It’s Christmas Day. You’re at the table with family and friends, ready to tuck into the ham like you do every year. As you’re chewing away, enjoying the taste, your host – maybe it’s your mom or a sibling – announces they have a confession to make.
The ham is not, in fact, ham. You’re eating dog meat.
Yes, that tender flesh, washed down with gravy and all the trimmings, was, until a few weeks ago, a live puppy.
How do you feel? Horrified? Angry? Upset?
Like most people (in the western world anyway) you would probably put down your fork, spit out the dog parts and possibly throw up. The ‘food’ you were enjoying just moments ago has become not only inedible but disgusting.
Why is this? There’s little difference between a baby pig and a puppy in terms of sentience or intelligence. They both feel emotions, ranging from joy to pain and grief. They both love to play and form strong bonds with their families.
So, why love one but eat the other?
This question is currently being posed by the Vegan Society of NSW, Australia, in an advertising campaign on the back of metro buses throughout Sydney. The provocative ad features an image of a baby pig and a puppy alongside the question and encourages people to ‘choose vegan’. The aim is to urge consumers to reconsider their food choices in the run up to the holiday season and beyond.
The answer to the question of why we love one but eat the other is because of how we’ve been conditioned to perceive different animals. Our emotional response to dogs is different to how we feel about pigs or other traditionally ‘farmed’ animals.
Our pooches are considered family members who get to snuggle up on the couch with us, yet pigs, who are highly social, curious and intelligent animals, are tortured, brutally killed and cut up into pieces to be served on our plates.
The thought of this happening to those animals we deem ‘pets’ is inconceivable and we rail against those cultures where dog meat is as traditional as pigs, cows, sheep and chickens are for us, labelling them ‘barbaric’.
It’s time for us to address our double standards. The typical argument justifying why we shower some animals with love and kindness while being ok with sending billions of others to the slaughterhouse is that it's just how it is and always has been. Eating meat is seen as a natural act that is not part of a belief system, whereas ethical veganism is viewed as a choice based on a moral philosophy.
But, as author and psychologist Dr Melanie Joy, points out in her book Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows, consuming other species is to participate in a belief system, one she terms ‘carnism’.
Like other 'isms', such as sexism or racism, carnism relies on its ideology to be considered as the status quo to be successful. For such ideologies to be accepted as the norm requires suppression of facts by those who have most to gain from the ideology, and a certain amount of denial by the masses who prefer to travel the path of least resistance.
The animal agriculture industry goes out of its away to hide the killing and abominably cruel conditions farmed animals are kept in during their miserable lives. But although this 'meat production' process is kept behind closed doors, deep down people know the body parts on their plates belonged to a living, sentient being who suffered horribly and died unwillingly. Meat-eating therefore, argues Joy, requires a level of psychological disassociation and emotional numbing.
Carnism allows people to eat certain animals without thinking about what they are doing or why.
One of the ways we do this is by distorting reality: we remove certain animals' individuality and instead perceive them as a group of 'things' (albeit living ones), rather than unique sentient beings, each with his or her own idiosyncrasies and capacity to express pain, love, joy and grief. Lumping individuals - whether human or non-human - together as a group allows us to consider them and their deaths in the abstract. This is why we cry when our pet cat or dog dies, but feel nothing for the brutal slaughter of billions of gentle cows, pigs, sheep and chickens.
Fortunately social media has been instrumental in raising awareness of not only the sickening violence routinely inflicted on farmed animals, but also in showing them as individual beings who love life.
As another year dawns, you have the opportunity to reject cruelty and embrace compassion. As you make preparations for your festive meals, leave the leg on the living lamb. Replace the turkey with one of the many delicious plant-based alternatives available. Ditch the Christmas ‘ham’.
Because if you’re not comfortable with eating your dog, it’s time to take all animals off your plate.