are intelligent and that I love and give me joy when I see them. There's a herd of goats in a residential area here that I go and pet sometimes, and it gives me so much joy, and I know I should cut out all other animals because they give me joy too when I see them in person.
posted by gucci mane at 9:14 PM on July 25, 2018 [6 favorites]

Can you care for animals and also eat them?

If you're hungry enough.
posted by sammyo at 9:25 PM on July 25, 2018

A while back I was holding my cat and thinking about how much I love him. Unbidden, I suddenly flashed on this insight: I could never eat him! And just like that, I thought that maybe I couldn't ever eat meat again... me who always noted that evolution decreed that we have tearing teeth as well as grinding teeth for a reason. I'm still an omnivore, but damn, it bothers me much more too.
posted by carmicha at 9:26 PM on July 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm with gucci mane, though my food issues are more poverty/campaign damage than body image. It is just so hard for me to make myself eat throughout the day-- I manage half a sandwich at best, most days-- that to limit myself in what I eat is probably not helpful for me personally. I do tend to avoid red meat, but that's more out of convenience and taste than anything else.
posted by dogheart at 9:26 PM on July 25, 2018

No really, is it about you... or the consumed? If it's about the consumed, what do we do about cats, and dogs, and wolves, and tigers, and insects, and fire ants and bacteria and all the vast not human that are happy to consume the consumed? Kill them all? Force the tiggers to be vegetarians? Can we do that with CRISPR, and would they still be tiggers? Is it our place to change the very nature of nature? Are we willing to force entire species to become what they are not because of our personal philosophy?
posted by sammyo at 9:29 PM on July 25, 2018 [7 favorites]

Humans can very well acknowledge that we "know better" and concede that others who do not "know better" are morally blameless. We do this thing all the time. As we are empowered with intelligence and the ability to choose, we have a higher moral burden than other animals.

The way we eat is also different in character to that of other animals because we do not need to eat meat. Wild animals must subsist on the wilderness around them. Yet we choose what grows in our fields. As we are empowered to choose a diet, the choice of what we eat gets moral character in a way what an animal/a human who cannot choose otherwise does not.
posted by sidek at 10:21 PM on July 25, 2018 [34 favorites]

I don’t know about you guys, but my dog’s gonna be the first to go when the apocalypse comes because he’s like 60lb of meat. My previous big dog would have never been eaten because he could actually catch sheep and calves, so he could earn his keep.

But seriously, eating meat fucking sucks. But I’m getting better and better at hunting and fishing because eating meat isn’t as bad as participating in the meat industry, although I realize not everyone lives in an area where deer and trout are plentiful.

But more seriously. I’m definitely eating Charlie. He’s very cute but so worthless.
posted by Grandysaur at 11:15 PM on July 25, 2018 [5 favorites]

I don't eat much meat, but mainly for economic reasons. It's gotten so expensive in recent years and it's only worth the cost for me every now and then. As for cats, I'm very fond of mine while realizing that if she somehow became larger than me I'd be a potential prey organism. My cat is welcome to the local rodents, mainly kangaroo rats, which tend to flourish excessively near human residences. The local birds, such as roadrunners, cactus wrens, and mockingbirds, seem to be able to avoid Resident Cat easily.
posted by Agave at 3:00 AM on July 26, 2018 [4 favorites]

I'm a vegetarian, but I don't think eating meat is *inherently* wrong. Because at its core, nature is cruel. The young die, animals slowly starve, get eaten alive by parasites... But we don't need to add to that cruelty. Factory farming and so much of modern meat production is wrong and cruel. Those under our care should have good lives.

My parents live surrounded by a sheep farm, and they do live good lives. They are entirely free to roam, but the farmer ensures they get water, they get additional feed when times get hard, they get treated for fly-strike and other diseases, they get help in difficult pregnancies. I wouldn't mind being one of those sheep.

The downside, of course, is most of the lambs go off to slaughter. After they've been separated some of the mums are ready to be left alone again, but some stand at the fence, bleating for their lambs. It makes me so sad. But then if they were in the wild, how many of the lambs would be lost to wolves and crows and bad weather and broken legs? None of the orphans or rejected lambs (12 or so this year) would have made it to that stage.

This is a long way of saying I'm conflicted on the ethics of eating meat, but I personally just can't. And I think my inability to become vegan is a failure to stick to my morals, but once I cut out milk and cheese I'm straight up not getting enough protein and it's bad for me. I know there's ways around that but I already find it tiring and frustrating to feed myself. I do think everyone should eat less meat, full stop, even if just for environmental reasons.
posted by stillnocturnal at 3:09 AM on July 26, 2018 [9 favorites]

if they were in the wild, how many of the lambs would be lost to wolves...

