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Monday, February 16, 2015

Would You Eat Dog Or Cat?

My staff and I engaged in an interesting discussion recently.  Would one of us eat dog or cat meat?  Most people said no.  I said yes.
This may seem very surprising to many people.  How could I as a small animal veterinarian bring myself to eat the very patients that I treat?  Isn't that unethical and inhumane?  Let me take some time to explain my thoughts on this matter.
I'm not a vegetarian.  Not even close.  I've often joked that I'm a strict carnivore.  To be truthful, I don't eat as many veggies and fruits as I should.  I really do love the taste of most meats, and think they're perfectly fine to eat.  I simply couldn't survive as a vegetarian because I don't like the taste of most vegetables.  Yes, I know there are numerous health benefits to eating more of these foods and I'm not on a balanced diet without them.  But I've learned to live with this and make the best and healthiest choices I can given my taste preferences.
What meats someone eats and doesn't eat is completely cultural.  I don't think there is anything inherently immoral about eating any kind of animal meat, no matter what the species (other than humans, of course).  The shock or revulsion only comes when it goes against cultural norms, and that differs greatly from one culture to another.  What is repugnant to one culture is normal to another. 
There are numerous examples we can use.  Pig meat is not allowed by Jews and Muslims, yet ham, pork chops, and bacon are well received by most of western society.  Many Americans have tried to outlaw export of horses if they are used as meat sources, yet horse is considered a delicacy in Europe.  Hindus would never eat cattle, yet hamburgers and steaks are incredibly common in America, where you can find just about any fast food joint serving some kind of beef.  In much of South America guinea pigs are routinely eaten and there are even festivals around this practice, yet they are considered pets in America.  I know someone who raises rabbits as a family meat source, yet that doesn't bother me as someone with four pet rabbits.  Even within a country there are differences, such as pickled pigs' feet being eaten in the southern states of the US, while much of the rest of the country would whole-heartedly reject this food.  In my life I have eaten chicken, turkey, duck, beef, pork, lamb, ostrich, bison, snail, squid, rattlesnake, frog, aligator, shrimp, lobster, clam, and several kinds of fish.  If I took that list around the world I'd easily find countries where at least one of the ingredients was against the local culture and custom.
So that brings us back to dog and cat.  No, I could never cook up and eat one of my patients or one of my own pets.  There is an emotional bond in these cases and it would be like eating a family member.  But that bond isn't unique to what we in Western culture consider pets.  I've seen people have the same kind of attachment to pigs, cows, horses, chickens, ducks, and just about every other animal.  If an animal was someone's pet and I knew that, I don't think I could eat it under normal circumstances (other than during a zombie apocalypse, and then all bets are off).
That then begs the question "What is the difference between a 'pet' and an 'animal'?"  To me, a pet is an animal that someone keeps for purely emotional reasons and with whom they have an emotional bond to that particular individual (as opposed to the species).  So all pets are animals, but not all animals are pets.  And as far as I'm concerned, any non-pet animal is fair game for the food table.
Also, being a vet really doesn't play into the situation.  All animals used in food production are supervised at some point by a veterinarian.  In fact, some vets spend their entire careers working with poultry, swine, beef cattle, and so on.  Those vets don't have an issue with eating a sausage biscuit before going to the hog pens or coming home from work to some fresh fried chicken.  We know that these animals are being used purely for food, and that they exist for no other purpose.  Our job is to make sure they are healthy and treated as humanely as possible until they are killed and turned into food products.  It's really easy for most of us to realize that this is a living creature that one day will sit in someone's stomach.  I know that may sound very harsh, but I'm practical and a realist.  This should only come as a surprise to anyone who really hasn't thought through how meat ends up in the grocery stores.
If I was in a foreign country and my host offered a dish of dog or cat meat, I would consider eating it.  I'd think about it a lot more than if it was a meat I had eaten in the past, but I wouldn't inherently turn my nose up at it.