When a truck was forced off the road by a passing driver in China, the content of its cargo became a catalyst to a whole incident involving hundreds of animal lovers and activists.
The truck was carrying 520 malnourished mutts crammed into its small carriage to restaurants in the northeast of the country, a legal trade that’s under increased criticism. Yes, the dogs were heading for the dinner table.
The driver called out his friends, they called the local media and a team of veterinarians, and at the end of a 15-hour standoff, the animals were saved from their terrible fate. The April incident struck a chord in the Chinese society, and it’s now an ongoing debate,
as intense as it’d be allowed and possible to conceive in the country.
It pits deep seated feelings of bewilderment from the old guard against a new found sense of moral indignation and enlightenment. The trucker, who lost his job in the aftermath of the incident, is the unjustly victimized representative of China’s working class backbone, the spine of its new-gained status as the world’s second-largest economy.
The driver, said to be at the wheel of a Mercedes Benz, played the role of the nouveau riche, the gentrified affluent, pointing fingers at the old ways of the nation.
But so it happens that in this case, he also represented the part that’s increasingly becoming aware of the contradictions of the so-called old ways.
In the end, though, an incident like that, or rather, the Asian particular taste for cats and dogs hits a nerve of ours because it hits very close to home. But the practice of eating, not just what we consider pets, but eating animals, period, is what may be on trial, here.
In the end, no one put it better than the puzzled trucker: “People also eat cow and sheep. What’s the difference?” What’s the difference, indeed.
THE CASE FOR GOING MEATLESS
Paul McCartney, who turned 69 last Saturday, once described the genesis of his conversion of sorts to becoming a vegetarian. He and late wife Linda simply looked out a window at the lambs they were raising and the lamb on their plates.
Most of us have learned early on to ignore this connection between what you love as a companion and what you love as food, and living in big cities certainly help the process to consolidate inside us.
The dissociation between the meat sold for consumption and the animals where it comes from is just too strong. And let’s not even get to the incredibly cruel and disgusting way the processing of meat is done in industrialized nations.
Perhaps as an early response to the growing awareness of such contradiction, there’s been a clear distinction between what consists an animal fit to eat from an animal we’d rather raise as pets.
Many see the hypocrisy of this concept, and consider it another clever device created by the meat producing lobby to ease the puritanical streak running through most European societies.
Truly, if it hadn’t been for animal advocate organizations that flourished in the early 1960s, we may have remained ignorant about the absolute appalling conditions animals go through in the hands of the food, pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries.
Vegetarianism, as a lifestyle, though, predates the industrial revolution and it does have roots in religious and moral principles professed since ancient times.
It’s ironic, then, that some of oldest societies on earth consume as much meat as the much younger western nations, and most don’t make even that feeble but still relevant distinction, to spare cats and dogs from their diet.
CHINA’S GROWING PAINS
On the contrary. China, for example, as many other Asian nations, consider them both as pets, occasionally, and food, almost always. As it develops and opens up to the world at large, the Chinese society is facing many challenges to abandon the practice.
And the main opposition to the old ways comes from China’s own cosmopolitan urban population, the young, the well-educated and the influential, who no longer find easy common ground with the dwindling population still left in China’s vast countryside.
There resides another contradiction too. Industrialization is indeed at the core of the aforementioned dissociation, and packaging, advertising, and the implication of status by what you eat, does help shield food from its humble origins.
But the increased awareness by city folk of the inherent immorality of raising animals with the sole purpose of eating them comes from their growing cosmopolitanism and higher education levels, not from a daily in-loco experience, which in fact they lack.
Farmers tend to consider such view spoiled and elitist, typical of a generation of young urbanites who grew up under the shield of privilege. It’s as bias a view as the one city dwellers may have of them, a common disparity within most western societies, by the way.
UNTIL THE COWS STOP FARTING
Nevertheless, vegetarianism has been growing as exponentially as the awareness that traditional ways of raising cattle for food is today one of the main sources of global air pollution and widespread deforestation of ancient forests.
Just let’s not go as far as to blame the poor, beautiful cows that have been feeding humankind for millennia of causing climate change with their farts. People, please.
Another musician, Morrissey, former frontman of the Smiths, and coincidentally also British, got into a brawl of sorts with the Chinese last year over their practice of eating animals we consider pets for ages.
His indignation with the way animals are handled in China was, of course, justified. But, not that it invalidates his disgust, aren’t children as young as 10 commonly employed by the country’s work force, forced to work in almost-slavery conditions too?
The problem there, thought, was that Morrissey being Morrissey, went ahead and called the Chinese, a “subspecies.” A staunch vegan, in his attempt to add a dramatic flair to the issue, he miscalculated the impact of his words, and wound up sounding hopelessly racist.
Which is a shame. Unwittingly, he became vulnerable to accusations of being biased and failing, as an artist, to make a resounding statement about an important issue without preaching like a bigot.
That “walking on a razor’s edge” is an integral part of the debate over meat consumption by humans, given advances in nutrition research and health benefit versus environmental impact considerations.
OUR DEBT TO RADICAL ACTIVISM
More radical organizations, such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and others, know a thing or two about what means going against the multibillion food lobby and the personal risks sometimes involved in trying to expose the meat industry’s often unsanitary and inhumane practices.
But a bill proposing the criminalization of filming farm animal abuses is rapidly losing steam in the New York Senate, partly by PETA’s efforts. The bill, obviously introduced by the industry, was designed to prevent exposure of unhealthy practices usually shielded from the public.
PETA has a long way to go in its struggle to bring the issue of animal abuse to the center of the national debate, specially in what its PR abilities are concerned.
But as Greenpeace before it, and many of the groups currently trying to protect the Brazilian Amazon Rainforest from destructive practices by big landowners, they have all accomplished a lot, on our behalf and for our benefit.
Going back to McCartney, it was his, or at least his is the most recognizable face behind an idea that’s been making inroads and may, ultimately, catch on in most industrialized nations: The Meatless Monday initiative.
We’re not about to bore you with stats this late in the game, but suffice to say that the amount of greenhouse gases that are not exhausted to the atmosphere by one single day a lot of people refrain from eating meat is indeed considerable.
It’s a simple idea, with clarity of purpose and almost no effort required to carry on. Just like his own songs, by the way. Old habits do die hard but they do die, eventually. It’s easier for animal lovers, we give you that. But it’s a sure way to relieve your personal grief about all those things we all do to harm this planet.