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Dog for dinner: controversy or sustainable food source
I wake up from a pounding sound on the door. Wiggling back and forth, I realize that we are still moving. I look out the window to see where we are, but I only see flashing lights; the sun has yet to rise. The speaker starts playing a song, and the only few words I can catch are “Hanoi, Hanoi, Hanoi.” Our Oriental Express reaches its final destination of Lao Chai, a small village in Northern Vietnam. My sister sits across from me in our tiny cabin looking excited and ready to get off the train.
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Finally, we arrive at the Dragon Hotel. The desk manager meets us with the highest hospitality, offers tea and an early breakfast. His English is understandable, and I feel that we are going to be okay here.
In an hour or so later, he shows us our big, bright room. The handcrafted orange blankets on the beds catch my eye. Colorful ornaments neatly embroidered by hand look unique and make me want to touch them with the tips of my fingers. I always pay attention to the smallest details, especially when I travel. I believe that is how you learn about different cultures, not only at the places of prominent tourist attractions.
We have only three days to explore the surroundings. I call the front desk and ask to book us the best excursion they have; there is a lot to see.
We are in the hall waiting for our guide. Thirty minutes later, there she is – a small lady named Yao. Out of breath, she says, “Sorry I could not find a ride, so I walked here from the village.” In general, she seems friendly and willing to answer our multiple questions. She is a local and belongs to a Black H’ Mong village, the old tribe in Northern Vietnam.
The first day we walk through the wild trails of the beautifully layered green rice fields. The weather is not cooperating, it is a lot colder than expected. The drizzling rain does not want to stop. We have our winter jackets on. Yao comments, “Nice jackets”. Only then do I notice that she wears a thin windbreaker and rain boots. She says, “You need them too.”
The ground is very slippery; going up or down hill is very challenging. However, Yao is energetic and jumping around like a goat, telling stories about local traditions. We find out that the kids here go to elementary school only, that the main dish is rice with some vegetables, that they don’t have enough resources to heat their houses and the biggest fear of young girls is to not get married. If a woman doesn’t get married young, her family can sell her to China as they can’t afford to take care of her.
The Black H’Mongs are famous for making cloth from hemp and dying it a deep indigo blue. We see a lot of examples of clothing with traditional elements, all hand made and beautifully embroidered at a small market in the village. Even though these people don’t receive an excellent education, they have hundreds of years of old traditions that they still follow and honor. I’m impressed.
In the next few days, we see the waterfalls in the mountains and foggy forests. I am blown away by the wilderness and beauty of the whole area.
The sun is finally out. It’s our last day in Sapa, and we are on the way to a nearby Sunday market. Here the representatives of multiple local tribes gather to sell and exchange goods. This market has it all.
We see giant water buffalo; they are tied to the ground with thin chains and look aggressive. Then we see pigs and chickens. Yao tells us that this section is the food market. The tour continues. I look around and see little puppies; I start smiling. They are adorable and waiting for someone to take them home. Then I notice the Vietnamese man in dirty boots, he pushes one of them around. The rope wrapped tight around the dog’s neck.
Then my sister asks Yao why these puppies sit in the dirty metal cages and why they are staying in this part of the market. Yao replies with no hesitation, “They are sold for meat. Local people buy them and raise them for a year or two until they are big enough and then eat them.” She adds, “Dogs are so much easier to raise, they feed themselves, unlike pigs.” My sister and I freeze, speechless. We are in shock.
The fact that, in some parts of the world, dogs are considered livestock is not entirely new to me. But right now, I look at these puppies and understand that there is no bright future for them. They are the unlucky ones who were born in the wrong place and at the wrong time. My brain is searching for solutions. I suggest, “What if we buy them and let them go?”
Yao replies, “The men will catch them and sell them again.”
The difference in our mentality all of a sudden becomes overt, and I realize there is no way back. My whole impression of Vietnamese culture has changed in those few seconds.
Heartbroken, I have to accept the dark reality.
On our train back to Hanoi, we sit across from each other in silence. Later my sister and I share the uneasy feelings about what we encountered, shocked by the cruelty of Asian people.
I sincerely believe that the practice of eating dogs in Asian countries such as Vietnam, China, and Korea requires immediate attention. The entire population of Asian countries must be educated and aware of the ability of dogs to feel physical and emotional pain. To prove my point, I’d like to review some historical facts.
A petition signed and endorsed by more than 4.5 million people was submitted to the FAO ( The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) in November 2001. The petition asked for dogs to be categorized not for human consumption.
