On the Yulin dogs, hypocrisy and racism

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Many people are outraged at what happens to dogs at the “Yulin dog meat festival“. I’m talking here about people who are not really concerned about raising and killing farmed animals and eat them every day. I’ve seen a lot of veg*ns calling it hypocritical and/or racist of westerners to cry out over what happens to those dogs in China, while having no problem eating cows, pigs or chickens at home.


I have some difficulty with this attitude, for several reasons.

For one thing, I’m glad there is at least some animal suffering people are shocked by. It happens now and then. To call these people hypocritical doesn’t exactly kindle the flame of the compassion they are showing. It is rather saying to them that that compassion is misplaced. That is unfortunate, and alienates these people further from vegans and animal rights activists.

Obviously, with some people there is quite some racism involved (many posts are clearly racist), and a general upheaval towards what happens at the Yulin festival could encourage even more racism. Yet, it’s too easy to say, and dangerous to say too quickly, that what is below a person’s outrage is racism when it is not expressed as such.

It may not be very rational, but it is very understandable that people cry out over the eating of animals they themselves consider to be companion animals. Irrational though the difference we make between pigs and dogs might be, it is a reality right now, and it would be silly not to take that even into account. Moreover, there is a difference between the way these dogs are slaughtered on the one hand, and the way cows are slaughtered on the other hand. Though it is admittedly a small difference, those who think stunning doesn’t make any difference at all may try to imagine what it would be like to be killed with or without stunning. I’m unwilling to deny or downplay that difference, just like I’m unwilling, as a 17 year long vegan and “abolitionist”, to deny the difference welfare reforms make.

All this is obviously not to say that western nations are “better” than the Chinese: indeed, people in the US or Western Europe generally still eat much more meat than the Chinese do. Moreover, animal activism is popping up in China too. There is compassion everywhere. It is hard to point the finger at other nations. Yet that shouldn’t mean omnivores’ compassion for the dogs in China is misplaced.

So what is a good way to address omnivores who are outraged over the Yulin festival in China? I think first of all we should give everyone the benefit of the doubt and recognize their outrage as a sign of compassion, not racism, not hypocrisy. That is a good basis to make a connection. We can show we appreciate that compassion, and say that the same compassion is the reason we don’t eat animals at all, as pigs and chickens and cows in the most relevant ways are equal to dogs and cats. We can try to point out the arbitrariness of our food choices.

We can then hope that some of these outraged people might want to put their beliefs about meat eating in line with their beliefs about dogs and cats. What happens in China is an excellent way to help people think about our consumption of animals in general. But it can be done encouragingly, not deterringly.

9 thoughts on “On the Yulin dogs, hypocrisy and racism

  1. I don’t really understand why we should be not to harsh on people that are angry about eating dogs while themselves eating cows, ‘as it is reality right now in the Western World to distinguish between dogs and cows’. To me, it seems like a ‘why? that’s why’, like giving an answer by stating the question as mere fact. I does not really give an answer to the question, other than insinuating that ‘it has alway been like this’ is a good argument for eating meat after all.

    From a pure strategic point of view, it may indeed not be a good idea to be too hars (all the time), as one might pose this is doomed to fail, and will not make any friends. However, nobody is really sure what is the best strategy for vegan reform (although most seem to be) – but I for myself am quite sure that some level of anger or disappointment (or, rather, indignation) and making fun of those people acting very irrationally is very important for a movement to have some binding factor (lest the movement grows too boring (because too serious) to be attractive to the main public – and moreover, there must be a way out for frustrations that I am sure all veg*ns feel once in a while).

