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Why a Starving Dog and $1 Million for Lab Meat Don’t Matter (Sort of)

Two stories have been jumping very aggressively from the internet into my face lately and aroused and aggravated my skepticism. First, that an artist is starving dog; and second, that PETA is offering $1 million for in vitro meat.

Costa Rican artist Guillermo “Habacuc” Vargas may or may not have starved a dog to death as a piece of art (alongside “175 pieces of crack cocaine alight in a massive incense burner”) in August 2007 at the Códice Gallery in Managua, Nicaragua, and he may or may not be doing it again at the the Bienal de Artes Visuales de Honduras 2008. Real information is spotty, and this one article from the Guardian (which mostly implies that it was just a stunt and no one was starved to death) seems to be the only actual reportage about any of it.

Habacuc’s primary goal is getting a lot of attention, and that’s certainly working. As of this writing, 2,206,525 people have signed an online petition demanding Habacuc be banned from the Bienal (an additional 666,241 people have signed the embarrassingly slapdash English version.) And it took some serious Googling skillz to find out anything about the Bienal that wasn’t about Habacuc. I’d argue that the public’s outrage is the main component of the piece. It’s up to you if you want to help him or not. Personally, I’m mostly upset at the ratio of outrage to investigation on the part of the pro-animal community. Do we want to be taken seriously or be a bunch of raving ignorant people?

PETA seems to agree with me, and quite rightly points out that “if we can muster up this degree of outrage about one incident of animal suffering, why are we any less horrified by the billions upon billions of similar or worse cases of abuse that we can personally help to prevent?” Good question. But perhaps they’re also jealous of all the attention Habacuc is getting. PETA’s latest ploy is their offer of a $1 million prize to the “first person to come up with a method to produce commercially viable quantities of in vitro meat at competitive prices by 2012.” Like many vegans, I have conflicted feelings about in vitro meat (and about PETA, for that matter), but mostly I see this as a pure publicity stunt. 2012 is really soon for something like this. And $1 million isn’t all that much money for something like this. I don’t think PETA’s actually going to inspire anyone to develop better “fake” meat faster, and I think they know that. But the promise of $1 million is a quick way to get a lot of press attention and discussion.


  1. Comment by

    Roseann Marulli

    on #

    A friend sent this to me: HSUS link

  2. Comment by


    on #

    Everyone knows that you just have to plant chicken nuggets in your yard and they grow into burgers. You don’t even have to give me the $1 million, I work for the greater good. (:

  3. Comment by


    on #

    In my opinion, lab-grown meat (which I wouldn’t support or eat) will do more harm for the vegetarian and vegan communities than good. We’ll lose a lot of people who think that eating that type of meat is okay because it comes from a petri dish, not an animal. But that doesn’t change the fact that meat is based upon a system of oppression and cruelty, the root causes of which won’t be eliminated once scientists figure out a way to grow meat.

  4. Comment by


    on #

    The obvious response to a work of art that involves starving a dog to death would be to get the dog out of the exhibition.

    First, organize a group of Artists to invade the gallery at a not very busy time which, no doubt, is most of the time.

    Next mace the gallery staff and destroy their mobile phones, also cut the phone lines and let the air out of the tires of their cars.

    Lastly, remove the dog from the premises to a safe place, leaving behind a manifesto that informs the art world of the Artistic intention behind the action of the dogknapping but which makes no reference whatsoever to anything to do with Animal Rights.

  5. Comment by


    on #

    Thank you for this post. This is part of a larger problem, the problem that causes all viral internet hoaxes: people have to blindly believe them. No one did their research, no one even asked what the purpose of this exhibit might actually be. Was it just to be shocking? Or was it also to draw attention to the thousands of starving dogs on the streets?

    I also completely agree with PETA’s complaint that people are focused only on this one incident and not as outraged about the bigger issues.

  6. Comment by


    on #

    Arielle please know that the purpose doesn’t matter to the dog that is being starved to death (if this is not a hoax). Why don’t you phone the gallery in Managua to find out? Maybe they will even tell you the truth.

    Also, I am sure that this installation was not about stray dogs starving. The dog is being used as a symbol for something relating to humans. Maybe a commentary on crack addiction considering the image of the insense burner filled with the stuff as described by Jason.

  7. Comment by


    on #

    From the WORLD SOCIETY FOR THE PROTECTION OF ANIMALS who, it seems, were taken seriously by the VI Central American Visual Arts Biennale with the help of 2 million signatures: