(If you find this post informative, you might like to check out these.)
Thinking about Helping China’s Animals, I remembered a lengthy ramble I wrote to a friend in America who asked in Dec 2005:
“Can you tell me why the Chinese and or some Asians still eat dogs and cats? I don’t understand. I am a naive American and to me it is awful but perhaps cultures don’t mix but omnivores eating omnivores (dogs) and carnivores (cats) just seem physically (not to mention morally) wrong no matter what.
CNN just did a video expose on the “Markets of Misery” and it was heartbreaking. My pet cats are my “children” and mean the world to me and I would die to save them from any danger.”
I shared my thoughts on this topic with her and this is what I wrote:
As to your question on why Asians eat dogs and cats – bear with me as I try to reason my way through it… not that I myself understand or approve… but i’ll try to give as objective a view as I can.
Before I go on, I’d like to say that though I’m ethnically Chinese, I’m not a China Chinese, Singapore is quite a country apart from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong etc as a sovereign state, so I may not be able to give you an accurate view of how it really is. Anyway, I’m not totally into the Chinese Gastro-Culture thing… don’t think I ever will! Esp seeing as i’ve turned veghead =P.
I’m sure you already know that Asians have a reputation/penchant for so-called “exotic” foods. This is much like the French with their taste for fine food, esp things like foie gras, or the italians with their taste for veal. To me, there’s no difference in the human obsession with food, whatever their race or nationality. It just seems funny to me that the highlight is skewed on Asian eating when every country where this sort of thing goes on, whether it is dogs, cats, geese, or cows and calves that suffer the brutality, should be censured.
As for Asians, I will try to tell you more about the Chinese gastronomical philosophy. The Chinese, and to a very large extent, the east asian cultures of Japan, Korea too, have very elaborate systems and schools of thought about food. They are also very very proud of their gastro-cultural heritage.
East Asians believe in the therapeutic values of certain foods, for the Chinese esp, and they even have a whole thing about nourishment according to shape/similarity in function of a specific part. EG rhino horn, tiger penis, deer penis for aphrodisiacs, pig brains for boosting brain power, bear bile for fever, etc. There is also a culture of appreciation for “fine/exotic food” – sharksfin, abalone, live monkey brain, live bear paws. In addition, there is another, yes, another, thing about eating food according to seasons. For the Chinese, “cooling food” like fruits or maybe cold meat dishes, deer antler shavings in summer, and “warming food” in winter, like dogmeat, wildgame etc. (I confess that I do not understand where catmeat figure in this, but I susepct in the warming food category.)
In particular, the Cantonese dialect group – the province of Guangdong/Canton, next to Hong Kong – who are the emperors of Chinese gastro-culture, like the French for the Western world, are the ones with their heads in gastronomical “heaven”, which means bleeding hell for animals, is the most fervent about food. (Guangdong is also where most of the exotic food culture exists, and extends out from there to other parts of China. This is also where most of the videos of the dog and cat meat markets are shot.)
Of course, this gastro-culture has been condemned worldwide. But so? To date, it still goes on. It has also led to and encouraged poaching of exotics – like tigers, leopards, bears, rhinos, sharks. If it’s something edible, you can bet that someone in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and maybe even Japan, and Korea will pay for it. In addition, don’t forget that the Chinese have a presence in almost every other country as immigrants. The extent of the damage of this gastroculture, is, imho, nightmarish.
In 2003, SARS started from Guangdong, spread to Hong Kong, and was carried into Singapore by a stewardess. The cause in Guangdong was believed to be the Cantonese penchant for wild game, and it was narrowed down to civet cats. Thus began an extermination drive of civet cats already in the market place – inhumane methods like boiling, electrocution, drowning in chemicals (some live drowning footage was shown on the local news so this is not hearsay)… civet cat meat was banned, and so was exotic meat trapping, and the exotic meat markets quietened down considerably… but that lasted about as long as a droplet of sneeze stays airborne. By late 2003, the meat markets were back in full blossom. And in Singapore, the government jumped at the mere mention of a possibility of SARS transmission by cats, and ordered an end to our national TnRM programme, which was just barely 5 yrs old, and began culling cats in earnest. That year, the official stray culling bill was SGD$600,000, SGD$100,000 more than the yearly average. Like many cat-caregivers, my sister and I lost a few cats we cared for, all on the whim of a fear.
