What’s Worse: Beating A Dog Or Eating A Cow?

» September 2nd, 2014

Ironies abound in our treatment of animals. Melissa Cronin at The Dodo reported today that “The CEO of a catering giant will be stepping down after video footage revealed him kicking a doberman puppy in a Vancouver, Canada elevator.  Des Hague was the CEO of Centerplate, a $6 million company with over 350 clients, many of them major sports stadiums.”

The public outrage dictating the resignation of a corporate giant–the guy’s full name is Desmond Hague– is a noteworthy display of justice for sentient creatures. One is inevitably put in the mind of Michael Vick and the remarkable public censure that enveloped him after he was busted for running a dog fighting ring in 2007. Although one should never underestimate the motivating power of simple self-righteous condemnation, I think it’s safe to say that the hammer of public opinion came down on this CEO-dog abuser for the basic reason that we know causing gratuitous suffering to an animal is whacked.

Recall, though, that this man was the CEO of a catering firm, one whose menu includes every kind of animal-based product you could ever want for your event. Here’s one of its menus. So, it seems only fair to ask: why wasn’t this man taken to the woodshed much earlier? He was, after all, profiting from the sale of animals who were not only abused, but slaughtered so his firm could rake in millions. What some nameless and faceless low-wage worker did to those animals in an abattoir doesn’t compare to this CEO’s crazed outburst against his poor dog.

The fact that the vast majority of people calling for the CEO’s head would have happily eaten from one of his catering menus confirms something disturbing. Not only is our moral consideration of animals arrestingly situational, but we lack the ability to disentangle context from principle. Place some salt and pepper besides a cloth napkin and fine silver, arrange the plates in a circle at a convention, bond with friends over the steak on your plate, and all is fine. Kick a dog in a lift and your a pile of shit.

Go figure.


13 Responses to What’s Worse: Beating A Dog Or Eating A Cow?

  1. John Maher says:

    Yes the paradox of the privileged status of some based upon their relational status to humans is the lifework of Melanie Joy and Hal Herzog and you are all correct. I relate in this manner: animals are classed as property or “things”; Walter Benjamin famously wrote that the power of objects, or ‘things’ lies in their ability to produce an affective response in humans; dogs and cats do that through sentiment or, more promisingly, a material redefining of shared space; and thus dogs have special status. This is reflected in US jurisprudence and that of Switzerland where dogs alone have privileged legal status based upon their special relationship to humans. We also make reference to Marx’s social hieroglyph and point out that the American consumer, unless a hipster with a cleaver intent on home butchery, sees only the disembodied product of a burger and not a frightened and abused animal hoisted off the ground by a back leg while her throat is slit and she exsanguinates.

    I signed the petition to get the dog kicker fired. Would that a petition to liquidate Conagra and other serial animal killers would work as well. The lift kicker is part of the same collective pyschosis that allows other forms of abuse such as cow killing. So while we acknowledge this paradox we are hardly surprised.

    • unethical_vegan says:

      if carnists are people who kill cows and love dogs then what are vegans who eat palm oil, drive cars, and consume like drunken sailors while claiming to be against “exploitation”.

      donald watson spare me from your followers.

      • John Maher says:

        If your point is we are all complicit — I agree and have made this point before in this blog. As an advocate of Ahumanism I aspire to consuming at strictly neolithic levels and an end to a material version of humaniity in favor of a disembodied consciousness.

        Donald Watson? An obscure figure like Henry Salt, neither of whom thought things through. Surely I am not a follower of him. Dreary comparisons are often inapt.

      • James says:

        This is rhetorical posturing. You cast this huge net and demans moral consistency when vegans are trying quite authentically to seek moral clarity on an issue that they can control–eating animals. According to your implied logic, we should abandon all pretense to moral ambition on any single issue because we cannot achieve it on all issues.

        • John Maher says:

          Rather it is cold blooded analytical reasoning following upon the principles of Science and Technology Studies. We should all aspire to consume less — and thereby do less harm to the critters and what remains of the natural world — while acknowledging that the condition of human existence involves killing.

          So moral clarity is simple: don’t eat critters and the world is better off but you are still responsible for the deaths of other animals so consider what else you can do to minimize that. That is my peroration — do more not less to reduce the killing caused by your existence. This can include a wide variety of actions: live simply, don’t procreate, eat only low impact foods, don’t fly or buy a car, nurture plants and critters where they seek to reclaim the built environment, and consider suicide, to name but a few.