If the sheep were in the wild, they mostly wouldn't exist at all. This is true for the majority of our domesticated meat and dairy animals. They have lives in the first place because of their utility to humans. There's nothing nature-driven about it; today's domesticated animal breeds exist, and the individuals are alive, because of a long, long chain of human choice-making.
posted by Miko at 4:03 AM on July 26, 2018 [12 favorites]

There are some practical, unsentimental reasons to avoid eating dogs and cats. For starters, eating the meat of omnivores and carnivorous animals is generally a dodgier proposition from a health perspective than eating the meat of herbivores is. Animals that eat a more varied and more parasite-ridden diet are more likely to pass such nasties onto you, if you eat them in turn. (This study claims that carnivorous animals also tend to avoid eating the carcasses of other carnivores, which is interesting, albeit probably not all that relevant to what people do).

There's also an efficiency argument, in that it's generally much less efficient energy-wise, for obvious reasons, to raise a carnivorous or omnivorous animal to eatin' weight than it is to raise a herbivore. While dogs and pigs both can survive by foraging around human settlements, pigs do get a lot bigger and fatter than dogs in a much shorter time-frame. One could also argue that dogs do somewhat more useful things around the homestead or village than our usual livestock species do, like chasing away intruders or assisting with hunting and moving livestock from place to place. This may also be why some cultures find it icky to eat domesticated horses. (Yes, I do know about guard geese, and they are terrifying).

Then there's issues with public health and the usually unregulated nature of dog and cat meat consumption. The unregulated dog meat trade is generally considered to be linked to the spread of rabies in Southeast Asia. Here's a representative study from Thailand.

There's some studies out of Nigeria linking rabies transmission and poorly-regulated dog meat butchers as well. There are issues with dog meat "hunters" in China using poisoned darts to kill dogs - that usually are owned by someone - that they then sell for human consumption. Per this article (also from the Economist), dog meat consumption doesn't actually have a particularly long history in China, but the trade is actually increasing as it's a fairly lucrative source of criminal income.

Of course, there's big-time public health issues with eating mysteriously sourced protein from any sort of animal, but dogs and cats are much more likely to be affected with rabies than our less "controversial" meat animals. (Pigs do get rabies, but much less often than dogs do). You probably could solve this problem by strictly regulating the dog meat trade, but there doesn't seem to be much political will to do that, as consuming dog meat is becoming more and more controversial in many countries where it takes place. While farmers in South Korea want the government to regulate dog meat just as it does other meat sources, animal rights activists are very much opposed.

It is also worth noting here that the vast majority of non-Western people do not eat dog and have never eaten dog, and Western jerkoffs who make "That Chinese restaurant serves dog meat, hurr hurr hurr" jokes should be shot into the sun.

I just realized I wrote a novel here but I've always found this question very interesting. And yes, I have eaten dog meat before, though someone else ordered it. Tasted kind of like very gamy lamb?
posted by faineg at 5:25 AM on July 26, 2018 [13 favorites]

I rarely eat meat, but we have three rescue cats. One has a food allergy which requires he be fed rabbit. Cats are pure carnivores. Depriving them of meat will render them blind or worse. Would we, could we eat our pets? The answer is a blunt no, but yet keeping them requires that animals die. Thinking about this causes me pain.
posted by kinnakeet at 6:34 AM on July 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

There's nothing nature-driven about it; today's domesticated animal breeds exist, and the individuals are alive, because of a long, long chain of human choice-making.

This is a little bit more complex than that. Domestication has been described as an "evolutionary process in its own right" where the "human" is a niche in itself and both humans and animals became deeply entangled following both accidental and intentional selective pressure. It is very much nature-driven as many future domestic species had pre-existing traits that made domestication a mutually beneficial choice. Domestic species that followed the "commensal pathway" (dogs, pigs, chickens) started with individuals that "choose" to join (rather than flee or avoid) the human niche. The "prey pathway" (cattle and most ruminants except camelids) is also interesting: only a few species could make the jump from prey to "managed game" and then to "domestic livestock": their domestication was eventually made possible by their rare ability to thrive in the specific conditions (accidental first, intentional later) offered by the human niche.
posted by elgilito at 6:58 AM on July 26, 2018 [3 favorites]

Way back in my days of summer camp, when I worked in the Nature program, Chickens, Turkeys, Goats.

