Dog StewIts About Cruelty, Not Culture
By Miyun Park
A few months ago, exciting stories from the World Cup
filled the media as country was pitted against country in the international
Here in the United States, fans set their alarm clocks for 4:00 a.m.
to drag themselves out of bed to watch the games broadcast live from
South Korea. And, as the sportscasters gave kick-by-kick commentary,
millions of dogs were languishing in tiny cages, raised only to be
for their flesh.
While media outlets reported stories of Koreans eating dogs and cats,
none did so with accuracy or self-reflection on our own practices of
eating animals. All of the coverage focused on the cultural tradition
of dog-flesh consumption, perpetuating the myth crafted by those profiting
from the trade, letting us know the practice was uncivilized. Meanwhile,
here in the U.S., 300 land animals lose their lives every second to
stock our refrigerators with their bodies.
Between the end of World War II and the Korean War, when the country
was in dire straits and sustenance was scarce, some people turned to
eating their companion animalsand, yes, many Koreans live with
dogs just as we do. The practice was fairly uncommon and was relegated
primarily to rural areas, but the killing went on nonetheless. Around
1980, killing dogs for food became commercialized. As Koreas economy
began to prosper, animal flesh became more affordable across social
strata. The handful of dog-meat peddlers worried about losing their
businesses and quicklyand successfullymarketed the myth
that dog-meat stew (boshing tang) is a traditional, cure-all health
food that can also enhance male virility.
This claim is utterly false, but people bought into it. So the dog-meat
peddlers saw their business increase to the point that, today, nearly
three million dogs are killed for human consumption each year in South
Korea, and the popularity of canine flesh is on the rise.
The dogs are raised on rural farms or in urban backyards and, like
hens in battery cage egg facilities, spend the entirety of their short
in cramped wire cages where they often suffer from dehydration, hunger,
unsanitary conditions, and abuse. At open-air markets, theyre
dragged from their cages and deliberately tortured to death, for, along
with the myth of the cultural tradition of dog-meat consumption, Koreans
also bought into the notion that the more adrenaline in the animals
tissues right before slaughter, the more potent the pseudo-cure. So
the dogs are killed in the most egregious ways. They are slowly tortured
over a prolonged period to induce fear and pain, increasing their adrenaline.
They are hanged, beaten with pipes and hammers to tenderize their flesh,
and repeatedly electrocuted. After they are killedor at least
appear to be deadtheir bodies are blowtorched to remove their
fur, and, as you can imagine, this often happens while theyre
still alive. The more a dog is made to suffer, the more flavorful his
or her flesh is supposed to be.
I am Korean American, born in this country. Culturally, I embrace my
heritage and our rich 5,000-year history.
When I first learned about the dog-flesh eating tradition in Korea,
it was on television during the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Even though I
still eating animals then, I was struck by the hypocrisy of the U.S.
media which was quick to portray Koreans as barbarians for eating our
revered and favorite companion animals, while, in this country, more
than 10 billion land animalswho dont have the luxury of
being seen as petsare slaughtered every year for
But, nevertheless, I was riddled with so many different emotions: embarrassment,
outrage, frustration, and disgust.
That same battery of emotions overcame me when I stood in front of
the Korean Embassy in D.C. three years ago and at the UN in Manhattan
years ago, protesting the dog-eating trade. We received incredible
support from passersbymuch more so than I had ever seen when standing
in front of a slaughterhouse, a factory farm, or a fast-food restaurant,
advocating the rights of cows and chickens and pigs. But the thumbs-up,
the honking, and the shouts of support frustrated me just as much as
it filled me with hope. People were so outraged by the killing of pets,
but not food animals; yet I was encouraged because I saw
that the compassion was there in them. We only need to widen their
of compassion to include all animals: the ones with the unfamiliar
faces, the feathered wings, the scaly bodies.
Many have called this issue difficult and touchy.
But it is neither a racial nor a cultural issue. Exploitation is exploitation,
no matter how desperately you try to hide it under the veils of religious
tradition, cultural expression, or ethnic pride. We protest against
the running of the bulls in Spain not because were prejudiced
against Spaniards. We try to stop the slaughter of whales at the gun-toting
hands of the Makah Indians not because we want to steal away whats
left of their culture. We work to save the lives of chickens sacrificed
in Santeria ceremonies not because were opposed to their right
to religious freedom. And, were exposing the horrors of the dog-flesh
trade in South Korea not because we look down on so-called Asian traditions.
We speak outloudly, passionately, and persistentlybecause
animal cruelty crosses over any arbitrary divides of ethnicity or spiritual
heritage. The animals, when they look into the faces of their killers,
dont see the shape of the persons face, the color of his
skin, or the slant of her eyes. They look with desperation and fear,
for some sign of hope that they may be spared.
When I asked my father about the eating of dogs in South Korea, he
was very quick to say that it wasnt all that common and that he had
never eaten it. How could he? He loved dogs. But, then, he quickly followed
with, But, theyre not pet dogs; theyre special food
dogs. Theyre bred just for their meat. How many times have
we heard that argument? Its okay to eat cows and chickens
and pigs. They were raised to be food.
The difference in who we eat and who we spare, who we respect and who
we use, shouldnt lie in how familiar the animal is to us or how
our society views them. It doesnt matter that millions of Koreans
live with dogs as companion animals while just around the corner, in
the next neighborhood, their brothers and sisters are tortured to death.
It doesnt matter that Indians hold cows as sacred and refrain
from eating their flesh while, at the same time, march starving, sick,
and injured cows to their deaths to fatten the pockets of those in the
lucrative leather trade. It doesnt matter to the animal who is
routinely tortured and killed for humankind.
Until we embrace the fact that animals arent mere commodities
to serve us in whatever way we see fit; until we stop wearing their
skins and hair; until we stop using them as target practice; until we
stop using them to entertain us; until we stop using them
as test tubes; and, most importantly, until we stop eating them; were
collectively guilty of animal abuse.
The most amazing ability we have is our means to change. In our daily
lives, we often make simple choices that have profound consequences.
When we sit down to eat, we are making such a choice: Do we want to
add to the level of misery in the world or do we want to add to the
level of kindness? We can directly and immediately help all animals
by choosing compassion over killing. Its simple. We can stop
Miyun Park is the president of the Washington, D.C.-based
nonprofit animal advocacy organization Compassion Over Killing. To learn
more, visit www.cok.net
or call (301) 891-2458. For a free Vegan Starter Guide, visit www.TryVegan.com.