Sunday, September 28, 2008

Hot Dogs

Meet Daisy.

This adorable pug belongs to a friend of mine, and she can chase her tail up to 47 clockwise and counter-clockwise rotations (and that's *rotations*--when you factor in how many circles she spins each way, you're looking at 47 x 6 and that's, well, mindboggling). Daisy's adorable, there's no question about it--but what exactly is it about these domesticated heroes that spawns such international anti-dog meat politics?

Various countries around the world have been known to offer dog meat as a meat option on their menus; while they're mostly concentrated in the Southeast Asian region, this controversial meat is also favored in certain German, Swiss, Mexican and Nigerian communities. By now, we know that these animals aren't skinned alive by their owners for soiling the living room rug or turned into supper if their barking is bothering the neighbors--dog meat has become an industry and certain breeds are farmed for meat, while others are raised for 'pet' purposes. Then why is there such an outcry when dog meat is mentioned as part of a national cuisine, the likes of which is enough to spawn governmental regulation, international social movements and underground markets?

The Chinese government banned dog meat this summer in Olympics-designated restaurants and strongly suggested that other food outlets in Beijing follow stead. The reasoning? Beijing News quotes the municipal food department as saying that the measure was implemented to "respect the habits of many countries and nationalities." Interesting, considering people are visiting China and eating dog meat happens to be one of the many habits that that particular country and its nationality entertain. (FYI, it was available elsewhere in China, because B had some dog-soup when he was there in July. Soup wouldn't exactly be the way I'd try a meat for the first time, as broth is just about the most unforgiving of reductions, but that's neither here nor there. I love how experimental my partner is!) What exactly qualifies as a practice so offensive that people who choose to come to your country should be humored and have their sensitivities prioritized to the point where restaurants who violate the regulation would be so heavily sanctioned by their own government as to put them out of business? And this isn't the first time: in 2002, animal rights activists around the world petitioned FIFA to pressure the South Korean government to ban the sale of dog meat during the World Cup.

The two most common arguments employed against eating dog meat are incredibly easy to deconstruct when they're closely examined. First, dog meat is obtained cruelly. Certain activist organizations decry the cruelty with which dogs are allegedly slaughtered in Southeast Asian countries. Well, if cruelty's the stumbling point (as it certainly ought to be), then activists' interference in South Korean governmental legislation that tries to standardize humane killing methods, as they apply to commercial livestock, makes no sense. Then enters the second argument, basically referring to the companionship that dogs provide to humans. The same activists above, for example, state that dogs (and cats) are "bred to trust and love humans." Actually, in Korea and most of the other countries where it's eaten, they're not. Domesticated pets are often an unproductive luxury that the majority of people in developing nations can't afford, much less attach imperalist taboos to. And, by that reasoning, plenty of people in cultures and communities outside the West consider cows and goats to be their pets; does that mean their meat should similarly be outlawed in this country?

As William Saletan rightly asks in this piece, what is so wrong with eating dog meat? These activists are NOT calling for the end of consumption of all animals--that would be an absolute position I could get behind, as carnivorous as I am. If you believe it's wrong to eat animals, then dogs qualify, fine. But, if you can't offer me any better reason for why you single dogs out of the mix, than 'they're man's best friend,' and I tell you that they're actually not in most of these places, and you still insist that other cultures are wrong to be eating what you, yourself, consider to be morally repugnant, I'm going to call you a cultural imperialist.

How a few countries in the West can shame others into abandoning aspects of their own customary diets through the psychology of 'social taboos' would likely have driven Foucault and his ideas of norms and discursive power wild with anticipation (and vindication). And why it's certain animals and certain countries over others would have been more excitement than his precious heart could have handled. Why is guinea pig OK to eat in Peru and Ecuador, for example? Last time I checked it's so popular that classrooms across the U.S. are teaching children how to fall in love with these rodents.

I guess we'll have to wait until the World Cup lands in one of these countries for the guinea pig to be set free.

1 comment:

Antony said...

Interestingly, food, like politics, begins with impulse and ends in fleeting satisfaction. I feel like most people who join an anti-(fill in the blank) movement are stirred at one point by how "unjust" something is, and make a stand for self gratification. This isn't me berating, on any terms, people committing good deeds - if every positive impact were colored by its initial purpose, we would not have progressed very far. The point is, people do not join help organizations for necessity, but rather perplexity. It is amusing to hear ourselves say "I can't believe people still eat dogs" when we still have child labor and sex slave trades. We'll look into a cat barking with more interest than the fact that many of our shirts saying "U.S.A." actually stand for the initiatives of what is a sweatshop that we own off the coast of Japan. Yes, it is strange that we call attention to certain cultural discrepancies only when light is shed upon them. But is far stranger that human helplessness might be just a "fact of life."