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The FAO established that, “There are no rules at an international level that prohibit the commercialisation of dogs as slaughter animals. Codex Alimentarius defines meat as the edible part of any slaughter animal slaughtered in an abattoir and includes edible offal.” ( Elly Maynard, p.151)
China officially classifies dogs as livestock. Like in China, Vietnam and Korea have no animal welfare organizations. There are no adequate laws and enforcement to protect dogs from suffering.
The way dogs are treated is absolutely inhumane. Pouring boiling water over a living animal which increases adrenaline production, to make the meat tastier, cutting animals and leaving them bleed to death, blowtorching dogs alive, beating with sticks – these are all some of the methods of slaughter. The demand for dog meat in some regions of Asia is so high that dogs are a subject of import as food from other countries.
Since the domestication of dogs over 18,800 years ago, they have provided us service, companionship, and protection. Today dogs are employed as guides for the blind and disabled, for police work; they play a significant role in hunting and farming. Dogs are even used in therapy in nursing homes and hospitals to encourage patients toward recovery. Retrievers can learn over two hundred words. ( Jill Robinson, p. 24)
That proves that dogs are smart enough to know about their imminent execution; they are trusting enough to accept it; and, most of all, they are sensitive enough to feel pain just like we humans do.
How can we possibly let them become livestock? As a dog owner myself, I can’t even imagine letting somebody hurt them. Considering the bond that is established between humans and dogs, I believe we owe them protection.
Korea is the place on Earth which the western world has a strong association with eating dogs.
Preparing for the Olympic Games in Seul in 1988 , the authorities tried to eliminate everything that would negatively affect the country’s reputation in the eyes of foreign guests. The restaurants and eateries serving dog meat were temporarily removed from the main city streets.
The decision of the authorities is met with resentment. Advocates of traditional values feel that the authorities show unacceptable cringing towards foreigners and that there is no need to bother with the feelings of guests when it comes to ordinary national food. However, worrying about the country’s reputation, the authorities declare raising dogs for slaughter and producing dog meat illegal. But no violation is established for violating this law. The actions of officials seemed to emphasize that the state is experiencing some embarrassment from the existence of a custom, but will not be subject to direct prohibitions.
For a long time, South Koreans are outraged by the desire of Western Animal Defenders to take away their right to eat dog meat. They make persuasive arguments for the normality of their tastes. Whoever attacks a cultural practice must first understand it. Asian attitudes toward animals are diverse and complex. Southeast Asians suffered from battlegrounds of war, enduring extreme scarcity of food and homelessness brought on by the authorities. Dogs competed with humans for resources. Eating dogs tends to be a countervailing response to material poverty and the absence of reliable sources for other foods. But those days are in the past, why hold on to this particular tradition?
The anger of foreign criticism of representatives of Western countries who lament the fate of Korean dogs is not uniform. Among Korean residents, some oppose eating dogs. Nevertheless, the voice of the defenders of tradition is strong.
Koreans have begun to eat less dog meat and tend to listen to the arguments of supporters of the ban on dog meat. Dog meat is now in the gray zone in Korea – it is not forbidden to eat, but is more common to be ashamed of.
Not all of those who stopped considering dogs as a food source, find it necessary to ban dog meat completely. There has been a sharp drop in interest in this aspect of national cuisine. The dog has become a common pet in the country. The psychological attitude towards eating their meat has changed.
Most importantly, Korea has become an economic giant, widely integrated into the global economy, its youth is considering itself on the global agenda. They do not need to adhere to an extremely controversial culinary custom that causes bewilderment or, conversely, unhealthy interest among foreign interlocutors. The reluctance to kill dogs to eat them is not some stereotype imposed on them from the outside, but merely a normal part of the convictions of an educated city dweller.
This fact proves that education is the best solution to stop violence towards dogs and animals in general.
Serious arguments can be found in defense of any controversial tradition. They can be sentimental or extremely rational. If an outsider criticizes such a tradition, it causes instinctive protest. However, this is not a reason to hold on to such bonds forever.
After analyzing the situation in Korea, I believe that proper education, development of infrastructure and ability to have a better connection with the world, tribes of Northern Vietnam will leave the tradition of eating dog meat in the past. Dogs are our companions, they can read facial expressions, communicate jealousy, display empathy, and even watch TV. The “Man’s best friend” is definitely not a food source, sustainable or otherwise.
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