There is a girl who comes to my office hours. In a bid to keep her anonymous, let’s call her J. J was very shy when she first started visiting my office, but now she’s opened up into a bubbly and enthusiastic senior student. She is a wonderful girl, very witty and earnest and we get on very well. This weekend, she invited me out for lunch. She took me to a beautiful Korean restaurant, with ornate orange fish swimming circles in long tanks and bonsai trees growing right out of ceramic landscape scenes. She lavishly ordered 5 dishes between the two of us. She assured me that, due to her ‘menses’ (the Chinese are very open about this) she needed lots of protein and nutrition. I was happy to get stuck in as the table filled up with plate after plate of moreish Korean delights.
We had a mushroom rice dish (I forgot to tell her I hate mushrooms), prawn pancake bread, fire cabbage with pork, beef with peppers, and dog. Sadly I forgot to tell her I hate dog too. Not dogs; I love dogs, when we can pluralise the word because they’re a living breathing loving family pet. But dog, as in the one that we do not pluralise because it’s a type of meat, yeah not so keen. The fifth dish had long strips of green pepper mixed with long narrow strips of dog skin. It was thick and rubbery and I assumed it was pork as I grappled with my chopsticks to grip the sinewy hound betwixt them, bringing it to my lips and sinking my teeth in. It was after a few laborious chews, which served more to release the flavour than to in any way aid digestion, that I thought there might something a little off about this pig. I watched her throw it back like she was worried it was going somewhere as she revealed the awful truth to me.
As it happened, I’d just that morning watched an episode of Gogglebox where they showed dogs being kidnapped and piled up in a wagon for their meat. Talk about bad timing, I cursed to myself, as I hid the rest of my dog chew underneath another plate and out of sight. I politely double-checked as to the earthly origins of the other meats on the table, and was reassured they were in fact cow- and pig based. As a rule in China, I find the safest code of practice is usually just to not ask. This is true in many aspects of life, and never more so than in the world of cuisine. If you’re a carnivore you’ve got to face the fact that, at one time or another, you’ve almost certainly eaten animals that are known for a) being a man’s best friend, or b) spreading plague. Usually this happens without your knowledge (technically), and it’s one of those moments in life, as you tuck into a deliciously packed 30p ‘pork’ bap from the side of the road, where you just pretend it’s not really happening even though you know it is happening. It likely isn’t pork. I have no quarms about this though – it’s delicious, it’s filling, it’s cheap, and if I really want to get high horse about it, the street vendor has a livelihood because of it. So then, why does it suddenly become so morally objectionable when dog meat takes its place amongst the other red meats on a menu? Unlike in the street, there’s no deceit here. It’s honest and it’s given the respect it deserves. Is a death more in vain when your meat is advertised in pretty Chinese characters, a handy tick-box to the left and your worth in RMB to the right, or when you’re sold by the side of the road as something greater because the truth would turn people’s stomachs?
Perhaps it’s not morally wrong. Perhaps there’s no issue to be had here. J certainly didn’t seem to think so, as she made sure none of it went to waste. In actual fact, if you like pork skin, you’ll probably like dog skin. But, raised with a completely different view on the world, on nutrition, on pets and the value of food and no knowledge of what poverty and starvation actually is, it’s no wonder that, to me, the theory presented on Gogglebox seems like a good one. If you can put a lead on it and walk it to the shops, you shouldn’t be eating it.
It’s important not to confuse two things here though. Eating foreign meats as a delicacy and eating them as a matter of survival are two very different things. Another stereotype of China is that they eat weird food; here, the rich live to eat, but the many more poor people eat to live. In a world where the richest citizens’ penchant for turtle flesh has almost exterminated an entire species, we should remember that for many more, it’s they who are battling for survival. In the West we’re fortunate enough to have carefully selected four or five animals that we deem mighty enough for us to ingest, but most of the world isn’t so fortunate. Or maybe they’re just not so stupid as to condition their society so as to be repulsed by most of the edible world.
I raised this topic with some students this evening at English Corner. The feedback was as follows:
Many younger people seemed to be repulsed by the idea of eating dog meat
One old man proceeded to give me a detailed step-by-step recipe for delicious boiled dog
It was suggested that dog isn’t eaten in Korea, just Korean restaurants in China
After the meal, we went to buy some wool, and I taught her to crochet over McDonalds pineapple and taro pies (thank you China! Once again you have humbled me with the knowledge that we’re just not thinking outside the box).
Anyway, there was no need for this post to get so dark. What do you think? Would you try dog meat? Do you have a freezer full? I’d love to know.