Eating Man’s Best Friend

John D. Sutter doesn’t understand why we don’t eat dogs:

The United States euthanizes 1.2 million dogs per year, according to the ASPCA. Would 6741960599_a1e9c58d64_zeating them be so different? It actually could be seen as helpful.

“[U]nlike all farmed meat, which requires the creation and maintenance of animals, dogs are practically begging to be eaten,” Jonathan Safran Foer, a vegetarian and novelist, writes in the book “Eating Animals.” Euthanizing pets, he says, “amounts to millions of pounds of meat now being thrown away every year. The simple disposal of these euthanized dogs is an enormous ecological and economic problem. It would be demented to yank pets from homes. But eating those strays, those runaways, those not-quite-cute-enough-to-take and not-quite-well-behaved-enough-to-keep dogs would be killing a flock of birds with one stone and eating it, too.”

 objects to this line of reasoning:

[T]he reason we shouldn’t eat dogs is related to the same reason it is more heinous and hateful to burn a synagogue than a community center, or that it is more of a violation to burn down a man’s home than the two rental properties he owns of an equivalent dollar value. The spaces, objects, and even animals we sanctify with our respect, friendship, and time really do enter into different moral categories. It is not inherently evil to smash a picture, but it is a gesture of hatred to tear a beloved family photo.

Societies like Korea, where dogs have been eaten and kept as pets, even come up with different categories of dogs to separate the ones that are sanctified by human friendship, and those that are not and therefore can be eaten. As Americans, with our own history and sense of ethics, we would probably never develop this distinction, and that’s okay. We’re fine with diversity when it comes to other cultural manifestations, like manners, another dimension of human behavior with moral implications. It is a human wrong to be inhospitable, but hospitality may have completely different expressions and taboos from one culture to the next. So, too, with our taboos on eating and animals.

The Dish has covered this subject repeatedly over the years. Update from a reader:

Before moving to eating dogs, why can’t we at least start with eating the pigeons? City pigeons are extremely well fed, many are gourmet fed and plump as hell. They should taste great. And it’s gotta taste like chicken, right?

Maybe from a pigeon farm. But you really want to taste a pigeon that feeds on New York Shitty trash?

(Photo by Nina Matthews)

Dogs vs Pigs: Why Do We Eat What We Eat? Ctd

A reader writes:

I think you are missing a big problem with the large-scale eating of dogs in China. To imagine a world where you can both love your pet dog and love to eat dog in a restaurant isn’t too far-fetched. The problem is thieves. In China, if your dog goes missing, there is little doubt of its fate …

Dogs are commonly stolen if chained in public, or even a backyard (you will never see a dog leashed to a post, for instance). Even pet cats are stolen and sent to southern China, where cat meat is widely eaten. My current and former expat friends (of whom include M Scott Brauer, the photographer of this Nanking Yangshuo dog butcher at work) have heard many stories of people having their pets stolen. The photo here exemplifies the cruelty of the business – dogs crammed in a tiny cage being sprinkled with blood from the still-living dog hung from a hook just feet away. It’s all well and good to show a dog-meat hot pot, but it’s leaving out a lot.

With dog ownership on the rise in China, pet thievery is becoming less common and more vilified in the country, but still a horrifying thought, especially if you own dog(s). Ex-pat warnings on the topic are pretty easily googled if you want some horror stories.

Dogs vs Pigs: Why Do We Eat What We Eat? Ctd

Dog Meat

A reader writes:

I am a Chinese-American who moved to China to teach English after college. I was curious to try dog meat, and it was pretty easy to find in my large city in central China. I actually found it very delicious with a very unique flavor and texture, and ate it several times.

It’s common to eat it in a “hot pot”- that is, cooked on the table in a shared bowl of boiling water with spices and oils, and then dipped in a sour, spicy sauce. But it’s really not such a common thing to eat, as it tends to be more expensive than other meats and generally considered a delicacy. It also tends to be served more in the winter, because of a belief that it “warms” the body – in some sort of odd Chinese theory about foods having effects on the body.

The dogs are not simply ones picked up off the street, but seem to be particular breeds raised for human consumption – large blonde dogs I saw at meat markets. When I asked my students or other Chinese people, many claimed to have never tried dog and expressed little interest in trying it.

