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September 2002
Rejecting Dog Stew—It’s 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 soccer tournament. 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 slaughtered 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 animals—and, 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 Korea’s economy began to prosper, animal flesh became more affordable across social strata. The handful of dog-meat peddlers worried about losing their businesses and quickly—and successfully—marketed 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 lives in cramped wire cages where they often suffer from dehydration, hunger, unsanitary conditions, and abuse. At open-air markets, they’re 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 animal’s 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 killed—or at least appear to be dead—their bodies are blowtorched to remove their fur, and, as you can imagine, this often happens while they’re 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 was 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 animals—who don’t have the luxury of being seen as “pets”—are slaughtered every year for human consumption.

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 two years ago, protesting the dog-eating trade. We received incredible support from passersby—much 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 circle 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 we’re 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 what’s left of their culture. We work to save the lives of chickens sacrificed in Santeria ceremonies not because we’re opposed to their right to religious freedom. And, we’re exposing the horrors of the dog-flesh trade in South Korea not because we look down on so-called Asian traditions.

We speak out—loudly, passionately, and persistently—because animal cruelty crosses over any arbitrary divides of ethnicity or spiritual heritage. The animals, when they look into the faces of their killers, don’t see the shape of the person’s 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 wasn’t all that common and that he had never eaten it. How could he? He loved dogs. But, then, he quickly followed with, “But, they’re not pet dogs; they’re special food dogs. They’re bred just for their meat.” How many times have we heard that argument? “It’s 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, shouldn’t lie in how familiar the animal is to us or how our society views them. It doesn’t 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 doesn’t 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 doesn’t matter to the animal who is routinely tortured and killed for humankind.

Until we embrace the fact that animals aren’t 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; we’re 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. It’s simple. We can stop eating them.

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.

 


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