If you follow the animal-rights movement, you might have caught wind of novelist Jonathan Safran Foer’s first attempt at polemic in his new book, Eating Animals. In the tradition of Michael Pollan and Food Inc., Foer is trying to whip celebrity activists into an anti-meat frenzy. In a Wall Street Journal essay this weekend, he got one thing right: Our food choices are more a function of cultural identity than the culmination of a tortured logic exercise. Which is why omnivorous Americans universally reject his suggestion that we should just eat the family dog.
What might be the reasons to exclude canine from the menu? The selective carnivore suggests:
Don’t eat companion animals. But dogs aren’t kept as companions in all of the places they are eaten. And what about our petless neighbors? Would we have any right to object if they had dog for dinner?
OK, then: Don’t eat animals with significant mental capacities. If by "significant mental capacities" we mean what a dog has, then good for the dog. But such a definition would also include the pig, cow and chicken. And it would exclude severely impaired humans.
So what if there’s an argument to be made for eating Fido? If dinnertime were always logical, no one would ever lick an ice cream cone (too fattening!), or munch on potato chips (too salty!), or even drink coffee (all that caffeine!).
Foer, like other animal rights activists, is ignoring basic reality. Humans have thoughtfully domesticated different animals for different purposes. Oxen are great beasts of burden. Cats make fantastic pets. Farmed fish and dairy cows are amazing protein machines. And let’s face it: If it weren’t for bacon, pigs would be extinct.
If you don’t believe dogs are edible, just ask a mountain lion or a coyote. (They have no such cultural taboos.) But despite what PETA (and Foer) may believe, dogs are pets because they make better companions than entrées. The reverse is true for cows, pigs, chicken, and fish. And no amount of rational rhetoric—however well written—will ever change that.