          If we limit our ethical thinking to a framework of eating critters then this fails to grasp the ecosophical present which is at a crisis stage. Let us not kid ourselves that absolutes exist and that merely participating in modern life by innocuous means such as turning on the hot water tap does not cause fossil fuels to be burnt, habitat to be destroyed, climate change to occur, and human population to exist at unsustainable levels all of which degrade and kill other life. The fact is that animals die as a result of the mere existence of vegans. In the end our analyses are only as good as the framework we assume, so let us assume a broader framework which embraces both indeterminacy and consequentialism and realizes that inherent conflict exist in the case of even the most ethical vegan.

          That said, my rhetoric is pretty straightforward. I am not above a bit of posturing and I very much approve of the attempt to confront the darkside of vegan issues in this blog even if I may disagree from time to time with the reasoning and especially its assumptions.

          • unethical_vegan says:

            John, I’m pretty sure that James was replying to me. It sounds like we are not too far apart on our view of the goals of vegan ethics. I responded to your comment mostly because I loathe the term “carnism”. IMO, it’s deontic vegan self-congratulation: “We gave up meat so let’s pat ourselves on the back by dehumanizing the people who currently eat meat”.

          • Taylor says:

            Hello John. Fertility rates around the world are plummeting while unsustainable exploitation of the biosphere rockets upwards. Population is less of a problem than consumption patterns. So one could argue that vegans have a special obligation to procreate. Their children are likely to make the world a better place.

        • unethical_vegan says:

          I am not a fan of morality or moralizing. I aspire to a life rooted in rational *ethics*.

          “are trying quite authentically to seek moral clarity on an issue that they can control–eating animals”

          Are you really trying to argue that the animals we kill for the convenience of driving a motorized couch, eating plant-based fats, or consuming cheap veggies are *necessary* deaths? When they die indirectly are they any less dead? When they suffer indirectly are the in any less pain? it seems to me that when you use the word “moral clarity” you really mean “moral defence mechanism”.

          “According to your implied logic, we should abandon all pretense to moral ambition on any single issue because we cannot achieve it on all issues.”

          I *vehemently* reject the idea that direct exploitation is different from indirect exploitation. Veg*ns who limit veganism to the avoidance of direct exploitation often remind me of dry drunks — they give up their “addiction” but still live the same destructive lifestyle. And like dry drunks they love to complain about “carnists” while living the “carnist” lifestyle.

          As for my ambition, I aspire to exploit less and to harm less. And I view those who seek to define veganism as some comic book morality play (e.g. Melanie Joy) as part of the problem.

          • Claire says:

            Unethical vegan, Melanie Joy never intended the term “carnism” to support vegan self-congratulation or to dehumanize people who eat meat. The term is needed in order to clarify that the choice to eat animal products is indeed a choice, and the result of an ideology, just as is the choice to not eat animal products. We need a word for both ideologies, so that “vegan” is not relegated to being an odd alternative to the dominant but invisible (because unnamed) ideology. And, it is possible to state that some actions (intentionally killing and eating animals) are more harmful than other actions (eating plants) without morally judging the people who do the harmful actions. We can criticize the behavior without demonizing the people — if we’re careful. If you aspire to exploit less and harm less, then you are aligned with Melanie Joy’s philosophy.

  2. John Maher says:

    Though far from the point of James’ column today, if anyone wants to sign the follow-up petition to charge Des Morris with animal cruelty for dog kicking, as opposed to the structural horror of catering in the animal agriculture abuse supply chain, here is the link:


  3. Mountain says:

    Go to Vietnam or the Phillipines, and they’ll think you’re crazy for not eating the dog. Go to India, and they’ll think you’re crazy for eating the cow. Different cultures treat different species differently.

  4. scott says:

    “‘We want to reiterate that we do not condone nor would we ever overlook the abuse of animals,’ Joe O’Donnell, chairman of the board for Centerplate, said in a statement.”


  5. Ruth says:

    Really good straightforward piece that all meat-eating, so-called animal “lovers” should read.
    If all vegans went as far as John Maher suggests it would put off people from becoming vegan.
    Something similar happened to me when I saw a debate on TV about 30 years ago put me off for a good while, and that was to do with vegans should not have “pets”, so I thought, well, I cant be vegan then. Point is, I didn’t understand why at the time and it wasn’t explained. However, I did eventually become vegan, and have been for 19 years now.

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