But the Hawaiian perspective seems to be unique. More commonly, dogs are part of the household while pigs are designated to the fields. Pigs have benefitted humans while dogs were fundamental to their existence. That is to say, people could get by without pigs (by eating other meat, for example), but their success—and, in many cases, their very survival—depended on dogs.
The Inuit people are a striking example. Archaeologists have determined that the relationship between humans and dogs in the Arctic has existed for at least 1,000 years, notes a United Nations report. The Inuit dogs have aided in hunting, carrying, transportation, protection, navigation, and companionship. In a recent PBS documentary on dogs, an Inuit man says simply, "Without them we would never have survived; without them we wouldn't even be here."
This intensely close relationship between human and dog understandably creates a taboo on eating dogs, much as there is a taboo on eating fellow humans.
Dr. James Serpell, director of the Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society at University of Pennsylvania, extends this mutual dependence across the globe. "The dog became a symbiotic partner with us," he says. "It has become like another limb, an extension of ourselves." Another expert interviewed in the PBS program says, "I don't think people realize how much having dogs around has affected the evolution of human culture and civilization."
In her book Animals in Translation, animal behavior expert Temple Grandin goes a step further, arguing that dogs shaped not just our culture and history but our very physical evolution. "The Aborigines have a saying: 'Dogs make us human.' Now we know that's probably literally true," she writes. "People wouldn't have become who we are today if we hadn't co-evolved with dogs." Grandin argues that, over tens of thousands of years, humans and dogs actually evolved in particular ways because of their close relationship. The human lost much of its olfactory and aural capabilities, according to Grandin, because these were dogs' greatest strengths. Humans came to rely on the canine nose and ears.
This intensely close relationship between human and dog understandably creates a taboo on eating dogs, much as there is a taboo on eating fellow humans. Animals that Changed the World, a book about animal domestication, stresses that dogs have held a privileged status within human culture for thousands of years. "Within the ranks of domesticated animals there is a small group that stands in a different and closer relationship to humanity than, say, the cow or the sheep," or, one could add, the pig. From very early on, the authors note, "the familiar animals are part of the household."
So the next time someone tells you it's no more defensible to eat a pig than to eat a dog, just say, "That's nonsense," and refer them to this blog.
Update, November 5:
Several comments criticize this piece for failing to explicitly address sentience (capacity for suffering). Apparently these readers missed that the irrelevance of pigs' sentience is the whole point. I would be the last person to deny a pig's many admirable qualities. My book, Righteous Porkchop, extensively describes pigs' natural behaviors and expressly compares their intelligence and capacity to suffer with that of dogs. Yet none of these traits are connected to why Americans refrain from eating dogs. The real reasons are explored in this piece. Consequently, arguing that if you won't eat a dog you shouldn't eat a pig because they are equally intelligent and sentient doesn't hold water. That is the material point.