Pets: love them, pamper them or eat them for dinner?

Posted on May 7, 2009. Filed under: American culture, Asian culture, chinese culture, cross cultural conflict, cuisine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

The other night I was watching The Dog Whisperer (I have no idea why), which is a TV show about a man who has some preternatural ability to understand and communicate with dogs. He helps families whose pets are having emotional or behavioral problems. In this episode, Cesar, the Dog Whisperer, was explaining to a woman “your dog is jealous of your husband.” She nodded knowingly.

I have never understood people who are crazy for their pets, and think of them as their children. Americans spend about 10 billion dollars a year on their pets. There are pet therapists, pet cemeteries, and pet spas.  A friend of mine cancelled her vacation, losing her non-refundable plane tickets, because she couldn’t find her cat pre-departure.

Years ago, when I was a new ESL teacher, I did an exercise with students where they had to match a list of items with the store in which they belong —the hammer goes in the hardware store, the lettuce goes in the green grocer, the rolling papers go in the bodega, etc. When we reviewed the answers together as a class, I was amused to find that all the Chinese students had put the pets in the butcher shop.

Fish, rabbits and reptiles are often pets, but no one really complains about eating them. It is often seen as a personal preference.  Even horses, beloved in the US,  are eaten in some European countries.

The biggest battle lines seem to be drawn for dogs and cats.  It also seems to be an East/West divide.  It is not uncommon for these animals to be on the menu in China, Korea or parts of South East Asia.  Westerners, on the other hand, not only refuse to eat them, but find it horrifying that others do.

Why, of all the animals that are kept as pets–fish, birds, cats, dogs, horses, reptiles, etc–are there such strong emotions in this cultural divide? What is it about cats and dogs that sets them apart?

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One Response to “Pets: love them, pamper them or eat them for dinner?”

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We did a unit this term on ethology and the emotional lives of animals (See Mark Bekoff/Jane Goodall). The psychological value of pets was undisputed, with few buts. Included in the cross-cultural, ethical, and biological debate were the inevitable queries: who decided which animals would be food, which would be workers, which would be companions, which would be sacred? It can’t be as simple as what’s in the yard, and do the original, anthropological reason still apply?

Got a link?

Oh, and who DID get the bright idea to crack a lobster?


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