Saturday, 20 August 2011
Korea Herald... and Roboseyo... on Dog Meat
Korea Herald ran an article about eating Dog Meat in Korea -- a topic that received a lot of world attention in 1988 around the Olympics, at which time Seoul carefully squirreled away dog restaurants, in 2002 around the World Cup, at which time the response was more along the lines of "Respect our culture." It will happen again in 2018, when the Winter Games comes to Pyeongchang, and what the response is, is anybody's guess.
The Korean, of Ask A Korean! wrote in support of dog meat, and has brought the ire of every PETA person who finds his blog down upon his head. 197 comments in response, as of this writing.
I read up a little on dog meat while preparing for my essays about the Olympics, because the issue came up as one of the arenas where Korea wanted to put a positive image of itself onto the world stage. Not exhaustively, but a little.
"Animal Rights vs. Cultural Rights: Exploring the Dog Meat Debate in South Korea from a World Polity Perspective" (Minjoo Oh & Jeffrey Jackson, Journal of Intercultural Studies Vol. 32.1 Feb. 2011) gave an interesting history of dog meat controversies in Korea, and explores the tensions that occur when groups proclaiming universal values (and possibly wearing their colonial arrogance on their chests) come across local groups with other ideas. If you'd like to read it, contact me, and I'll get your hands on a copy.
Some of the things it's got me thinking about:
1. Rhetoric from leaders has little meaning when it is not internalized by the locals. (See also: multiculturalism, globalization).
2. Rhetoric from international bodies and discussion of global norms has little effect if it does not resonate with something in the locals.
3. Formally adopting a policy is not the same as actually having it done in practice. (See also: maternity leave in Korea)
4. Don't underestimate nationalism and cultural exceptionalism.
5. Trying to take something away sometimes makes people hold onto it tighter.
6. As nations enter global community, there needs to remain space for local particularities, and dialogues about where those lines are drawn never end.
7. Sometimes, the way to clear space for local particularities is to announce global norms as window dressing... and then not enforce/implement it.
8. Shame tactics can provoke a backlash. Especially in the context of discussions about modernism, and in discussions between more and less developed countries, or more and less recently developed countries.
According to some of my reading, interestingly, partly because it's faced international opposition, eating dog has become seen (by some Koreans) as one way to celebrate their Koreanness -- because some furriners want to take it away, it suddenly gets chunked into the same category as pansoori, Arirang, and Other Heritages In Danger Of Vanishing. The article I mentioned above states that after the '88 Olympics, more Koreans had neutral or positive feelings toward eating dog, and more ate dog, than they did before some furriners tried to make them stop doing it.
Eating dog is more popular now than it was before facing opposition from NGOs and such in 1988.
The Korea Herald piece presents two sides: pro and con. Stephen "Why Aren't You Respect The Korea Culture?" Bant argues against eating dogs, and Ann "I Used The Family Photographer Who Hasnt Bought New Equipment Or Backgrounds Since 1978" Yong-geun argues for it.
On the "Dogs are friends, not food" side, Bant comes across, frankly, as a little high-handed: a selection of words from his piece that demonstrate his attitude: "evolved" "uncivilized" "ignorant peasants." His posture comes across, in spots, as being one of the enlightened, bringing truth to the savages. Where his tone comes across that way, it rubs me the wrong way.
Then, in his last few paragraphs, he goes so far as to question the manhood of those who eat dogs. Directly after suggesting that those who don't eat dog meat don't need stamina supplements, he says,
"But dog eaters suffer other inadequacies. They say that in summer they cannot do without dog meat for energy. Well, perhaps if they exercised a litle, it would boost that flaccid physical condition of theirs." [emphasis added]
And that, sirs and madams, is called a cheap shot.
Bant also mentions that dogs are companions. And implies that using dogs as companions is a sign that a society is developed. I didn't realize that was the measure. I thought there was something about industrialization and access to education and medical technology and growth of civil society in there, too, but I've been wrong before. Using dogs as pets strikes me as a very culturally specific measure to choose as the barometer of a developed society -- I might as soon (and as arbitrarily) choose really good maple syrup as the measure of an advanced society... but I'd be showing my bias-cards then, wouldn't I? Do Indians look at Americans with envy, because Americans have pet dogs, and all they ever managed was big, unwieldy cows? Or do they see Westerners as savages, for coddling dogs, when they've discovered a far more bovine animal to revere?
In the bio, it explains that the writer is a vegan. And that matters.
On the pro-dog meat side, Ann Yong-geun plays the cultural relativity card, suggests that not all dogs are friends, and asks that people not force their opinions on others. Some of his points - like the one that Koreans only eat dogs that are specially bred for eating, are patently wrong or contradicted in his article -- almost every student over 40 with whom I've had this conversation, had a pet dog, or knows of a family who had a pet dog, that was stolen and eaten by a neighbor. This was also answered by Stephen in his article. Ann also points out that animal shelters in the West euthanize dogs regularly, and points out that if animal shelters destroy dogs anyway, why not make some use of the carcass, and eat a dog that's already dead, maybe even turn a profit from cooking it after it's been destroyed, rather than having to also pay for disposing of it the body. A fair point... but didn't he just say only specially raised breeds of dogs were supposed to be eaten?
Most interesting, he suggests that housing a dog in a human's home is an unnatural state for a dog, and they should be left to live wild; that keeping dogs as pets is just as unnatural and cruel as confining it to eat it.
