One of the most meaningful things a professor has said to me in my time at Xavier was about pets.
Their student, on a trip to El Salvador, noted that she was heavily involved with animal rescue nonprofits. The student was shocked by the commonality of what U.S. citizens consider to be animal abuse. But, that El Salvador trip was designed to teach students about severe income inequalities in Latin America.
When you’re in an incredibly impoverished area; culturally decimated by uncontrollable crime, when 29% of your country is below the poverty level, when 8.5% of your country lives on less than 3.20 U.S. dollars per day, when your urban areas are home to gangs like MS-13 and Barrio 18, you focus on people above animals.
The point of this story isn’t to say that Salvadorans should be allowed to continue abusing animals. It’s that, as U.S. citizens, we don’t have the global or economic perspective to prioritize other country’s issues.
As we’re all fairly unfamiliar with the intricacies of Chinese wet markets, it’s easy for us to criticize the system because its misuse was partially responsible for a global issue. This, however, leads us only to look at it through a global lens. We then can’t see its realistic necessity as a facet of life for thousands of people every day.
We don’t understand the economic significance of wet markets, but it has become a constant criticism of China and the COVID-19 pandemic because of first-world vanity.
A wet market, a commonly misunderstood term, is not inherently associated with exotic animal sales. Wet markets are divided into three categories: some that sell no live animals, some that sell only live poultry and fish and some that sell more exotic animals.
In this sense, Cincinnati has areas that can be considered wet markets. Any open-air market which sells fresh fish, poultry, meat or produce can be considered a wet market. When people call for a ban on wet markets, they are already misidentifying an enemy based on a lack of cultural education.
The damage caused by the closure of all wet markets would be drastically different from that of just ill-regulated exotic markets.
It’s also worth noting that China instituted a ban on some wet markets in 2003 and 2013 after the SARS and avian influenza outbreaks. This led to an eruption of black markets, which ultimately made necessary wet market goods inaccessible to lower-income individuals who needed them for food. This shows that a ban on wet markets would hurt mostly this group.