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  • Vivien Sweet

Altruism, Butchered

Animal rights activists go to new extremes.

By Vivien Sweet

Illustration by Phoebe Wagoner

Amid posters urging students to audition for sketch comedy groups and participate in a sustainable Halloween costume swap, an advertisement for a tasting hosted by Elwood’s Organic Dog Meat stuck out. Something was clearly amiss. Framed by a giant golden retriever looming over a tray of red meat, the event’s description was surprisingly laconic, indicating only “When: Oct, 5, 2023” and “Where: The Sundial.” Beyond a QR code to “visit the farm,” the poster bore few other details. 


I’m sure that most passersby instantaneously realized that the poster was a cheap attempt at rousing attention by a veganism awareness organization. But their website took great pains to masquerade as an earnest family farm; I perused nearly half of the site before realizing that the organization was satirical. The giveaway? A listing under the “Vegetarian” section that led with: “Little known fact—pomeranians lay eggs.” (Prospective buyers, a dozen will set you back $1.51.)


Pomeranians don’t lay eggs; this I know. But the lie’s directness caught me off guard. Many parody projects will make claims so explicitly false that everyone can safely laugh at them, eradicating the hierarchy of joke-maker and joke-victim. The punchline of the “Birds Aren’t Real” campaign, for example, is that birds are in fact very real. And satirical organizations that do straddle the line between truth and fiction tend to avoid jokes with troubling moral implications. Yet Elwood’s Organic Dog Meat falls in neither category. Why would an organization fighting against animal cruelty labor to visit colleges, publish weekly articles, and create merchandise to promote a lie? Puzzled, I went to their free sampling in the spirit of investigative journalism. 


There was no free dog meat. There was, however, a blow-up husky and eager spokespeople with shirts and hats branded with their choice slogans: “Mmm… PUG BACON” and “Delicious dog, since 1981.” Students remained impassive as they hurried by the stand, having long since tuned out the moral pleas of campus canvassers. 


I was the perfect candidate to be wooed into veganism: a lapsed vegetarian, ambivalent about my meat consumption, a lover of both tofu and productive ideological sparring. I spoke at length with a young woman who told me that the advocacy group, founded in 1981 to promote veganism, is family-owned and operated. Although their website explicitly details the process by which the dogs on Elwood’s Organic Dog Meat Farm are (hypothetically) bred, killed, and eaten, they had dropped the act in person. Instead, Elwood’s representatives opted to urge passersby to go vegan for a singular day for the sake of their own dogs.


When I asked why they did not host any fundraisers to directly combat animal farms, she clarified that Elwood’s Organic Dog Meat was primarily a canvassing operation that had successfully converted a nebulous amount of college students to veganism. When I suggested that there were racist underpinnings to the demonization of eating dogs, she argued that all meat consumption should be demonized and helpfully pointed me to their online FAQs regarding accusations of “xenophobia.” (It reads: “Regarding the hurtful stereotypes around cultures that do eat dog meat: we do not condone them.”) We were getting nowhere.


“I’m sorry, I just don’t really see how spreading misinformation is a productive way to promote veganism,” I said.


“What are you doing to fight animal cruelty?” she retorted.


“You have a point,” I admitted.


I left the dog meat sampling perturbed and less inclined to consider veganism than when I had arrived. While walking away, I spoke to some similarly unsettled students—vegans and meat eaters alike—who expressed their frustration at the cruel, ineffective use of dogs in the name of the fight against animal cruelty. “They’re not changing anyone’s minds,” one vegetarian remarked. The merit of their advocacy was irreparably offset by the moral absurdism of their approach.


I was doomscrolling through their website’s FAQ section when I noticed that the rhetoric of Elwood’s Organic Dog Meat had lost all its dwindling earnestness that I gleaned from its canvassers in-person, shifting from an emphatic plea to consider veganism to an altruistic parody of the relationship between animals and humans. “If you were locked in a room with a live dog and an apple, which would you eat first?” the first question asked. In such a situation, I think I would ask to be let out.


“Don’t force your views on me!” another FAQ read. “Isn’t it my personal choice to eat animals?”


The response: “You can choose to be a racist or rapist or beat your children or dog. When you choose to intentionally and unnecessarily hurt others—or eat animals—you’re putting your choice ahead of theirs. Does that seem fair?”

Perhaps not. But what is infinitely more unfair is the flippant whataboutism in equating eating animals  to engaging in sexual violence, racism, and child abuse. And the result of such callous, ambivalent rhetoric? Driving away their target audience—meat eaters, who didn’t like being equated to dog killers—and estranging their allies—vegans, who felt that the organization grossly misrepresented their cause. 


As the day wound down, the purported dog meat-harvesters deflated their blow-up huskies and rolled up the “free sampling” advertisement that had originally caught my eye. The straggling stream of students had notably begun to swerve around the Sundial to avoid the canvassers, who were still haplessly passing out pamphlets. Without its shock value, Elwood’s Organic Dog Meat was not worth a second glance. Alienating meat eaters and vegans alike, the campaign was a classic case of satire gone horribly awry: a morbid joke taken too far accompanied by a moral imperative forced upon unwilling passersby. In John Keats’ poem “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” a “friend to man” says, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty.” Perhaps that best explains why I found the falsehoods of Elwood's Organic Dog Meat to be so ugly. 


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