Right now it seems almost every country in the world is condemning China for the Yulin Festival, where apparently tens of thousands of dogs are captured and killed to eat. This comes after the latest South China Sea issue and has somewhat overshadowed that political situation for now, and perhaps explains why everyone’s been quick to condemn China and make this issue go viral – rather than every other year it’s happened before. Now, however, there has been an unprecedented backlash for the Festival, campaigns and petitions have sprung up across the web, trying to stop this meat festival.
Now up front, of course I think the Festival is cruel. Of course this causes so much suffering to the dogs. This isn’t what I’m taking issue with, I’m not saying the Festival isn’t cruel. There’s primarily two reasons for the majority of outrage, the first being people are apparently stealing others’ pets (ownership issue) and the unnecessary cruelty of how the dogs are treated (moral issue).
But here’s the problem. How can we condemn this treatment of animals so passionately, and then sit down to a big dinner of pork, beef, chicken, and fish, snapping pictures to post over social media to celebrate our meals day after day, knowing that those animals went through at least the same amount of suffering? In all likelihood they went through much more given their confinement in factory farms and battery cages for their entire lives. That they were pumped full of antibiotics and
growth hormones sometimes making it impossible to even stand up. Many animals can’t even turn around because their cages are too small. Many never see the sun or natural light. And they receive physical, social, and emotional abuse on a daily basis.
All this we already know.
So how can we condemn the cruelty of making one kind of animal suffer, killing and eating it, and then sit down every day to eat other animals?
What’s the Difference Between Dogs and Other Animals
Now many will say dogs are different. They’re not like other animals; they can learn, be trained, they are social. Dogs are man’s best friend. Turns out that other animals can do all that too. Practically all animals are social, they all learn, and they all contribute to the environment and eco-system we need to survive in.
To be more specific, it turns out pigs are probably smarter than dogs, cows have best friends and are stressed when they’re not with them, and chickens are apparently smarter than a 4 year old. The exact details of the studies may be debated, how intelligent certain animals are and what capacities they have for certain things, but the general point is that the animals we eat are more self-aware, social, and smarter than we’ve ever really given them credit for.
In other words there’s no substantial reason to differentiate a dog’s suffering from a pig or a cow. Either you say it’s cruel to put any animal through such suffering, or you’re happy to eat pigs, cows, and, yes, dogs too. .
Why I’m Vegetarian
“If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian.” – Paul McCartney
To resolve this moral conflict for myself, I turned vegetarian. When people find out I’m vegetarian they inevitably ask why.
There are many reasons to be vegetarian. For me it was personal morality. I didn’t want animals to suffer, to take a life unnecessarily. So I chose not to eat meat, wear leather, or use anything that killed an animal for its purpose.
I believe animals deserve life. If we don’t need meat to survive (see below), then we’re not eating meat for survival but for pleasure. We choose to allow the suffering of the animal so we have the pleasure of eating it. Not the necessity (as with a lion or a tiger), but singularly the pleasure.
“Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet”. – Albert Einstein
So many people think that you need meat to survive. This is perhaps the first myth to bust, because put simply, you don’t. Studies have shown that a vegetarian diet reduces the risk of heart disease by up to a third, as well as other diseases (including many types of cancer). Heart disease is the world’s number one killer, with 7.4 million deaths every year. A vegetarian lifestyle also cuts down the risk of type-2 diabetes. In other words if we all went vegetarian millions of human lives would also be saved every year, along with the animals.
Even some life insurance companies offer lower premiums to vegetarians, sometimes as much as 20% less. The linked article also references another study concluding vegetarians have a 12% reduced risk of death overall. Studies will debate the exact figures, but the overwhelming evidence is that being vegetarian is healthier. One of the reasons goes to another myth, that vegetarians lack protein. Beans, lentils, and other vegetable sources of protein have more protein per gram than meat, without the large serving of fat and other unhealthy parts. Eating meat doesn’t just make the animals suffer, in the long-run it makes the person eating meat suffer too.
By the way red meat is unequivocally the worst. If you want one step right now to a healthier lifestyle, then quite possibly the single best thing you could do for your health right now is to cut red meat out of your diet. One study concludes that 1 in 10 early deaths in men and 1 in 13 in women is attributable to eating red meat.
“By eating meat we share the responsibility of climate change, the destruction of our forests, and the poisoning of our air and water. The simple act of becoming a vegetarian will make a difference in the health of our planet.” – Thích Nhất Hạnh (Buddhist)
Not eating red meat also happens to be the single best thing you could do for the environment. The methane from cow farts, burps, and excrement, accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions than burning coal, gas, and crude oil. One study finds that 1KG of beef comes at the cost of the equivalent of 34.6KG of carbon dioxide. With over a billion cows being farmed for our beef wants, those emissions add up very quickly. Again studies will debate the exact figures, but the Environmental Protection Agency of the USA note Agriculture is the greatest single source of global greenhouse gases.
It’s also an incredibly inefficient way to produce food. As a rough idea of what we’re wasting, it takes about 20lbs. of grain to produce 1lb. of edible beef. By comparison pork requires 7.3lbs. and chicken 4.5lbs. of grain to produce a single lb. of meat.
And that’s just in terms of grain. Add in the extra water, transport, and other things needed to grow animals not plants, and you’ve got an incredibly inefficient way of making food. So why is a burger often cheaper than fresh fruits and vegetables? Because all of these extra costs are paid for by the government (meaning your taxes). The USA alone spends $38 billion every year to subsidize the meat and dairy industries (http://www.peta.org/living/food/10-things-wish-everyone-knew-meat-dairy-industries/). By comparison the USA subsidises fruits and vegetables to only $17 million a year.
To put that in perspective, our meat would cost almost three times as much without government subsidies, the additional healthcare, costs of reducing environmental damage, and other costs of eating meat and dairy.
So we could produce many times more food on a vegetarian diet, saving ourselves money individually and as a society, and improving our health in the process. And yet consumption of meat continues to increase, reducing food production drastically despite the world now having the most number of malnourished and starving people in history. We’re looking at expensive ways we can grow more food, thinking GM crops and investing in technology, when we’ve got a cheap solution staring us in the face. A way that is well researched, well documented, and something we could all individually do. A way that means we can produce more than enough food for everyone on the planet in a cheaper, healthier, and more efficient way. And as a bonus we eliminate the biggest cause of greenhouse gases too.
Now this is no exhaustive list of reasons to be vegetarian, or the available research of course. But it should provide enough context to return to the original point of how there’s no consistency in condemning the Yulin Festival while tucking into our burger, steak, and yes, even our lechon (for Philippine readers).
If we are outraged over the apparently tens of thousands of dogs that will be killed during the Yulin Festival, we should likewise be outraged by the suffering and killings of the billions of animals that end up on our collective plates during the year. To be clear, I don’t want these dogs (and apparently cats too) to be killed for the Yulin Festival. But then I dont’ want any animal to be abused. I don’t think our care for animals should suddenly stop at cats and dogs. It should be for all living creatures.
The treatment of animals in the Yulin Festival is abuse. But so is the treatment of the animals in our meat industries across the world. The choice is simple. If we want to eat meat, we have no right to moral outrage against any animal cruelty. Because otherwise we’re criticizing the Yulin Festival and how dogs are treated, while celebrating a much grander, a much bigger, and much more brutal Yulin Festival on our own plates every day.