In case my statement about me not being a China-Chinese leads you to think that things are rosy here in Singapore – here’s a few facts to show that Singapore is as bad, if not worse than the rest of Asia:
- we are the largest trade center for sharksfin
- as a trading hub, smuggling and the illegal wildlife trade has a big presence here too, (though not as rampant as Thailand) – there has been cases of raids and consfication of illegally smuggled animals for export or sales/consumption locally
- A friend also told me how a colleague was extolling the great taste of the live-monkey brain she had in Hong Kong just last year
- This year, there was a newspaper feature about a local man who has set up a hunting club and there was even a link to his site where he displayed the trophy photos of him and his cohorts on hunting trips to Africa – he makes a living organising these murder sprees too
- Our anti-animal smuggling/illegal trade laws are too lenient – punishment is for per/species, and no sentence has ever even come close to the max punishment of a max fine of SGD$10,000 and jail term of 1 yr. NEVER.
Further afield, another one of my pet rant is the whale-hunting sham of the Japanese. One strange thing about the Japanese and eating whales is that whales were not a traditional part of the Japanese gastro-culture. Apparently, whale meat became popular in Japan after the economic collapse casued by WWII. Their defense of their right to eat whale as tradition, is in short, a load of bull. The Koreans too, have a thing for whale meat; whether this is influenced by the Japanese, who ruled them as a colony until early the 1900s, I’m not sure.
Back to your question about why cats and dogs for Asians. With cats, East Asians, apart from the Japanese I believe, did not have as cosy a relationship like Europeans and Americans have, ie they were not popular as pets until recent history. Incidentally, there is also a very common misconception that Malays are great cat lovers, but that’s another, much more sensitive topic. As for dogs… well… traditionally they are viewed more as working animals, property like any other object, or livestock.
Actually you know what? Whether cats, dogs, geese or other animals, I think it boils down to what I believed is called the human disconnect mentality. Like our attitude towards factory farming – we know it is morally wrong to treat animals the way they’ve been, especially cows, pigs, goats, chickens ducks, and other everyday food animals. But it still goes on – because we allow it to. And we can allow it go on, because we’re disconnected from the reality of the factoryfarm and the assembly process slaughter-houses.
And speaking of exotic food, how about bushmeat… Africans eat gorillas, and other primates. In Asia too the same is happening to the Orang Utans, the only great ape to be found in Asia. The Malaysians, and Indonesian kill Orangutans, eat them, sell their babies, in addition to destroying their habitat – like Gorillas, orang utans are not expected to survive long unless things change – the orangs have only another 5, maybe 10 years in the best of scenarios.
To be fair, and I am saying this objectively, there are also many people who do not eat meat at all – vegetarianism is a big part of being devout Buddhists and Taoists (except Japan where I understand the concept of total meat abstinence does not exist). There are others who are against the cruelties in Asia on moral grounds, though the number is small.
But people are working against the horrors of Asian gastro-culture. For example, bearbile farm rescue, anti-dog/cat meat eating campaigns in Korea and China and so on. There’s so much to fight against, and so little headway achieved – fighting against the largest continent of humans with thousands of years of gastro-pride is no mean feat. But there are people working on it.
I just wish more people will acknowledge the cruelties perpetuated in their names and for their sakes! Visit this site and scroll down to for a list of some animal-welfare/activist groups in Asia fighting the fight: http://acres.org.sg/links.html
WELL! I’ve been rambling… sorry for that. I do hope your patience hasn’t run out, and that you did find something useful in all that verbage =)
(If you find this post informative, you might like to check out these.)