Earlier this year, a couple from Mongolia died of bubonic plague after consuming the organs of raw marmot. They believed the action would bring them good health. While that may sound strange, according to the World Health Organization, the eating of rodent meat is considered a folk remedy in the region.
The loss of two lives is tragic. But it got worse. Soon after news of the couple’s demise broke out, people began mocking them on social media. After one Tumblr user decided to turn the conversation into a discussion of how the deceased should have just adopted a vegan diet, another used showed up to explain exactly why the post was wrong, rude, and ethnocentric.
“If you eat a raw dead rat in 2019 you deserve the bubonic plague,” the original Tumblr user wrote. “We’ve all thought about eating a pigeon but it doesn’t mean you just pick one off the street and bite into it.”
Lots to unpack there, but I’m just going to make two points: 1. No one deserves the bubonic plague — especially for making a mistake; 2. How wonderful to illustrate people one knows nothing about as idiots who pick pigeons up off the street and bite into them.
Fortunately, someone other than an angry blogger stepped in. It was another tumblr user. And they were there to correct misconceptions, explain what happened, and take names. (Without going all off the handle like I might.) (Favorite thing to do!)
“The people who died were an ethnic Kazakh couple in a small Mongolian town,” the user wrote. “They didn’t eat a dead rat, they ate raw organs from a marmot they had hunted.the plague is an endemic disease in Mongolia, spread largely through contact with marmots (largely as a result of their fleas). unfortunately, due to a lack of information, some people in Mongolia subscribe to the folk belief that eating raw marmot will lead to good health.”
“This couple contracted the disease-which is very treatable with antibiotics-but did not receive adequate care in time and, as a result, suffered horrifically before dying. they left behind children, ranging in age from 14-years-old to 9 months. they did not deserve to die.”
Wow, okay. That’s probably where it should have ended. With the original poster more humble and wise and promising they’d read more than just headlines in the future, but one of their supporters showed up to turn this into an argument about veganism.
And that’s when things got heated. Because you know what? Civility is not always enough when people are being awful. Sometimes one has to fight fire with (very contained but still deadly) fire. And that’s exactly what this anonymous person (with a clear background in biology) did; showing their detractors that it doesn’t matter whether you eat meat or not — what matters is that we treat others with respect.
A little harsh? Absolutely. But an important reminder that we all need to work to understand others and show compassion in the face of tragedy. Even when we can’t agree.