I have never eaten dog meat, simply because I grew up in a society which groomed me to treat dogs as “man’s best friend.”
So with an emotional connection with canines, I eat the meat of other animals instead and feel alright about it because it seems fine, as the majority of the civilized world has deemed it so. Even my two pet dogs and one cat share my appetite for beef, pork chops and fried chicken.
As a society, most of us have embraced the idea that breeding cows, pigs and poultry is the “humane” thing while the dog meat trade/consumption is often considered an act of barbarism.
Many have campaigned for dog meat trade to stop in countries where generations have grown dogs in farms, which are not too different from other animal meat farms around the world. And while this may be well-intentioned, those who do not subscribe to the stigma against dog meat may find such act as a form of cultural imperialism.
Unfortunately, some Westerners who condemn the practice often express their blatantly racist sentiments against Asians on social media. Due to prejudice and xenophobia, they often become immediately receptive of stories of cruelty without checking or verification, and that’s when it becomes increasingly problematic.
In some cultures, the consumption of dog meat has been part of their traditional cuisine for centuries. There are also cultures which, while consumption of dog meat is taboo, they have consumed it in times of war or famine.
Is it just an Asian thing?
Historically, dog meat has been consumed in many parts of the world, including West Africa, Europe, Oceania, the Americas and Asia.
In fact, it is still legal to eat dog meat in Canada and Australia. In the United States, the only states that explicitly outlawed dog meat are California, Georgia, Hawaii, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, and Virginia. Dog meat is still reportedly consumed by a few farmers in rural areas in Switzerland.
In Asia, the practice of eating dogs has actually become less common as pet ownership rises. While dog consumption is no longer widespread today, the practice remains in some parts of China, South Korea, The Philippines, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and the region of Nagaland in India.
But if one considers such as a cultural practice, is it right to call them out for it?
In Korea, for instance, consumption of it only became widespread during and right after the Korean War. At the time, people were starving and there was an abundance of dogs. With very little choice, people just did what they needed to for survival.
And although many South Koreans have adopted the western concept of treating dogs as pets through the years, specialty restaurants serving dogmeat are still popular in some rural areas.
In China, dog meat is mostly consumed during winter as a Chinese medicine theory has propagated that it can make people feel warm. According to Li Shizhen in the Chinese medicine classic “Compendium of Materia Medica“, dog meat has medicinal properties that “calms the five internal organs, lightening the body, gain pneuma, strengthen the kidney, warm the waist, gain strength, remove infirmities and diseases, aid blood.”
In recent years, China has been the center of global outrage due to the widely condemned Lychee and Dog Meat Festival in Yulin, China. To such criticisms, locals ask “Why eat pork but not dog?”
Is it because dogs are smarter than other animals?
Science have proven through many studies that goats, pigs, cows and even chickens are not only highly intelligent animals, they are also emphatic and sociable.
Multiple studies have found cows to have sophisticated cognitive abilities and complex emotional and social characteristics. Pigs have also been found to be smart animals, can display a wide range of emotions, and possess unique individual personalities. Goats are exceptionally smart, adept at solving puzzles and can communicate with humans. Chickens are also found to be emotionally and socially complex and smarter than the average bird.
Yet we eat them without guilt and condemn others for their choice of food.
Is it because Westerners have chosen to breed pigs, cows and chicken for food and dogs as pets?
Does breeding an animal for a certain purpose change an animal’s capacity to feel fear or pain? However one defends it, animals bred for human consumption suffer just as much at the hands of breeders. If one thinks that pigs, cows and chickens don’t suffer abuse at their local meat farms, then maybe that person is merely turning a blind eye.
As humans, we have evolved to be omnivores and require not just vegetables, but also meat for sustenance. This is why we have depended on both plants and animals for survival since prehistoric times. It should be natural for other cultures and countries to have their own preference on which animals to eat.
Ironically, most people who call dog meat eaters sick and barbaric are the same people who have no problems in lining up for Quarter Pounders and eating bacon on a daily basis. Think about it: when was the last time a Hindu has called you out for eating beef or a Muslim of Jew criticized you for eating pork?
I believe as humans, we can all agree that intentionally subjecting animals to suffering without purpose is a horrible thing. However, we have somehow learned to justify harming other species to satisfy our needs, especially for food. And as we make our own peace with what we choose to put on our plates, we should also be tolerant to other cultures with what they put on theirs.