Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Beijing Restaurants Take Dogs off the Menu During the Olympic Games

The 112 officially designated Olympic restaurants have been ordered by the Beijing Catering Trade Association to not serve dog flesh during the month of August. Other restaurants in Beijing have been admonished to do the same, in an apparent public relations scheme directed at foreign tourists, athletes, and journalists, who will be visiting for the 2008 summer games.

The impact of this move on local residents will be minor if not insignificant, as the several-thousand-years-old cultural tradition of dog eating has declined in popularity in recent decades, more than replaced by an alarming increase in the consumption of animals more familiar to western diners, such as chickens, pigs, and cows.

Like South Korea, which banned dogs from menus during the 1988 Seoul Olympics, Chinese officials are trying to avoid negative publicity from Westerners who might consider dog eating to be barbaric and backwards, while they’re attempting to present a modern forward-looking face to the world. The measure is a reaction to Western speciesist thinking in which it’s considered acceptable to eat some types of animals (like pigs and turkeys), but downright horrific to eat other types (dogs). This attitude is based on our cultural tradition of viewing certain animal species as food, and others as cute and cuddly companions.

However, looking at the situation more objectively, dogs and pigs—along with humans—all share the capacity for emotion, and the desire to avoid pain, suffering, and death. They all have unique personalities and exhibit self-awareness and curiosity. In other words, other than the fact that some of them are not human, all of them essentially conform to the definition of “person.” From a moral standpoint, eating dogs is no better or worse than eating cows, chickens, pigs, or fish. That seeing dogs listed on restaurant menus in Beijing may offend or upset foreign visitors, says more about Western speciesism than China’s comparative level of civilization and modernity.

Even if this ban covered all of China, and was permanent rather than temporary, I would not support it. Anyone who considers themselves to be supportive of animal rights, who favors this or similar measures, ought to stop and reconsider. In much the same way that banning capital punishment for white people would fuel racism and strengthen the concept of white supremacy, this ban does little other than to reinforce speciesism and the concept of dogs as “special.” It has no practical effect, as restaurant patrons who might have ordered dog flesh will most likely substitute some other species of animal on the menu. Nor does it represent incremental progress, as there is no intention of making the ban permanent, expanding it to other parts of China, or broadening it to include other animal species, milk, eggs, and other uses of animals. In this instance like so many others that abolitionists are critical of, the idea that exploiting animals is wrong, is not lost; it’s not even addressed.


Anonymous said...

Excellent post, very well put. It's a ridiculous notion and indeed only fuels speciesism.

Alex said...

Indeed, we have to be very careful in our discourses about challenging these practices - eating dogs. I think there is, however, a readily available conversation-starter inherent in the act of banning the consumption of dogs because of Western tastes and sensibilities. Therefore, I would argue that this can be an effective means.