There is a picture floating around on that great expanse of internet of myself, at the precocious age of twenty-two, with a black eye (nobly if not soberly won), sipping a dog meat stew in South Korea’s capitol city.  I’ve shown countless friends and employers this picture, boasting of my exotic past in the Far East, and invariably, the fact that I have eaten dog meat registers in them curt disgust and admonishment. 

Dog meat factory, France c.1910

“I would never eat dog,” these folks who sit in judgment tell me, “I LOVE dogs.”  They say this as if eating the meat of a dog was an act of malice, some extravagant sort of revenge that entire cultures have perpetrated on man’s best friend.  I wonder if these same people think that the cattle farmer who slaughters his wares does not love cows, or if Stalin ate Trotskyite pie nightly for dinner. 

The dog is delicious.  The dog is plentiful.  I know former intimately, and the latter only superficially, as the street I lived on in China has several Korean-Chinese dog meat restaurants.  Though in Seoul I found but two such restaurants, this dish is wildly popular in that region of China, and widely scapegoated on the Korean palette.  The Korean government in 1988, acting in appeasement to the protests of Jane Fonda, outlawed the sale of dog meat in the capitol.  Korean students giggled and blushed when I mentioned eating dog, as I often did.  Here in China, however, dog is eaten freely and without taboo.  My favorite market in my city sells dog hips, dog legs, and dog heads for consumption.  I have, many times, considered buying the latter to use as a prop in a distorted version of Hamlet. 

Looks disgusting, but not any more so than other meat

One eats dog, as one eats chicken, cow, and lamb, and one should not feel shame for consuming one without shame for the other.  It is not as if poachers take pets away in the night from their families; the dogs are grown in farms in just as abominable conditions as the cows and chickens in the United States.  The standards for meat harvest is more or less the same around the developed world.   The process is always less than humane.  In fact, as we go from the third world to the first, we find the process for slaughter more systematic and mechanized.  If something is to be objected to, it is the treatment of the animal, and not the species upon which the treatment is perpetrated.   

And yet, the Westerner is not convinced.  Dogs, still, hold such a place in the Western heart that eating them still stinks of barbarism.  Is the stigma towards dog meat not also a form of cultural imperialism?  The American eats- almost exclusively- the meat of the pig, the chicken, the turkey, and the cow.  The American regards the dog as simply loveable, but the Hindu regards the cow as sacred. Still, we have no qualms about butchering their holy beast willy-nilly.  If we regard dog-eaters as barbarous, what then must the Hindu think of us? 

A perfectly delicious-looking meal that happens to have dog in it

The most exotic meat I have seen served in America was ostrich.  The consumer is informed on menus that ostrich meat is lower in fat than beef.  “Look, honey,” he says, perusing a menu in a superficially posh and overpriced chophouse, “They have ostrich!  You know, that’s funny- every time I’ve seen the ostrich on the Discovery Channel, I’ve thought of sinking my teeth into one!”  Once the consumer learns that consuming its meat is an option yet experienced, he digs in. 

I make these remarks not to scold the American for his taste in food, but simply to place dog consumption in a context.  People around the world eat strange things, and if something exists, it should not be a surprise that someone, somewhere, is eating it.  It is even common, in traditional Chinese medicine, to eat things know to be poisonous, as toxins are believed to neutralize other toxins in the body.  Everything that man has discovered on earth, he has tried to eat.  If it was palatable and practical, he kept eating it.  If it was not palatable, as with certain carcasses used in TCM, or practical, as in the case of buffalo and ostrich consumption, that didn’t always deter him.      

Have you ever eaten dog?  No?  Welcome to the minority.  China has almost two billion people living on its mainland, and though it is unfair to assume that all of them have eaten dog meat, it may be accurate to say that a majority have, and a significant amount could be added to that majority that did so without being aware of it.  Furthermore, the dog is eaten in North and South Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, India, Thailand, and elsewhere.  In times of emergency, Europe has put the dog on the menu. 

Coworkers share puppy stew

The average North Korean civilian has probably only tasted meat on some rare, celebratory occasion and probably experienced at that time a degree of diarrhea unknown to us in the Western world.  But in the rest of the world, we have gotten to a point where meat is common, if not plentiful, and therefore, culturally, we can pick and choose.  We are at such a point in modernity that we can say, this meat, exhibit A, is culturally fine and good to eat, while this meat, exhibit B, is tantamount to the betrayal of a loyal friend.  Even with all of its racist implications this variety of thought is, more or less, a good thing.  If ‘music’ was a general bracket, I would like anyone who likes ‘music’ as much as I do.  But there are different types of music, and I have the luxury of sampling them all, and I know the differences between someone who likes a certain type of music and myself, who likes another.  Variety is modern, and it implies the end of a lack of something.  If, culturally, we can say, “I don’t want to eat dog meat”, then so be it.  The implication is that another option is present and that we are, however slowly, working toward the abolition of starvation.

Pick and choose, but let’s not show disgust.  We can agree- the carnivore and the vegetarian alike- that meat consumption requires killing.  Variety is the god of the modern world.  Let us, personally, choose to murder or abstain, and let us all understand that someone’s lunch is another’s friend, that the dinner of one is the god of another.  And to all of us in between, bon appetite- for at the shrine of variety, the only difference between cow and dog is a matter of preference.