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I have pet rabbits. But if you fancy eating rabbit meat, I’m fine with it

“I just wanted to let you know upfront that I had rabbit meat today,” a friend confessed to me in a message a few months back.

Some netizens and animal welfare groups were upset that Tong Xin Ru Yi Traditional Hotpot in Clarke Quay sold rabbit meat.

Some netizens and animal welfare groups were upset that Tong Xin Ru Yi Traditional Hotpot in Clarke Quay sold rabbit meat.

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“I just wanted to let you know upfront that I had rabbit meat today,” a friend confessed to me in a message a few months back.

“Can buy and deliver to my place? I want to try,” I replied jokingly.

“Oh. You seem very… calm about it,” she texted back in surprise, knowing that I love rabbits.

This conversation came back to me as I thought about a recent incident which has generated a small storm online.

A restaurant serving Sichuan cuisine found itself in hot soup after its Facebook post promoting its rabbit meat dishes attracted a furious response from advocacy groups championing rabbit welfare.

Was the reaction warranted, or was it blown out of proportion?

In case you missed it, here’s what happened.

In late November, Tong Xin Ru Yi Traditional Hotpot in Clarke Quay started selling two dishes containing rabbit meat: Diced rabbit in chilli oil, and rabbit hotpot. It posted about the new menu items on its Facebook page, and a Chinese daily newspaper covered the story.

The news article caught the attention of Bunny Wonderland and the House Rabbit Society of Singapore, which promptly issued a strong statement on Facebook condemning the consumption of rabbit meat.

The two animal welfare groups also launched a petition demanding that the restaurant stop selling rabbit dishes. To date, over 8,000 people have signed it.

An online mob also flooded the restaurant’s Facebook page with negative comments and poor reviews, causing the restaurant’s rating to plummet. 

A few netizens took their militant tactics even further by labelling the restaurant as a “cemetery” on Google Maps, which relies on crowd-sourced information. They also submitted photos of rabbits edited to look like those in obituaries to the images section of the restaurant’s Google summary box.

The restaurant has taken down its Facebook post, though it is believed that the rabbit items are still on the menu.

Let me be clear that my family has owned two pet rabbits for the past three years. I was also a volunteer with Bunny Wonderland, where we adopted one of our rabbits from, until early last year.

Nevertheless, I cannot bring myself to condone the actions of the angry netizens. I also disagree with the hardline stance adopted by the animal welfare groups on eating rabbit meat.

In my opinion, this incident demonstrates the dangers of group polarisation, which occurs when a group of people who support a similar cause becomes increasingly extremist over time.

Group members, perceiving that they are more “worthy” if they show stronger support for the cause, try to outdo one another in expressing more extreme views.

This leads to a vicious circle where the entire group gets mired in a repetitive cycle of loathing and intolerance for views that do not align with its own.

In this case, group polarisation can be seen in the hurtful actions taken by those who are against eating rabbit meat.

Long before rabbits were kept as pets, they were farmed for their meat and fur. The practice started in ancient Rome, but many other cultures including the Sichuanese have since taken it up.

Those who were up in arms against the hotpot restaurant acknowledged this, but pointed out that rabbit consumption is not a commonly accepted practice in Singapore and hence the Sichuanese living here should not engage in it.

In a negative review on the restaurant’s Facebook page, a netizen wrote that if customers from Sichuan want rabbit meat, they should “go back to China”.

Another went further, calling on the restaurant not to bring “bad culture” into Singapore.

These xenophobic remarks are very disrespectful towards the Sichuanese people and their culture. Imagine how the Sichuanese followers of the page must have felt seeing the vitriol against their culture?

The backlash also affected the restaurant’s rating on Facebook and Google. These ratings will remain in the internet’s infinite memory forever, tarnishing the name of the restaurant permanently.      

But is it fair to give a restaurant a negative rating without ever having set foot in it, the way the netizens did? It just seems like an abuse of the rating system to me.

The fact is that the restaurant owner, named in media reports as Mr Zhang, did nothing wrong.

Singapore legally allows the import and consumption of rabbit meat, and Mr Zhang had been licensed to sell it.

So for netizens to do what they did is questionable. They hurt the reputation of Mr Zhang’s legitimate business, placing his livelihood and the livelihoods of all his workers in jeopardy.

Bunny Wonderland recognised that rabbit meat is legal here, but claimed that rabbit lovers are unwilling to eat their pets.

Writing on its own Facebook page, the group said: “While we understand rabbit is an approved consumable meat, we are not ready to eat our pets, our best friends, our family. Please remove this unwelcomed dish from the menu and do not encourage the consumption of our pets in any shape or form in the future!”

I think it’s a bit of a stretch to say that having rabbit meat on a restaurant menu is the same as eating pet rabbits. The rabbits that are cooked are hardly the same animal as the ones we keep at home.

The rabbits people eat are in fact much larger than the breeds used as pets. The New Zealand rabbit is usually farmed for its meat and weighs in at about 5kg. In contrast, one of the most common pet breeds, the Netherland Dwarf, weighs only about 1kg.

Furthermore, whether to eat rabbit meat, or any other type of meat for that matter, comes down to a personal choice.

Those who love rabbits so much that they are unable to bring themselves to eat any rabbit meat at all are entitled to their view. But those who want to eat rabbit meat have an equal right to their preference.

In these fractious and divided times we live in, the ability to coexist peacefully with others who do not share our point of view is important if we are to minimise societal conflict. 

In short, we must learn to agree to disagree.



Jonathan Tiong is a third-year student at the National University of Singapore where he is majoring in Communications and New Media.

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