    This anger alone is not enough, of course: it also needs a positive attitude: good food, nice and friendly people, … indeed, a movement that is so pervasive in one’s life as the animal rights movement (as it completely changes one’s view on animals, food, clothes, …) should also include all human emotions. Anger, disappointment, making fun of the irrational… we may not be proud of those feelings, but also their existence is a reality right now. 😉

    1. stein, i’m saying that if you deny these people’s outrage at what happens to the dogs by saying it’s the same as pigs suffering, you lose an opportunity to get in touch with them, to influence them.
      As far as our anger, frustration etc… is concerned, I really think there is way too much of that in the movement, and we need way less of it, if it is useful at all. I don’t to see other people’s anger or frustration to be motivated and feel part of the movement. I need to see their dedication and commitment, their hope and their compassion, their courage… Those can be binding factors. We don’t need the negativity for that, I think. But I may be wrong…

    2. Thanks for covering this issue, Tobias. I’m glad to see how much media coverage there has been recently about it and the growing awareness in the general public.

      While I understand your frustration, stein1332. It has always helped me when I’m feeling that way to take just a moment to reflect and ask myself, “What would help the animals the most in this situation?”.

      There is a woman at my work who loves to gush on about how she “just loves” animals…but then she eats a sausage biscuit for breakfast. It makes me want to scream. It makes me want to get in her face and ask her, “WTF is wrong with you?! How can you say you love animals?!”

      But I don’t. I take a step back and ask myself, “What would help the animals the most in this situation?”. While it would serve ME to yell and scream and point out her hypocrisy, it WON’T help the animals. In fact, it will HURT the animals by turning her away from the message I want to get across to her.

      No matter how right and just and moral a position is, nobody is ever going to hear it unless it comes across in a way that is receptive to THAT person.

      Those of us who are working to make the world better for animals are, in effect, asking others to be like us. Yelling won’t accomplish that. Screaming at people won’t do that. All that does is make people turn away from us and more importantly, our message.

      The one basic tenet of being vegan is not to cause harm to animals, and we need to try and remember that in those times when we are frustrated and feel like screaming. It’s during these times that I try to remember to pause just a moment and ask myself, “What would help the animals the most in this situation?”. Never has the answer been to yell at or belittle someone.

      I’m then also always reminded that reacting that way not only doesn’t help the animals, it also causes harm to the animals. And as a vegan, you just don’t do that.

      Lucky for me, my dogs are always happy to put up with my screams and tears later. 🙂

  2. Well said Tobias. I think it might be impatience and abbreviated memory (remember when we loved dogs and ate other animals?) on our part that might move us to feel and name meat eaters who care about the dogs hypocrites rather than seize the moment of emotional stirring to encourage them to spare the animals that they can. The average chicken in the US (and Europe?) gets comparable treatment in transport and slaughter as the Yulin dogs, and a lot more suffering in production due to painfully rapid growth and constant ammonia burning. Being much smaller than the average dog, it takes far more chickens to feed a meat eater through time. Those are quite good reasons that we need to handle meat eaters reactions to the Yulin festival correctly, not squelch their development of caring about animals.

  3. Unfortunately sometimes the fights against speciesism and racism often clash, and it’s a difficult balance to strike. However, it can be done, and of course we need to look at our own culture and how we can improve it.

  4. As someone who has volunteered for a charity that works against the dog meat trade for a number of years, one of the main problems we have is the attitude of people in the West who believe that what the dogs and cats are put through is more or less the same as pigs, cows and chickens are put through in factory farming. This shows an incredible ignorance of what happens in the meat trade, where commonly beloved pets are stolen and trafficked to dog meat butchers who wilfully torture the dogs and cats in front of each other because they think that makes the meat taste better or more beneficial for health and wellbeing. Dogs and cats are companion animals who can live with us in our homes and families because they have similar nervous systems and who are more than capable of providing love and friendship. It cannot be right to kill, torture and eat animals who were made to be our friends. Of course it cannot be right to factory farm and be cruel to farmed animals like chickens, ducks, cows and sheep either, but to say that there is no difference shows a lack of understanding and helps the dog meat butchers who want us to believe that. Please do not be part of the problem, be part of the solution.

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