Archive for April 14th, 2008


I am stationed for a few days in a Spanish village on the outskirts of a big town. As is often the case in urban sprawl, the village ends up becoming just one more suburb, and this one in particular is no difficult. Streets full of bungalows are being sold off to build apartment blocks with car parks in the basement. There is still the market square and the local bars and shops, but the sheer volume of traffic passing through does away with any sense of downhome idyll.

The first morning I woke up in Spain, a Sunday more than ten years ago now, I wondered where the music was coming from. I looked out to the street below and there was a gypsy with a synthesiser playing a trumpet melody to a rumba drum loop, and also a man selling chestnuts, shouting something  I later learned was ¡son de León! -they’re from León!- which I presume to be a good place to get chestnuts. Another synthesiser-playing gypsy woke me this Sunday. Later on that morning I saw him in one of the squares. He was about 45 and fat, with a maroon shellsuit and a mullet.

In Ireland, you have to make an effort to overhear things. Not here, where you can hear what they’re saying out in the street 50 yards down, apart from when they’re drowned out by the sound of scooters or drills or cement mixers. Most of the time, they’re talking about food. The other night I woke up as the bar below the apartment was closing. The patrons were pouring out onto the street, and were talking at length about the great feed they had had a couple of weeks back in some bar or other, and what they were having for dinner the following day. People in Spain talk about food the way people in Ireland talk about….people in Ireland don’t talk about anything, apart from property maybe.

The woman who looked after me when before I started school used to buy the Irish News every morning to find out who was dead. No need for that here: each morning, a car with a loudspeaker on top goes up and down the streets announcing who is no more, and the times you can go visit the family in the tanatorio. Funny word that. It means funeral home, but it comes from Thanatos, the personification of death in Greek  mythology. From thanatos you also get euthanasia.

So you hear the names of the dead as you peel spuds for lunch. Nearly every dead person has an affectionate nickname, none of which make much sense in translation, just as you would have a hard time translating someone called Swinger or Mugsy.

Barnyard Morals

They execute people and harvest their organs and stuff, and I wouldn’t mind only they eat cats and dogs, says Ian O’Doherty.

But is there much of a difference between eating cats and dogs and eating, say, cows and sheep?

And, before the cultural and moral relativists start to point out that there is no substantive difference between cats and dogs and eating, say, cows and sheep, let’s get this straight — you’re wrong, there is a huge difference. And you’re an idiot for suggesting otherwise.

Oh, ahh’m sorry. What, then, is this huge difference?

For starters, livestock bred for food are not companion animals

He’s not gonna like this, but the categories of ‘livestock bred for food’ and ‘companion animal’ are both cultural constructs. It is people who decide what constitutes both categories. So what he’s saying here is that eating this animal here is morally different from eating that one because he -and not the animal to be eaten- says so. But sacred cows taste just the same as ordinary ones, ceteris paribus. A previous generation of my family for a while kept a runt pig as a companion animal (which I presume is the same thing as a pet, only with more professional and vocational overtones). At one time it accompanied my granny, and later it accompanied cabbage and potatoes.

But if you’re going to talk about morality and animials, it behooves (no pun intended) you to take into account what the animal feels. The problem with this, generally, is that animals can’t speak. So you have no way of knowing if a cow would object more strongly in cow terms than a dog would in dog terms if he was able to know you were going to eat him.

Now, the writer adduces other considerations to demonstrate why it is wrong to eat dogs and cats, but these have to do with the cruelty of their treatment, and not the act of eating them. Such considerations are not sufficient for finding eating dog sandwiches morally worse than eating cow sandwiches, since you don’t need to treat an animal badly in order to eat it. So, whilst you might not eat Chinese dogs because they are badly treated, why not eat your own dog? If we assume humane treatment as our criterion, we could conclude that it would be better to eat a cat that had had a lifetime of creamy saucers of milk and lots of loving stroking from her spinster keeper, before falling prey to a speeding Scania lorry cab, than a chicken that had been raised cruelly in a battery.

Cruelty is cruelty is cruelty but because we live in an era where we have been hamstrung by cultural sensitivity and paralysed by the fear of being seen to be racist many of us are now prepared to allow unspeakable practices to continue in other countries.

He says that ‘two million dogs and cats are killed each year for food’. That’s 1 dog or cat for every 650 Chinese people. In Ireland, approximately 14,000 greyhounds are ‘disposed of‘ each year, or 1 greyhound for every 357 Irish people. And that’s just greyhounds. Still, best not to judge them, it’s their culture innit?

I on Twitter

April 2008