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About the Foundation

Pets as food

In every culture, farm animals and livestock are considered ideally distanced from humans to be suitable for eating. Game too, although wild, is familiar and can be captured and dominated. However, as soon as human emotions are involved, the categories of what is edible and what is inedible become blurred. Eating a pet, whatever the species, can arouse fear or revulsion.
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 Dogs are sold a day before the annual dog meat festival in Yulin, China, 21 June 2015 - © GettyImages / The Asahi Shimbun

The edibility of different species of animals: a question of emotional distance

One of the functions fulfilled by food cultures is to classify animals by whether they are suitable for eating or not. As humans, we do not consider all animal flesh as meat. Thus, the status of a particular species of animal can vary from one culture to another. In Western cultures, farm animals or livestock, reared for commercial purposes, are regarded as ideally removed from humans, as is game, which although wild, is still familiar and can be captured and dominated.

Who would like a piece of pooch?

In post-industrial Europe, almost one in every two households now has a pet. While pets serve no practical purpose, we mainly keep them for the affection they give us. Pet owners develop such a close bond with their pets that they sometimes see them as ‘adopted’ members of the family. The development of strong emotional ties makes pets inedible, even if they belong to a commonly eaten species. The very idea of eating pets can disgust us, in much the same way as anthropophagy, the eating of human flesh. In Western countries, food taboos relating to cats and dogs are particularly strong. However, before dogs became pets, there was sufficient distance between dogs and humans for them to be regarded as edible. Cynophagy was in fact practised in France, Germany and Switzerland until the 20th century. Dogs in present-day China hold a rather particular status. While some appreciate dog meat in their cuisine, others see each dog as a special individual. Thus, within the same country, an animal may fall under different categories, as a representative of its species or an individual in its own right.

This same food taboo is also observed in non-industrialised societies. In certain hunter-gatherer tribes, for example among the Matis and the Achuar in the Amazon, sometimes the young of hunted animals are captured alive, nursed with the milk of the hunters’ wives and given names. Such practices bestow an individuality on these animals. They become ‘people’ and members of the human group. Consuming such ‘individuals’ is therefore unthinkable, even if their species remains a food source for the tribe.