Then he veers of into fishy territory, suggesting that Westerners don't eat dogs because it's in the bible. I got nothing to say about that, except that I suppose it's fair that both articles unravel toward the end, one with cheap shots, and the other with tangential borderline-nonsense.
Anyway, interesting pair of articles.
My own thoughts:
1. Korea is trapped in a bind. The dog meat industry here is terribly unregulated [update: it's fairer to say underregulated], which means that there's little to no control over the conditions in which dogs are raised and slaughtered, which in turn means that for all we know, many dogs continue to be raised and slaughtered in really viciously disgusting conditions (according to legend, slaughtering a dog by beating it to death produces the most delicious meat). The problem is, when the government tries to regulate dog meat, which would put them in a position to remove cruelty from the farming and serving of dog, animal rights people and humane society people, start raising a stink about banning it entirely. This meets resistance from people who believe them furriners (or them arrogant youngsters who need to get off my lawn, or just some ignorant people who have never tried it and should keep their nose out of it,) are trying to take away an important Korean traditional thing. That debate attracts negative international attention (which Korean leaders and image-sculptors hate). Better not to talk about it than to risk having all that dirty laundry run up a flagpole for everyone to see. (see also: prostitution, suicide, abortion)
2. Stephen Bant is a vegan, so he's allowed to tell us that we shouldn't eat dog. He would probably argue just as passionately why we shouldn't eat chicken, pork, beef, ostrich, giraffe, or gorilla. His position is consistent.
But if you eat pig, you can't say it's wrong to eat dog. Pigs are remarkably smart: the intelligence argument doesn't fly. Some keep pigs as pets, too. If you eat any living thing (with the possible exception of wild game), you don't have a leg to stand on, saying that it's wrong to eat dog, but OK to eat chicken, ostrich, pig, cow, kangaroo, alligator, shrimp, oysters, turducken, or any other critter. Choosing which animals are wrong to kill and/or eat on the basis of cuteness is inconsistent and hypocritical: don't tell me it's wrong to cull cute baby seals because it's cruel, but it's OK to exterminate scabby rats on Manhattan Island.
I'm sympathetic to vegetarians for two moral reasons - I used to do summer work on farms, and it's really hard to raise meat in a way that's cost-effective and affordable, without being a little horrible. There's a reason many livestock farmers' kids grow up to be vegetarians. Particularly industrial chicken farming is so horrific, nobody should eat that shit. I'm sparing you links to photos and videos... but just google it. If the comment discussion gets interesting, I'm sure somebody will be considerate enough to include links in the comments to pages where you can see pictures and video from industrial farms. It's awful, and will make you sad for days.
I'm also sympathetic because in terms of efficiently using the world's resources to feed the world's humans, livestock a terrible choice. Growing beans and nuts to provide humans with protein, and making it into tofu and stuff, uses so much less of the world's resources, it's ridiculous. You know how many humans could be fed, on the grain it takes to raise a beef cow to slaughtering size? You know how much corn could be grown with the water it takes to raise a cow to adulthood?
3. Until it became a "thing NGO's and other furriners who don't understand our culture want to take away from us" because of these big public mega-events, eating dog meat was probably on its way to being a generational thing, like bbundaegi, which is slowly fading out of favor with the younguns - mostly old people, in mostly old neighborhoods, eat dog meat, particularly since it was pushed to the margins in '88 and (especially these days) young people mostly think of dogs only as pets. My wife is one of that generation: she, and people younger than her, are generally more interested to be seen in the newest belgian waffle, hand-drip coffee, gourmet hamburger, snazzy tapas place, than sitting on the floor in a dirty old neighborhood, in a shop in a back alley with fake wood floors and teal tables, surrounded by old men eating dog.
Even though dog consumption has increased since the '88 Olympics, I'd be interested to know how many of the people under 35 who eat dog, do it only with other people under age 35 -- I'd wager that the overwhelming majority of young people eating dog are doing it because they've been brought along by someone of that older generation.
4. Me, I'm torn, really torn, about dog meat. While I was traveling in China, I saw a dog market that made me sad enough that I won't eat more dog myself, and have eaten much less of other large animals, too. My wife wouldn't let me eat dog, anyway - not while she's around - because she's an avid dog-lover.
I'm mostly frustrated by that catch-22 I mentioned in "my own thoughts, part 1" -- the industry's sketchy because it's unregulated, and it's unregulated because trying to make it legal is politically risky, and any attempt to bring the industry above board and clean it up is going to result in loud movements to ban it entirely instead, attracting negative attention.
They're different in many ways, but the prostitution industry suffers the same dilemma - in both cases, leaders don't have either the will or the resources to eliminate the industry entirely, but neither do they have the courage to own up to its existence, and try to bring it above board, so it hangs around on the margins, where people who beat dogs to death can get away with it, and where gangsters who do all kinds of horrible human trafficky things to women, can get away with that.
For the record, I think it's a much higher priority to clean up the prostitution industry than the dog meat industry, but until Korea's leadership is willing to either snuff the dog trade out, or legislate it appropriately, it will continue to exist in this shadowy area, until the generation that consumes most dog meat dies of old age, and it becomes impossible to find, not because international groups have foisted imperial values on innocent Koreans, but because those who prepare it, and those who eat it, have died of old age, and the young ones who would take it up, are interested rather in belgian waffles, hand drip coffees, and Indonesian, Thai, Swedish, Middle-Eastern, or whatever other kind of food has become the newest way to show off one's sophistication.