Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Ethnocentrism of Food Politics

  During last week’s class, someone brought up the Asian (largely Chinese) cultural norm of eating cats and dogs. They expressed disgust and distain for the practice and largely this is the attitude held by Americans towards it. Eating cats and dogs is seen as inhumane. It is illegal to eat dog in 6 states, but as Jonathon Foer of the Wall Street Journal says, “Eating man’s best friend is as taboo as a man eating his best friend.” [1]
Yet, even though it is socially unacceptable to eat dogs and cats, it is perfectly acceptable and in fact encouraged that we consume pigs, cows and chickens. This in large has to do with how we interact with animals; we have domesticated dogs and cats. We keep them as pets, name them and consider them family members. Thus, we have humanized them and tend to view them as worthy of better treatment than other animals.
            Ours is not the only culture to selectively classify animals. The French eat horse but also keep dogs; Spaniards love cows but eat horses1. We see this same phenomenon cross culturally. In the words of George Orwell, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”1 Indeed, this viewpoint is a hypocritical one. This classification is not based on the animal’s intelligence, loyalty, creativity or strength. If we look at American food norms specifically, we see that our hierarchy among animals seems flawed. Pigs are more intelligent than dogs, and they are in fact as intelligent as human three-year-olds2. They are extremely social animals and also have the ability to play video games.
            The main point is that expressing that it’s disguising for those of other cultures  to eat dogs and cats is an ethnocentric one. It compares the cultural standards of Asians to those of America and assumes that the American idea is better. It’s important to understand how relative cultural and social norms, values and beliefs really are. What is sacred to one is unfathomable to the other.
            Morality in this way is highly subjective. There is no universal standard of acceptability when it comes to eating animals. The ideas vary from culture to culture and there is no one right answer. From this then, we can see that Americans criticizing others for eating animals that they domesticate is not relevant to other cultures, as they also have similar notions. Sure, it is perfectly okay to hold the beliefs of your culture and not engage in eating animals that go outside of American norms. It is also okay to love and keep some animals as pets. The problem is when we criticize others for having their own set of values and beliefs. We as a culture must be more accepting of other perspectives and not hold all other culture’s to the standards of our own. 

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