“Eating dogs is inappropriate, inhumane, and only heartless blood-suckers encourage it for their benefit,” said a man holding a picture of a cute dog in his hand in front of the Blue House Presidential Office in Seoul, South Korea. He also had several placards, one in his other hand, and others dispersed around him, hand-written almost the same message requesting the president to push a bill against the habit of consuming dog meat in South Korea.
He seemed left alone trying so hard on his own to make every passenger in the street to participate by starting a semi-debate conversation with them. I believe he wanted to encourage pedestrians to realize that their actions could make a difference if they joined with him in trying to make a change.
Eating Dog Meat Was Normal in South Korea Until Recently
Eating dog meat is an old habit in East Asian communities. It was just recently in the past several decades that cats and dogs became popular as pets partly due to individualism and Western cultural influences. We need to consider that habit of consuming dog meat in old south Korea was not meant or considered savagery, nor was immoral.
It was an available source of nutrients. For what it’s worth, there are all different tastes of food and ingredients all around the world. For example, Lechón (a Spanish word referring to a roasted baby piglet which was still fed by suckling its mother’s milk) and Khash (or kalle-pache, a dish of boiled cow or sheep parts, which might include the head, feet, and stomach) are two dishes that seem disgusting to many modern people but are famous in their regions.
We need to take historical and geographical circumstances into account to understand the eating of dog meat. The very same animal can be considered an ordinary animal, food, pet, friend, or even a deity due to these circumstances. Rabbit, in my case, being a dish had never been an option, and I always considered bunnies as the cutest animal pets; or as cows for Hindus, animals may not only be removed from some menus but also respected as in animism.
The Dog Meat Debate
The contradiction of treating this type of canine as a pet or as a dish became a hot topic among some Koreans only recently; and here I am, a West Asian in Korea, graduated in Cultural Studies and interested in cultural differences and, of course, in anyone who is protesting against the government. I was looking at the protesting man with interest in finding out what had made him so committed to his cause. I changed where I was going and walked over to him.
“I feel hugely responsible for eliminating this bad habit,” he said and explained that it was his routine to protest every weekend and sometimes stay overnight in his small tent. He is ashamed of dog meat still being consumed despite the dramatic modernization of the country.
“How come we could change so many things to be better, but still there are many people who eat dogs like barbarians? Why can’t we get modernized in this country?” he said.
It seemed like he has repeated the sentence a hundred times before, and he found himself confident with this statement.. However, probably unlike the common responses that he was expecting, I came up with a different one. I pointed to a fluffy dog with a red shirt that happened to pass by near us and told him:
“So is your request for the sake of modernization being fulfilled or for the sake of justice being pursued for dogs, these lovely animals?” He answered, “I want them to be treated fairly and with respect.”
“Why do you expect the president to bring up a law that guarantees fair treatment for dogs but not for other animals?” I asked. To his surprise, I added: “Isn’t it the time to stop excluding dogs from dozens of other animals who are suffering? Including those who are suffering from our imbalance privilege for dogs? I mean if we care about being fair, we may want to broaden our list. Shouldn’t we add all current edible farm animals to come in a presidential law bill? if we care about nature, we should ask for a bill that stops us from having pets at all because we are changing their lifestyle and also ruining nature’s life cycle by protecting from one species? and if we care about…”
Blah, blah, blah, I listed all perspectives I could find and didn’t find any logical one that justifies excluding dogs, and he said his reasons, again I told mine. It was a long talk that I wouldn’t have the length to list it all, but I’ll share some things that I saw from his perspective and some from mine.
Dogs as Pets in South Korea
Dogs are everywhere in South Korea. Several shops only provide services and items for pet dogs: dog clothes, different types of food and dog hotels, dog kindergarten, dog barbershop, dog photo shoots, dog swimming pools, and dog taxis are just a few businesses affiliated with dogs in this country.
The industry is also expanding with thousands of dog products like smart pet trackers or nonalcoholic pet beers. This industry focuses on its product as a cute, intelligent, and kind animals (which they indeed are) that we need to “take care of” or as a widespread motto in South Korea puts it: “have them as a family member.” Billions of dollars are funneled into this idea. The South Korean pet industry was worth $864.9 million USD in 2018 and around seventy percent of it was for dogs.
‘Your Dog Deserves to Live Like a Human’
“Your dog deserves to live like a human.”
It was written in a dog accessory shop in Seoul. We already know what that lifestyle looks like as humans speedily use up the world’s resources. As the pet industry statistics show us, this industry, like every other business, is based on consumption (the more we use, the more they produce), though responsible for a significant portion of South Korea’s unsustainable way of life. Dog owners spend around $100 USD per month on their pets in this country.
The pet population in Korea has been steadily increasing over the last decade. The country’s aging, the increased single-member households, and rising incomes have helped support this trend. As just for the pet food market, it was worth more than $870 million in 2019.