I never grew up with a dog as pet, and if I had that might have changed my views about eating dog meat. I tend to view it as a bit of a cultural strength that China has historically lacked restrictions on diet. Why the odd religious restrictions on eating pig, as Hitchens points out in a chapter of “God is Not Great”? The Hindus venerate the cow and do not eat its meat, and that’s also considered odd. But India and China make up large proportions of humanity – why are these dismissed as eccentric oddities?

I’m disappointed to learn that there is law underway to ban dog meat in mainland China, and that it is already illegal in Hong Kong because of a law passed by the British. It was also made illegal in Taiwan some years ago. The reasons for banning it seem to have to do with some embarrassment about the way the practice is perceived in the rest of the world.

It really is an interesting cultural and culinary experience to consume dog meat, and I’m frankly surprised at the close-mindedness and lack of cultural understanding I hear from people in the West who find the idea so unpalatable.

(Photo of a dog meat hot pot by Flickrite Sherwin Huang)

Eating Dog, Ctd

A reader writes:

During the late 90’s I was serving in the US Air Force stationed at Clark AB, Philippines. I had heard stories about Filipinos eating dog meat but didn’t think much about it. During my second year there I had a girlfriend who lived off base. The apartment where she lived had this stray dog hanging around the place. We’d feed it scraps and she’d even let it stay in her room during rain storms. One day near Christmas time, I woke up to the horrible screeching of the little dog.

I ran out to see what was going on and I saw the neighbors laboring over a fire pit and a butchers table. They had just killed the dog and were skinning it. I reeled back in horror as I watched them processing the dog and happily chatting about the day’s events as if nothing was amiss . The smell really was putrid, even though I had been to several Filipino open air markets with all kinds of meat: snake, heads of chickens and pigs. I left the area upset and shaken up.

Later on during Christmas as I went to visit my girlfriend, one of the butchers came over and apologized for the trauma I witnessed. We set around and had a couple of beers and talked. To Filipinos, dog meat was only eaten during special holidays. They didn’t consider what they did as cruel and I began to understand their tradition, albeit I didn’t agree with it. It’s funny how many times I saw pigs or cows stuffed into tractor trailers and didn’t give them a thought. Perhaps we are vastly hypocritical in are dealings with the animal world.

Eating Dog

Matt Steinglass, who lives in Vietnam, explains why Jonathan Safran Foer’s canine-based argument about meat eating doesn’t play in East Asia or Africa:

The philosophical underpinnings needed for the argument don’t exist here; they’re not present in people’s brains. I think we need to start out with the “humane practices” argument, first in the developed world — stop torturing pigs in our own slaughterhouses, etc. Then we can start making the case to East Asian farmers that you shouldn’t stuff 12 dogs into a wire cage, put it on the back of a motorbike and drive down to the market to sell them off, with the wires slamming into their paws and chests at every pothole; that you shouldn’t tie two ducks together by their feet and drape them over the handle of your motorbike, then drive along as they flap to try to keep their heads out of the spokes of the wheel; that you shouldn’t splay a pig upside-down, feet trussed, across the metal carrying rack of your motorbike; and so on.

Eating Pooches/Pigs

Will Saletan argues that South Korea should legalize the slaughter of dogs:

To comply with Western sensibilities, the Koreans officially banned dog meat. But they don’t enforce the ban, presumably because they don’t share the abhorrence. And why should they? Why exactly is it gross to eat dogs but OK to slaughter pigs, which, by most measures, are smarter? So we’ve started with irrationality compounded by hypocrisy.

Now we have a health problem. According to the article, Korean dog “slaughtering and processing is carried out in dirty environments and poses risks to diners’ health.” Why the dirty environments? Apparently because the formal ban prevents the government from classifying dogs as livestock so it can regulate their slaughter and processing as it does with pigs.[…]

The Korean debate also appeals to my libertarian pragmatism. One reason I’m against abortion bans is that abortions will happen anyway; they’ll just be more dangerous to the born people involved, in addition to killing the unborn. The piety of being able to claim you’ve outlawed abortion doesn’t amount to much next to the harm and suffering you cause by driving abortions underground. I’m for bringing it out in the open. I’d like to believe that if a practice is truly immoral and unnecessary, sunshine will lead to its erosion. In the case of abortion, the latest statistics seem to bear out that belief.

So I guess I’m for 1) getting rid of the hypocritical distinction between dogs and livestock, 2) legalizing and regulating dog meat like other meat, and 3) gradually persuading everybody, including us pious Westerners, to stop eating meat.