Question: Dog Meat
Answer: Luke Schroeder ’13
Generally speaking, I do not think that a reasonable family should eat its deceased pets. Pet ownership involves a special relationship between human and animal, one that requires humans to have a minimum amount of respect for the animal.
But I think I should start by dismissing some of the easier responses to this situation. First, this family’s act would be appropriate if their need for food was sufficiently great, and there were very few or no other reasonable alternatives for obtaining food. Second, this question is interesting because it invites us to consider whether there might be anything intrinsically wrong with eating animals. Usually, our judgments about meat consumption depend on evaluations about the morality of intentionally causing pain in animals. But in the present case, there is no intentional harm done to the dog. Its death was an accident. So we cannot praise or condemn the family based on actual harm caused to the dog.
So I wonder about what it means to say that the “family” decided to eat the dog. Was it the father, or the mother, or the parents, or a majority, or a unanimous decision that produced the culinary act? I think it would be problematic if we condoned any decision that was not unanimous. After all, deciding to consume the family dog is not like deciding where to go for summer vacation. It is a more radical situation, one in which the consequences of performing the act are more unknown, and more potentially troublesome. It is not the sort of decision that parents or a majority should be forcing on others.
But let’s suppose that who makes the decision is unproblematic. There might be some good arguments to be made in favor of eating the dog. It could be that the family values thrift, and disvalues waste, so that consuming deceased pets is a matter of ecological preservation and participation in the cycle of life. Or it could be that the family disliked its dog or discovered that it dislikes dogs, and has a penchant for unique culinary experiences that make dog-eating an interesting new opportunity. In these cases, the family has some reasonable grounds for eating the dog, as long as the family reflectively and honestly endorses these grounds. If a family genuinely regards pets as a part of the cycle of nature or as things they do not want, then its pet-eating is probably a small problem, if one at all. In these cases, the family’s relationship to its pet is not one of love or respect or involving any such emotion. Their morality depends on the possible interests of the pets involved (something I will not discuss due to confusion surrounding the complexities of animal psychology).
Nevertheless, these, and any arguments in favor of pet-eating, must also deal with the morality of eating deceased humans (especially family members). For if it is acceptable to eat pets killed on accident, then what could make it unacceptable to eat humans killed on accident? After all, if pet-eating is appropriate given the fact that any dead animal is simply a food source, then nothing prevents us from regarding humans the same way, except for our initial intuitions. And I do not think that such intuitions are alone sufficient to ground moral disapprobation.
I believe that the wrongness of pet-eating, and cannibalism of a similar sort, depends on the sorts of relationships people have with animals and with each other. Generally speaking, it is difficult to see how and why people would keep animals in their houses if they eventually plan to consume those animals. Bringing an animal into the house involves making it something *worthy* of being a pet, or a companion, or a friend of sorts. Making an animal a pet means entering into a special sort of benevolent relationship with that animal. It entails playing with the animal, walking it, feeding it, and so on, to wit, performing certain sorts of activities with the animal that constitute a special relationship of respect. If this is true, then eating something like the family dog demonstrates a form of disrespect to the eaten dog. Eating a pet might involves more than consuming a quantity of flesh. It means destroying, in one of the most visceral ways possible, the artifact symbolic of the human-animal pet relationship. Someone who eats his pet probably violates both the primitive interests that the animal might have had, as well as his own capacity to engage in pet-relationship of mutual respect.
This case, as with the incest situation in last month’s blog, first brings to mind moral concerns about the sorts of desires that people have and use to motivate their actions. The family here possesses a somewhat troubling appetite, or set of appetites. Is their belief in the gastric benefits of dog-eating alone sufficient to warrant eating the dog? I do not think so. As I mentioned above, pet-eating probably degrade a person’s attitudes towards animals. It reflects negatively on the sorts of intentions that a person has or might potentially have towards animals. For instance, casual pet-eating elevates the value of carnivorous experiences to the point of decadence, a point that could cause a diminution of respect towards living creatures. It is quite possible that humans who regard animals, especially pets, as a readily available buffets are morally insensitive.
If so, then the practice of eating animals only reinforces and encourages this sort of regard. Such encouragement, I think, is something people should want to eliminate in their society. I think that both human and animal livelihood is best served by people who are disposed to promote peace and respect for animals. I doubt that the benefits of pet consumption outweigh the costs of having the dispositions that it takes to be a pet-eater. Eating a deceased family pet seems to be such a small and insignificant act given the costs associated with violating the sanctity of the human-pet relationship. It is further compounded by the fact that the family, if it wanted to try dog meat, could have easily (I presume) purchased some, instead of eating its pet.
These things being said, a reasonable family should probably avoid eating deceased pets. Our family should not eat their dog because of the relationship they likely had or have with their dog. And in fact, this relationship is of the same sort, but of a weaker sort, as the one that binds people to each other in families and societies. It is a relationship whose meaning derives from natural and constructed emotional trust. And if humans value such relationships, they should consume neither family members nor pets, even when their death was accidental. It is not impossible for such consumption to be moral, but in most cases, it is at the very least, troublesome, and a cause for concern.