Tourism Experiences and Animal Consumption: Contested Values, Morality and Ethics, edited by Carol Kline (Routledge), £105/$150
Tourist ethics? You may not have known there was such a thing. The ethics of tourism and animal consumption? Now we seem to be in really obscure territory. And yet, when I travel I find myself very often thinking about the kinds of topics covered in this essay collection.
While visiting Iceland: How odd that puffins and whales are promoted as tourist attractions, but also on the menu at restaurants in Reykjavik. While visiting Australia: What a surprise that, in the vast, mostly empty middle of the country, you can happen upon a camel and emu mini-zoo coupled with a café that serves them both for dinner. Question: Is it bad to admire an animal and then eat it?
A more basic question that first gets mentioned in the introduction (by Israeli sociologist Erik Cohen) is about travel itself: “To what extent do people leave their ethics at home and participate in activities out of the norm for them, when they are displaced in time and space?” Cohen seems to think people do leave ethics at home, to some extent, though he says it remains to be seen whether data will bear this out. “What happens in Vegas …” does seem to be, most likely, not exactly what happens at home. (Perhaps we’ll never know, since it “stays in Vegas”, according to the marketing jingle.)
Another general observation about tourism comes in an article by Yoko Kito, a professor of religion and philosophy in Japan. She advocates a “metaphysical” perspective from which “the phenomenon of tourism is redefined as looking at things differently as a result of the transition from one place to another.” As tourists we look acutely, but don’t pay much attention back at home. My reaction is to wonder whether that leads to a certain sort of bias: traveler’s farsightedness, you might call it. The tendency to notice things abroad that are actually also going on at home, just because you’re paying more attention.
Some of the authors in this collection strike me as being a bit afflicted with this bias. For example, the authors of a chapter on the consumption of puffins and whales in Iceland note that these animals are anthropomorphised for marketing purposes. Yes, but this isn’t especially an Icelandic phenomenon or a tourism phenomenon. In a chapter on “barbecue tourism” in North Carolina, there’s once again the observation about anthropomorphising in marketing materials. But this is so ubiquitous in the US that there’s even a blog dedicated to commercial depictions of animals cheerfully submitting to being eaten (suicidefood.blogspot.com/).
The article that will probably stay with me longest is one about the Yulin Lychee and the Dog Meat Festival in China and their “wet markets”. Is it a wet market because the animals are wet inside, or because their blood is all over the place? I’m not sure. Hannah Brown, a solicitor specialising in animal law, explains that wet markets exist because of the belief that the freshest meat tastes the best. But doesn’t it ruin the appetite to see dogs crammed into small cages, brutally killed, and then dismembered? She describes Chinese tourists as witnessing the gruesome treatment of the dogs while smiling, taking pictures, and eating dog meat.
Tourism can alter animal consumption in very different ways. Brown reports that international tourism is a threat to the Dog Meat Festival, as pictures and reports have increasingly drawn condemnation. It’s more or less closed now to international visitors, but also at risk of closing entirely.
In other chapters, the interaction works in the opposite way. Insect eating while on vacation may make people get over an aversion. Robert Todd Perdue, a sociologist, argues that this could be beneficial since it would be better both environmentally and welfare-wise if people used insects as a protein source instead of larger, manifestly sentient animals. Elise Mognard, a lecturer in tourism in Malaysia, reports that tourists who observe the force-feeding of geese at farms in France feel better about the practice, not worse, and more comfortable with eating foie gras. This is hard to fathom, if you look at videotaped footage of gavage — Google it! Perhaps gavage looks better when you’re in the beautiful Dordogne countryside and your mind is full of the thought that this is all very traditional and French.
So, what of admiring puffins and camels and then devouring them? The question comes up in many of these articles, in a multitude of contexts, but is it a question about tourism? True, I gave this a lot of thought while looking at puffins in Iceland and camels in Australia, but if I’d been paying more attention, I would have thought about it at home as well. How odd that at petting zoos in the countryside around Dallas, people dote on the calves and then eat their mothers for lunch. What’s with fish being on the menu at the Aquarium? As much as this book is interdisciplinary, it would probably take experts in even more areas to get a grip on these questions: anthropologists and psychologists, not to mention philosophers.