This week marks the start of the annual Yulin dog meat festival, a tradition in southern China. During the 10-day long festival, at least 10,000 dogs are round up, crammed together into small crush cages and transported to the city center in Yulin. Upon arrival the dogs are tortured and killed, the brutality almost inconceivable. Afterward, those who wish to participate are able to sample a number of dog meat meals prepared by local cooks.
Last year around this time, Hollywood stars and other influential public figures spoke out in protest of the festival. And like with most bandwagons, social media erupted. This year has been no different. Online petitions demanding the people of China stop the slaughter have garnered thousands of signatures, and rightfully so. China has some of the worst animal welfare standards of any developed country in the world, and the Yulin dog meat festival is no exception. Aside from the blatant disregard for animal welfare, many proponents claim a growing number of the dogs that are killed are household pets, stolen from backyards and the families who loved them.
The tradition itself isn’t promoted by the local government, but up until a few years ago it was barely acknowledged at all. China has long considered it counter-revolutionary to sympathize with domesticated animals, but as public scrutiny of the tradition mounts, so does the movement toward stricter animal welfare laws and harsher punishments for animal cruelty. Though the government has far from condemned the festival, the pressure on them to do so is greater than ever before.
At the most fundamental level, the Yulin dog meat festival is devastating. Though not necessarily illegal, many would argue it’s morally reprehensible. However, in terms of the western world’s attitude toward the tradition, there is a fine line between understandable outrage and glaring hypocrisy.
Factory Farming: A Briefing
“Do you eat chicken because you are familiar with the scientific literature on them and have decided that their suffering doesn’t matter, or do you do it because it tastes good?” – Eating Animals
One-third of the Earth’s arable land is now dedicated to housing livestock prior to slaughter. Scientists agree that this modern age of intensive factory farming is a leading cause of climate change, displaces thousands of endangered species, and has the potential to cause irreparable damage to the environment. Some believe it already has.
These far-reaching consequences of long-term factory farming are indisputable. However, the elephant in the room is not climate change or the impact it may have on the environment, but the inhumane treatment of the animals who live and die there. While estimates vary depending on the source, one can rest assured that well over a hundred billion chickens, pigs, turkeys, lamb and cattle are slaughtered every year to satisfy the insatiable appetites of people around the world.
You don’t need to watch undercover footage to know how factory farmed animals are reared and eventually killed, and you don’t need to be shown pictures to envision just how deplorable the living conditions are. The secret has been out for years, but cultural conditioning has normalized slaughter and allows consumers to look the other way without much hesitation. This new wave of willful ignorance is how the factory farm industry has been able to get away with such a profound level of cruelty without any regard for the impact it may have on consumer demand. (Hint: It doesn’t.)
The question, then, shouldn’t so much be how the industry is capable of getting away with the systematic slaughter of billions of animals, because we already know. Instead, we should be asking why the rest of the world feels entitled to criticize the people of Yulin for consuming one kind of animal, when they’re guilty of the same degree of inhumanity.
Our Meat vs. Their Meat
“We can’t plead ignorance, only indifference. Those alive today are the generations that came to know better.” – Eating Animals
We’ve all heard the jokes, seen the memes, and, at the expense of someone else, likely poked fun of another’s dietary restrictions at some point in our life. Of course, no diet causes more controversy than the decision to stop eating meat.
Unlike other fad diets, the subject of eating animals is a touchy one. We all know the stereotype, whether we agree or not, that vegetarians/vegans are fiercely judgmental and preachy. But, maybe, the choice to eliminate animal products is so contentious not because vegetarians are inherently self-righteous, but because everybody wants to believe that they love animals. Perhaps, not eating animals inadvertently suggests that those who do couldn’t possibly love them that much. This internal conflict, though, has little to do with vegetarians or vegans and everything to do with the moral convictions of the individual consuming animal products.
At the risk of feigned sympathy, I do understand the anger. Dogs are intelligent, loyal companions. They are extended family members in millions of households around the world. We value the lives of our domestic dogs over domestic livestock because it has been ingrained in us from a young age that one is a pet and the other a source of nourishment.
Still, our convictions of right vs. wrong are not unanimous across the board. Cattle are considered sacred throughout much of India, while here in the United States they are often skinned and dismembered still conscious. (According to industry experts, the blood coagulates too quickly if the animals are dead before they’re butchered, producing more bacteria and impacting the shelf life of the meat.) Elsewhere, in a number of other countries, the consumption of dog meat predates written history, while we spend a collective 60 billion annually to ensure our dogs are well taken care of.
The issue isn’t simply black and white, but criticizing others, while deflecting blame for an eerily similar issue, does little to inspire a resolution. I encourage all of you who may come across this article who don’t support the impending slaughter of 10,000 dogs to make your voice heard. I also hope that moving forward, you consider the suffering you spare yourself every time you consume meat. You may find in those moments that you’re not so different after all.