Parsing Johnathan Safran’s “Let Them Eat Dog: A Modest Proposal for Tossing Fido in the Oven”

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Johnathan Safran’s witty article “Let Them Eat Dog: A Modest Proposal for Tossing Fido in the Oven” is a rhetorical piece that attempts to successfully shocks readers into analyzing the complex relationship between cultural food customs and their morality. Namely to make readers question why it is acceptable for some animals to be farmed in inhumane conditions but not others. Safran lays out his argument clearly “If we let dogs be dogs, and breed without interference, we would create a sustainable, local meat supply with low energy inputs that would put even the most efficient grass-based farming to shame. For the ecologically-minded it’s time to admit that dog is realistic food for realistic environmentalists.” (Safran 217). It seems to be implied that the primary audience is the American public, Safran references other cultures that eat dogs, but points to another animal which is held sacred either by religion or tradition. I feel by choosing dog’s Safran took aim at America and their particular use of industrial farming to call in to question the overall morality of the situation. Furthermore, the primary target audience was most likely those that engage in meat eating practices in America, because frankly vegans (true vegans) don’t have a dog in this fight outside of their own moral position. Vegans need not be swayed by Safran’s rhetoric because they already do not consume these industrial farmed livestock. Safran sets out to call into question the morals and reasoning of American meat consumption in a clear pointed argument, but jaw dropping none the less from the American point of view. Safran uses his witty and introspective persona effectively, interweaving strong use of logos and pathos to convey the hypocrisy of participating in the industrial farming complex and the immorality of eating meat through his use of inductive reasoning, juxtaposition, and anecdotal evidence.

The author’s persona comes across as witty and wise. Through the American lens of view, it looks as if Safran is taking on the archetypal persona of the devil’s advocate; hardly anyone I know personally would disagree with the assertion that eating dog is taboo in America. Safran draws upon this juxtaposition of American attitudes about eating dogs versus eating other livestock that are farmed under industrial and frequently immoral conditions. Safran does highlight that sacred animals seem to be religious and cultural vestiges that persist without much moral support.

Safran uses inductive reasoning, by highlighting American refusal to eat dogs and other cultures refusal to eat other animals; using the argument of if they eat it somewhere else why should you not eat it here. By this inductive reasoning Safran reaches the point that not eating dog is illogical. Safran also capitalizes on anecdotal evidence of the flavor of dog to further his argument that they should be consumed, he shares a description of the unique flavor of dog. He even goes on to share recipes for how to prepare dog. This highlights the point that from a culinary and flavor perspective there is truly no logical reason to not eat dog. Throughout the piece Safran uses the juxtaposition between American attitudes surrounding the morality of eating canine meat versus traditional livestock to highlight the global irrationality of food especially in the phrase “The French, who love their dogs, sometimes eat their horses. The Spanish, who love their horses, sometimes eat their cows. The Indians, who love their cows, sometimes eat their dogs.” (Safran 217).

The author of the piece uses rhetorical devices throughout the paper. One device the writer relies especially heavy on is his use of logos, this is noticeable throughout the piece, he highlights the juxtaposition between American consumption of other animal goods with their illogical refusal to consume canines. He does this by pointing out the notably good flavor of dog, and facing facts, most people like to eat things that taste good. Safran goes on to frame the environmental burden that could be alleviated by eating dogs; from an environmental prospective he brings many strong points that may appeal logically to someone who cares about the environment.

If you assume the author’s target audience is broadly the meat consuming American public; he uses pathos in virtually every portion of the paper. On the whole he uses pathos by tapping into America’s love of dogs. He even goes as far as to point out the moral irrationality of not eating certain animals in other cultures, he also closes with the assertion that food is not rational. By using this emotional tap, he can encourage the American public to look at their own complicity in the immorality within the industrial farming industry.

The author carries a strong use of ethos by default; as his profession is writing for respectable publications. This piece itself is published in the Wall Street Journal, which leads most people to perceive as a reliable source of information. An author (such as Safran) with multiple novels published will often be taken at face value.

From a technical standpoint the author didn’t do a great job of developing his stance on the ecological impact of industrial farming practices, although his paper is not a research paper, it may have been more effective to provide some more robust statistics to further his claims. Another area of weakness for the author was the heavy lean he took against the pathos of eating a dog. This has a great shock factor and although it may have worked against his goal of educating and inspiring thought, due to its taboo and grotesque nature possibly repelling some readers.

Although Safran’s argument has a few weak points he effectively uses logos and pathos to inspire thought about the morality of the meat industry and the overall quirkiness of eating culture. Safran makes use of many devices to generate this thought in his target audience, his use of inductive reasoning, juxtaposition, and anecdotal evidence aid in his overall argument. It seems Safran’s goal is not necessarily to convince Americans to eat their dogs, but instead to inspire thoughtful consumption of animals and to start a conversation. Safran uses his witty persona combined with the tools discussed to successfully spark this conversation. Dogs: Friends or food.

Bibliography:

  • Safran, Jonathan. “Let Them Eat Dog.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 31 Oct. 2009, www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748703574604574499880131341174.
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