Nicolette Hahn Niman wrote for the Atlantic (11/04/2010) claiming that there was a flaw in vegan arguments. (If one can write like this and write for the Atlantic, then I want to get in on that racket).
The argument is the vegan one that eating a pig is the moral equivalent of eating a dog.
Niman thinks there are two reasons why this is wrong:
First, individuals and cultures have always made countless decisions about what things are food and what are not.
More importantly, the pig-equals-dog claim ignores the glaringly obvious issue of relationships. The human relationship with dogs is unique. For as many as 30,000 years, dogs have literally been indispensible members of the human family. Quite naturally, many humans have qualms about eating a family member.
I really don’t understand Niman. But I’m going to try…
The first argument is true, there are a number of reasons some things end up as food and others don’t, mostly just cultural preference. So yes, pig and dog are not the same.
That’s a boring argument, and doesn’t need to be there, because even Niman doesn’t seem to consider it the meat of the article.
The important distinction is that humans (except Chinese and Hawaiian folks apparently, uh-oh Niman) have a natural connection with dogs forged through 30,000 years of cohabitation. Dogs are family, if not by blood and gene, by association and proximity.
Dr. James Serpell, director of the Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society at University of Pennsylvania, extends this mutual dependence across the globe. “The dog became a symbiotic partner with us,” he says. “It has become like another limb, an extension of ourselves.”
Dogs aren’t just family, they are us! I’m digging the Deleuzean logic rumbling under her arguments, but she’s missing something. Morality and ethics, and the heart of the vegan argument.
Dogs are animals, we recognize them as nonhuman entities. Yet, following Niman’s logic, dogs are almost as human as we are, and therefore it is wrong to eat them. But dogs are no more smarter, caring, or special than a pig, another non-human animal. So is the reason that dogs are okay to protect from stomachs that they are family?
Can ethics play favorites like that?
Instead of engaging the vegan argument where it is: “You don’t eat dogs, so why eat pigs?” Niman turns it around: “You eat pigs, so why not eat dogs.” Which allows her to go on these strange tangents about dogs being the coolest thing since fire. Which allows her to ignore the issue, which is that pigs become bacon and the dog gets to run (semi)free.
Nobody’s saying that she should eat her own dogs. I hope she would never suggest that someone kill their pot-bellied pigs because we don’t have a 30,000 year history with them.
But really, the reply to the vegan argument is simple: “Pigs and dogs are equally edible.”