I could just never bring myself to eat anything with a name. I guess that's my definition of "Personhood". I know for damn sure my dog is a better person than I'll ever be.
posted by mikelieman at 7:00 AM on July 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

I learned in my anthropology studies that there are some taboos surrounding consumption of carnivores, but you can come up with plenty of exceptions to that general rule if you think about it for a few minutes (also, are we counting most of the fish we eat?). Herbivores are way way easier to domesticate and keep, though.

I'm pescatarian, though my family doesn't eat fish and I was strictly vegetarian for decades so the amount of non-vegetarian food I eat is still tiny. (Mainly I just got tired of ruling out most Japanese food for the presence of bonito, and also I like salmon.) The dissonance between loving animals (which I do and I've had many pets) and eating them was the thing that drove me to vegetarianism when I was 16. My dad tried his philosophy professor best to go all circle-of-life on me, but as a healthy human I'm an omnivore and I have free will and a vast supply chain available to me, and it seems like a perfectly cromulent choice to make.

The funny thing is that my parents are way way more sentimental about their own pets than I am. I mean, I love my pets, but my parents LOVE THEIR PETS, and anthropomorphize them in numerous frustrating (to me) ways. My mom in particular just cannot bare animal suffering and will not hear of it. She eats chicken, but every time I ever talk about the fate of my own backyard chickens (when they stop laying and it's time to get a new flock they will be sent to freezer camp because they have lived a life of ease and luxury and I only have room on my property for so many chickens so they need to give a little back in order to stick around) she does the la-la-la-I-can't-hear-you thing.
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:51 AM on July 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

Yes, the "fish question" is what really bothers me, too. I don't judge individual choices, but on a broader level I find it hard to grapple with the fact that our social idea of ethical and/or healthy eating has shifted much more towards fish and seafood, and well, fish would like to live too.... not to mention that wild fish stocks are plummeting. I don't know, it just bugs me that there is much less ethical outcry over the hundreds of fishing boats just pulling out fish by the thousands right now.

It's honestly weird but I can't stand photo essays of fish markets with these big, lovely tuna that must have been so majestic in the ocean. Especially considering how over-fished they are. We're probably driving them to extinction but their lives are our commodity.
posted by nakedmolerats at 9:31 AM on July 26, 2018 [5 favorites]

I think we owe a species-level obligation to animals we deliberately bred to love us to not eat them that we don't owe to wild animals or animals we bred for food.
posted by Jacqueline at 10:38 AM on July 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

My dog and I are in this together. We have a meat eating pact where we get to eat other animals. In an emergency, we agree to wait until the other is dead and then we get to eat their body for survival. We may be devoid of morals but it's easier to be evil with a friend.
posted by Foam Pants at 11:27 AM on July 26, 2018 [6 favorites]

The whole nature is cruel thing is not really a justification for keeping it that way in my opinion. The fact that "nature" kills children does not make it a good idea for us to do the same. Indeed, shifting the injustice perpetuation by an inhumane reality is exactly what I think makes any being great. I actually do think we will make it possible for animals to live without harming others. At present we already can give robotic arms to people and giving these to animals would likely change their brain development over hundreds of years. We are already rearing animal and human brain cells and create weird hybrids, it's not so much a matter of should we, it's that we will, and given that we will, what direction do we want to influence this, in favor of science that destroys, tortures, exploits all life (even including humans) or that continues to expand and grow in empathy and ability to serve all life? At some point I believe we will be able to communicate with plants in the way we can have human brain waves maneuver robotic arms. It's startling to me how arbitrarily we apply the fact that sensing cells of certain varieties matter and others don't. In many ways, it's a kind of magical believe that comes from otherwise scientific oriented people. The idea that humans have some sort of magically special characteristics that make their experiences meaningful as opposed to the rest of sensing beings is utterly illogical and nonfactual. However the power of myth, emotional belief, and desire to alter ones beliefs to suit ones wishes is just as strong in people who pretend to be more "scientific" or rational.
posted by xarnop at 9:39 AM on July 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

We may be devoid of morals but it's easier to be evil with a friend.

I think somewhere on this site is a note from Cold Chef that if you die around pets but no other humans, dogs will wait way longer than cats before they begin eating your corpse.
posted by Miko at 4:02 PM on July 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Just more proof that cats are smarter. Why let good meat spoil?

I told my cats they are welcome to me after I am dead.
I did very slowly and carefully repeat the after I am dead part.
I am fairly sure they got it...
posted by thefoxgod at 4:08 PM on July 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

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