Increasing Opposition to Dog Meat
However, unlike the pet industry, dog meat is moving in the other direction. Western media and animal activists have written many articles on it. “Hell for dogs” and “Barbaric” are just some of the words they have used to introduce the issue. Their miserable way of breeding and the cruel and uncivilized practice of eating a smart and cute animal are some of the reasons mentioned by the media against dog meat. But not only are these approaches very selective and even specie-favoritism in an animal context, but it’s also not even scientific and reasonable.
Dog farms are more or less the same type of miserable as other farms for around 9 billion chickens, 33 million cows, and 113 million pigs raised and slaughtered brutally every year — small cages, dirty and smelly atmosphere with lifespan suffering through the same painful process. However, one critical fact is usually not considered: the amount of dog meat has declined from one million dogs to 20,000 per year in South Korea. It consists of less than 8% of consumed meat worldwide, while other meat consumption had increased, as FAO reported: “Pork is the most widely-eaten meat in the world accounting for over 36% of the world meat intake. It is followed by poultry and beef with about 35% and 22%, respectively.”
Other Animals are Also Cute
Being cute is also not exclusive for dogs as rabbits, lambs, and chickens are extremely cute in my opinion. Dogs are usually smart, but so are pigs. You probably need to read about the research on pigs that confirmed they are wise enough to play a video game! Pigs are also super social and can learn very fast. For the last argument on barbaric habit, I suggest to stop seeing the world from Europe and remind how millions of Hindus would feel about others who are eating cow’s meat.
The consuming way of life advertised by media uses natural resources for dogs and burns forests to raise cows. Instead of pointing at the significant issues, eating dogs has become the focus of “animal activists” and ignorant celebrities that want to push themselves as authorities on the subject. Dog meat is one of the most comfortable and accessible options for them, as it is exotic, and there is a vast hatred against this declining business around the world, including in South Korea. Simultaneously, the meat and pet industry is rising as it has never been recorded in history, which indirectly resulted in severe damage to other animals.
Ecological and Wildlife Devastation
Earth has lost half of its wildlife in around the past 40 years, mostly because of our way of life. We need 1.5 planet Earths to sustain the current consumption rate. Instead of a widespread action to save animals worldwide, we have limited ourselves to a few overpopulated and well-loved domesticated animals like dogs. Just last year, near 800,000 new pet dogs were registered in South Korea.
Thanks to thousands of shallow but accessible reports and quotes about dogs, the bigger picture usually misses the point. It’s perfectly common for an “animal lover” to bring a pet dog home and make it consume human products and call it “protecting animals.”
The UK has one of the worst reputations to its overusing the world’s resources, and it’s been calculated that we would need 2,5 Earths to match UK consumption levels extrapolated into the future. However, a British Instagram star can come to Korea and “rescue” a dog from a cage and fly it back to the UK. Then he can post pictures of dogs playing on the grass, and he obviously feels cool to rescue an animal that was supposed to be a meal for an allegedly cruel people. After taking all the pictures he enjoys a bacon sandwich at the same time.
American skier Gus Kenworthy is one example who could get thousands of Instagram likes by merely “flying” a dog from a cage in Korea to his yard in the USA and take a shortcut to getting tons of likes online. The pictures of the dog, buying him a “dog cake” for a birthday gift, added to his continually posting photos of his consuming lifestyle in a country that is the second globally in overusing world resources.
‘A Cultured Country Does Not Allow its People to Eat Dogs’
“Cows are grown to be eaten; dogs are not.” This non-scientific and sentimental words came from a French actress Brigitte Bardot who, thanks to her movies, gets attention to her terms about animals. “I accept that many people eat beef, but a cultured country does not allow its people to eat dogs.” She concluded. France is number 19 in the mentioned list of world over-consumption, and according to UC Davis university: “livestock are responsible for 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gases.”
I personally have never eaten dog meat, and I try to avoid other kinds of meat in general. But as someone who thinks a lot about the environment, I don’t understand why dogs should have so much privilege above other animals. I also don’t get why “activists” feed this bias if not because of their ignorance of the bigger picture they play in it.
Back to the Debate
“We should start from somewhere. We should stop producing red meat in general, but we can start from dogs as there is more public agreement on it,” the man wanted to conclude, unable to convince me with his previous reasons.
“But why should we start from a business that is already declining while the bigger issue that’s spreading is left more or less in silence?” I asked.
“Anyway, people are different. We don’t all have to think the same,” he answered.
He didn’t want to hear more of me. He slowly raised a cute picture of the dog and tried to change the mood with his fake smile. Did I make him consider the issue from a new angle? I’m not sure.
How many other dogs did I see on my way back home? How many of their owners call themselves animal activists or animal lovers? And how many of these animal activists or animal lovers think about the 41,415 species that are currently in danger of extinction?
Edited by Alireza Soltani Koupaei