Let’s get something out of the way first: the Yulin Dog Meat Festival in Southern China is a disgusting, cruel and indefensible event—thousand of dogs and cats are inhumanly killed there each year. Its existence should disturb you; it should prompt you to sign petitions and spread the word in any way you can.
But why only dogs? Why do we only seem to care when its dogs being brutally slaughtered?
There’s the whole familiarity via domestication argument. Dogs are family members in the U.S., not food, so when we see them in slaughterhouse-like situations it disturbs us. The mere idea of eating dog meat gets our national empathy antennae buzzing. It makes sense, but it’s not a valid excuse. This is a prime example of lazy and convenient activism; it’s the easiest way to make a statement on animal rights while not actually sacrificing or changing in any way.
We turn a collective blind eye to the killing of pigs, cows, chickens, turkeys, sheep, lamb, goats and others. We convince ourselves, either consciously or unconsciously, that these animals are biologically inferior creatures to the ones we choose not to consume. Of course, in nearly every instance there is no evidence to support this theory, but it sure makes things easier.
It needs to be said that there are many animals rights activists protesting the Yulin Festival who also stand up against general slaughterhouse abuse in the United States and around the world, this is not who this piece is directed towards. There’s also a large contingent of keyboard activists who will shamelessly grab a cheeseburger for lunch right after signing a petition against animal abuse. An act like that is so soaked in hypocrisy that it borders on satire. Especially when we break down the numbers.
At the Yulin Festival, which runs from 6/15 – 6/21 around 10,000 dogs and cats are reportedly consumed each year. Many of these dogs are allegedly stolen pets, and the treatment of the animals is as barbaric as anyone could imagine. Many of the dogs are skinned alive or beaten to death. It’s truly vile, and the awareness raised led to a reported ban on the sale of dog meat this year. The degree to which this ban will be upheld is unknown, but it’s a step in the right direction. However, in terms of animal death for the purposes of human consumption, the Yulin Festival is only a drop in the bucket.
For the purpose of comparison, we’ll keep it to four legs and only use red meat numbers, but it’s worth noting that nearly 10 billion chickens and hens are killed in the U.S. annually.
According to data from the USDA, in April 2017 the United States produced 3.9 billion pounds of red meat.
9.34 million pigs
2.4 million cows (additional 39,000 calves)
Broken down by day it equals:
80,000 cows (additional 1,300 calves)
That’s 398,616 animals killed each day in slaughterhouses in the U.S. On Average, Americans consume 198.51 lbs of meat annually—the second highest total on the planet, right behind Australia.
Though the slaughterhouse industry has made some strides in terms of making their practices more humane, due to the work of Temple Grandin and others, there are still thousands of locations around the country that hold no regard for the well-being of the animals they house and kill. If the Yulin Festival disgusts you, so too should the everyday practices of domestic slaughterhouses. 3,900x more animals are killed in the U.S. on a daily basis than the grand total of Yulin. If you buy meat, you’re directly supporting these practices.
It’s far more inconvenient to change one’s dietary practices than it is to sign a petition and feign outrage on social media. And I suppose narrow, surface-level activism is better than no activism.
But we do this all the time, we practice selective empathy. When we see a big-game hunter standing next to an elephant, giraffe, lion, rhino et.al. he/she just killed we are deeply disturbed by the image. We hear about Michael Vick fighting dogs and we lose our minds. But most of us eat meat and never step foot in a slaughterhouse to see where that meat came from. Most of us can’t even be bothered to watch documentaries or read about the processes that turn, living, breathing, loving animals into mouth-watering preparations plated to arouse our masticating mandibles.
But we should always strive to be less hypocritical and more self-reflective of the stoicism of our routines and the narrowed nature of our activism. Yulin runs for one week a year, halfway around the world, and we seem to care much more about what happens there, than what’s happening right here, every day.
by Jesse Mechanic
Jesse Mechanic is the editor in chief of The Overgrown.