3.06.2010

The Big One: eating dog.

The Korean, apparently has been having some issues with this individual, who has decided to attack a post he made about eating dog. I thought it would be a good opportunity to address the issue, and to cover something that, for some reason, I didn't address in this blog at the time. I guess because I just didn't think it was that big of a deal. This "something" is that I have, in fact, eaten dog.

Back before The Bartender opened his new bar and became insanely busy, we were meeting every Saturday and Sunday for a couple of hours in the afternoon before he opened. The Bartender is someone who's company I enjoy immensely, because he's sort of atypical for the sort we Westerners usually get to spend much time with here in the ROK -- that is, from a solidly working class background, un-college educated and, for the most part, non-English speaking. Which is why we were meeting. He wanted to improve his English and I, having tried 'language exchange' with English speaking Koreans before and having found it to be far too easy for me to weasel my way out of the Korean speaking part of the deal, thought it would be a good opportunity. We mostly matched each other, nearly literally word for word, English and Korean.

Before The Bartender, there were two main categories that the reactions of nearly every Korean I spoke with about dog eating would fall into:

1. No! I would never do that! That is an old thing from the past and modern Koreans could never imagine it.

2. Temporal baiting about how common and amazing it was, until I looked them dead in the face and said I wanted to try it, at which point they would usually turn red with embarrassment and change the subject.

The Bartender, however, is (refreshingly) a man without pretenses. And -- it's probably important to note -- a blossoming ajeosshi at the age of 35. One Saturday afternoon in early fall while the weather was still sticky and warm, we strolled along the streets downtown pecking back and forth in our little mix of English and Korean, trying to decide what we wanted to eat.

"보신탕 알아요?"
"아.... 보신탕? ...아! 보신탕! 네."
"좋아해요?"
"몰라요. I've never tried it."
"Never? ... Oh! Never!? Really? Today, eating!"

And that was that. We took a couple of turns, headed off the main road into the market, a couple of more turns, down an alley and straight into a restaurant completely empty, save for the old couple who owned the restaurant (and seemed to know The Bartender quite well). The couple seemed quite uncomfortable with having a foreigner in the establishment, and told The Bartender as much, but he reassured them that I knew exactly what it was I was doing there, and that everything was fine.

It was a decidedly anticlimactic experience. No cute little puppy face with dead eyes showed up on a plate in front of me and, contrary to what I had gotten out of a younger Korean guy particularly keen on trying to stir up some kind of Western outrage from within me, there was not a scrap of fur in sight.

Am I grossing you out? Well, just calm the fuck down.

What did appear in front of us was a large, broad pot of the typical mix of rice water heavily saturated with red chilli powder and vegetables, with an all-together tame looking sort of meat in the mix. No bones. No little puppy dog ears. Just what could have been, for all appearances, a normal Korean beef stew. And the taste was much the same.

Now, before you lay into me, there are two things you should know:

1. I was a vegetarian for nearly six years, and would probably still be one, had I not made the decision to give it up when moving to Korea, so that I wouldn't be limited in my experience of the culture (ie the food). I get it. I get animal rights and animal cruelty and all such other kind of stuff. Don't start in on the lectures. I'll get back to why you shouldn't in a minute.

2. I come from a family heavy in farming on both sides. Both of my grandfathers owned farms and, while one was far more directly involved than the other, both grandfathers had cattle on their farms. And not just so that they could lead free and happy lives until dying sweetly in their sleep of natural causes in old age.

That's my background. That's my culture. Did my grandfathers lock thousands of cows in small pens and feed them ground up bits of other cattle? No. The cows wandered around on hundreds of acres of land, feeding on grain and hay, and just about whatever else struck their fancy. I see absolutely nothing wrong, at the end of the day, with said cattle being carted off and made into good, healthy sustenance for ordinary people to live off of. I don't. I'm never going to. Don't even bother to try to make the argument with me. It's an honest living, an honest meal and, in my humble (but firm) opinion, an honest way of life.

Now. Somebody please. Please. Explain to me, in all sincere honesty -- from the very bottom of the core of all of the honesty with yourself that you can muster -- what is the difference between eating cow and eating dog? There isn't one. Not morally, at least. I respect personal preferences and hangups -- you don't want to eat dog because you have a dog and you think they're adorable and they have "personalities" or whatever, that's fine. I'm not going to get into your business and tell you that's not how it should be. That's your personal decision. Me, personally, I spent a hell of a lot of time around cows when I was younger, and I'm quite fond of them. They're strangely bashful animals, and they do react to you, to your presence. That's not going to stop me from having a fucking hamburger.

Now. To take on the tougher crowd -- the ones who make arguments about how the dogs are raised/killed/whatever. Listen. Unless you are a. a vegan who does not purchase leather products, or other animal-based goods or b. someone who assesses the source of their consumed animal products extensively (including restaurant food -- that is what we're talking about here, after all) to be sure that the sources are all organic, free range, grain-fed, what have you .... our discussion ends here. Especially if you are American. You are simply delusional if you think that anything that could possibly happen to dogs here in Korea could be worse than what happens to nearly all of the animals raised for profit in the States. That's it -- that's all there is to it. I'm sorry that you are so divorced from reality that you can't bear to process what that fast food you consume or those leather boots you wear actually involve, but that is not my (or anyone else's) problem.

As for the vegans and fully conscious consumers, fair enough. You have the right to make the argument that eating dog is morally and ethically unsound. But, at the end of the day, that is still just your opinion. And if you condemn a culture that eats dog any more strongly than you condemn your own for consuming animal products that come out of practices so cruel the average person would instantly vomit upon observing them, then you're still making a mistake. But I imagine, at this point down the line, I'm pretty much addressing an empty room.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the eating dog post.

3 comments:

Diana E. said...

I don't think one has to be a strict vegan to object to the cruel practices of animals raised for any kind of human consumption. I don't limit my objections to dogs in Korea, though. And I do make efforts to lessen my dependence on animal products (if only cheese were not so darned delicious!).

I also grew up in a farming community where my best friend in elementary school had a goat and a pot-bellied pig as pets. I find it funny that I'm probably far more comfortable with the WHOLE process of getting meat to the table than my meat-eating friends.

I'm no Picasso said...

Of course one doesn't have to be strict vegan to object to animal cruelty. But it would be better, in my opinion, if someone wants to condemn an individual or an entire culture for a behavior, that they make sure they aren't being completely hypocritical about it.

Do I like the idea of a dog being beaten to death? Not in the least. Just like I hate the idea of cows standing in one place for their entire lives. But I personally don't have the right to condemn one over the other, because I don't invest the time that it takes to check the sources of my consumption and be sure that I'm not supporting the latter practice, financially.

There's a difference between personal choice and opinion, and public shaming.

I also find it funny how out of touch some people are with the reality of meat eating, though. I actually struggled for years as a kid with the ability to eat meat, because sometimes it would just gross me out. To this day, I still can't eat a hotdog.

Burndog said...

I hate to say it...but I agree with you! Complaining about how cruel we are to cows and wearing leather and eating beef...is hypocritical. There's a disturbing trend where we complain about things that 'other people' do...but we don't for a minute consider our own behaviour. Like those people who hate all (insert race or creed here) except for (insert ethno-centric name here) because she's my friend and isn't she lovely.

Eating meat is a lovely thing...except for dog because I like dogs!

I guess two wrongs don't make a right.