On June 21, like every year since 2009, the Chinese city of Yulin celebrated the summer solstice with a festival where lychees… and dogs are eaten. Strongly contested around the world – every year, petitions calling for an end to this “horrible festival” are launched – this event also arouses – but to a lesser extent – the debate in China.
According to several polls commissioned in recent years, the Chinese population – the majority of whom do not consume dogs – even support the banning of the festival, while local associations call for considering canines as pets and that the trade in their meat is prohibited.
An indignation with variable geometry
Seen from home, eating dog seems crazy. French animal defense organizations don’t really need to convince anyone of the cruelty of this festival… but gladly use it to highlight the cruel treatment reserved for animals raised and killed on French territory, for our own local culinary customs and festivities.
The Christmas holidays are also regularly singled out by animalists, outraged by the treatment reserved for the millions of geese and ducks force-fed for the occasion. “You have to have an outside and impartial look at these customs, wherever they come from,” says Amandeus VG Humanimal, president of the Futur association. And if they cause significant suffering in animals, they must be denounced. We sometimes imagine that traditions have always been and will always be there, while a certain number of them have disappeared or been banned. »
Each human culture develops its own categorizations about animals, mainly based on the use to which they are put: some animals are intended for food, others serve as companions to us, still others are considered as useful scientific models. These categories are associated with important affects: dogs and cats, in particular, are now widely perceived as full members of the household. We develop an attachment to them and their well-being is important to us. Our relationship with livestock is more utilitarian. We also know them under terms that refer explicitly to their use, such as “laying hens” or “dairy cows”.
For some species, the categorization is more vague: rabbits, for example, are perceived as wild, companion, butchery or laboratory animals all at the same time. These categorizations vary greatly from one culture to another (in the United States, horses are not seen as a source of food), but also according to the times. For example, dog butchers existed until the beginning of the 20th century in France, and later still in Germany and Switzerland.
… and carnist ideology
On what basis are its categories made? A famous American psychologist, Melanie Joy, thinks that cultural habits are not enough and offers a hypothesis in her “Introduction to Carnism: Why we love dogs, eat pigs and carry cows (L’Age d’Homme, 2016) “. Carnism, according to Joy, would be a system of thought conditioning from an early age to consider that it is normal, natural or even necessary to eat certain animals and not others. “And never to perceive this practice as something strange or above all morally questionable”, specify Élise Desaulniers and Martin Gibert in the collective work La pensee végane (PUF, 2020).
Will we all one day be disgusted at the idea of eating veal, pigs, salmon or lamb… as vegetarians already are, and as most French people are with regard to dog or cat meat? ? A market, still marginal but growing, has in any case developed in recent years around imitation meat, these plant products which reproduce the taste and texture of meat, but without resorting to animal breeding.