Ethical Relativism and Meat

      Benedict’s “In defense of ethical relativism”, suggests that individuals act based on the norms deemed “acceptable” by their cultures. They do not formulate their own beliefs regarding what is morally correct, but rather adhere to what their cultures have previously branded “normal”. “Most individuals are plastic to the moulding force of the society into which they are born” (Benedict 56). I will support this claim using a specific example: the difference between acceptable meats in the United States and China.

      Author John Feffer describes which meats are “normal” in our culture. They include: “chicken but not crow, beef but not horse, venison but not reindeer, lamb but not mutton, legs and wings and rumps but not hearts or lungs or tongues” (Feffer 1). We are taught and conditioned to believe that some animals are “edible”, while others, quite simply, are not. He continues: “anonymous livestock and wildlife are fair game, but pets are a different matter, and dog in particular remains taboo” (1). In the United States, many people find the prospect of eating dogs and cats absolutely horrendous. Most love dogs as companions, not as Sunday dinner. Dog meat is virtually nonexistent.

     Although Feffer is completely aware of the norms regarding dog meat in our culture, he chose to ignore them. He ate dog. He shares his experience: “whenever I mention to my friends that I have eaten — and enjoyed — dog stew, they look at me with the sort of horror reserved for hangmen and white supremacists” (Feffer 1). Americans view Feffer’s choice to eat dog meat with disgust. They find it abnormal and repulsive. Most eat meats based on the norms established by our culture. They share the same sentiments regarding which types of meats are edible and which are not.

    In China, the cultural norms regarding meats are vastly different than those of the United States. Many individuals eat dog stew on a regular basis. Eating dog meat has been widely accepted and promoted by the Chinese culture for many years. It is a tradition. Author John Sudworth explains that: “the practice of eating dogs goes back centuries” (Sudworth 1). In fact, most do not know when it began. “If you ask a local when the tradition of eating dog meat began, then you’ll be met with a dumbfounded expression” (Young 1). There are many dog meat festivals that locals attend. Around “ten thousand dogs were slaughtered” for a dog meat festival this past June (Kaiman 1). The dog meat is especially popular since many believe it has both warming and cooling properties, which are very important to the Chinese culture. “According to Chinese folk dietetics, which classify every food according to its heating and cooling properties, dog is one of the ‘hottest’ meats around, best eaten in midwinter, when you need warmth and vital energy, not in sultry August” (Dunlop 1). The Chinese culture has clearly instilled in its people that eating dog meat is normal and also beneficial to health. Therefore, “for many in the city, eating dog meat is a hard habit to break” (Young 1).

    Individuals truly do make decisions based on the cultures in which they live. In the United States, our culture has taught us to view dog meat in a negative light. Thus, dogs will remain house pets and far from the kitchen. Yet in China, eating dog meat is respected for it’s “healthy” properties. Eating dog meat in China will remain a tradition for years to come. While some may deviate from cultural norms, as John Feffer did, most will never act as boldly.

                                                                                                           Works Cited

Benedict, Ruth. “A Defense of Ethical Relativism.” Anthropology and the Abnormal                  

                   (1934): 49-56. Blackboard. Web. 6Sept. 2014.

Dunlop, Fuchsia. “It’s Too Hot for Dog on the Menu.” The New York Times. 4 Aug.

                   2008. Web. 6 Sept. 2014.

Feffer, John. “The Politics of Dog.” The American Prospect. May 2002. Web. 6 Sept.


Kaiman, Jonathan. “Chinese Dog-eating Festival Backlash Grows.” The Guardian. 23

                     June 2014. Web. 6 Sept. 2014.

Sudworth, John. “Chinese Dog Meat Dilemma: To Eat or Not to Eat?” Web log post.

                      BBC News. 20 June 2014. Web.

Young, Connie. “Canine Controversy: Chinese Festival Serves up Dog Meat.” CNN

                    World. 23 June 2014. Web. 6 Sept. 2014.


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