Dogs move from the dinner plate to the perfect companionPosted: 09/3/2011 9:17 pm
It’s a sad, outdated cliche: that Chinese people all eat dogs. In fact, while certain regions in China prefer dog (I’m looking at you, Guizhou) and it can still be found in many restaurants (I once had dog soup served up at the official CCTV Christmas party in Beijing), it’s really not that popular of a dish in China. On the long list of exotic foods consumed in this country, dogs wouldn’t make the top five. (As an aside, I once dined at a Guangzhou restaurant that allowed diners to select their own live peacock from a cage to consume.)
A couple of things to get out of the way: Dog eating is actually more of a Korean thing than a China one. Secondly, dogs consumed for food aren’t poodles or daschunds or labradors. Only dogs specifically bred for food are served up. (If you want to look at some pics of dogs being carted off to the slaughterhouse, check Hong Kong-based Alex Hofford’s pics here. If you are particularly sensitive about animals, I suggest you avoid clicking that link.)
Nonetheless, as China continues to develop and people get richer, the luxury of taking care of dogs is more available now than ever. CNN recently did a story, based in Shenzhen, that took a look at growing dog ownership in China. It notes how much times really have changed:
When Shenzhen housewife Zhang Lin was growing up in rural Guangdong province, her family kept guard dogs, some of which were slaughtered for meat during the Lunar New Year.
Now she is the owner of Dou-dou, a high-energy miniature poodle she bought for 4,000 yuan ($626), more than triple this southern Chinese city’s monthly minimum wage. She never eats dog meat and treats Dou-dou like her child.
“Growing up, we always had dogs around, but their purpose was [for] meat and guarding the house,” Zhang said. “Dou-dou is my companion.”
Zhang regularly takes Dou-dou to King Glory Plaza, a large public square dominated by an upscale shopping mall, where the Shenzhen middle class come out to play. At night, the square is filled with children whizzing by on roller-skates and couples relaxing on benches, as well as with China’s newest beneficiaries of economic growth: dogs. Poodles, huskies, Labradors run off leash, tails wagging and tongues flailing, as their owners share health and grooming tips. Despite Shenzhen’s tiny apartments, most of the dogs at the square are large breeds.
Even though dogs are more popular, some jurisdictions, like Dongguan, don’t take too kindly to them. Indeed, CNN notes that the traditional view of dogs – as animals to be consumed – persists in some ways:
This new coddling of dogs as pets does not mean the old custom of eating dog meat has disappeared. Type the Chinese character for dog, gou, into an iPhone, and predictive text will offer you meat,rou, as a logical follow-up character.
Restaurants specializing in dog cuisine — which advertise the health and tradition of the canine meat — line bustling Shenzhen night markets.
In a market near Dongmen, a Mecca for discount and wholesale shoppers, a customer asking for dog meat is told to go upstairs. On the second floor, there are basins of live crocodiles, hanging lamb and pig carcasses, but on that particular day no dog meat was available. “Come back tomorrow,” says a little girl shelling clams.
One man who sells in-demand breeds at a pet store in Dongmen says his career of selling dogs hasn’t changed his outlook on eating dog meat.
“How is it any different from eating any other animal?” he says. “It’s just the same as beef.”
Which is a good point, when one thinks about it. Dogs are somewhat sacred to westerners, because they are considered to be “man’s best friend”. But cows are sacred to some in India, and Jewish people won’t eat pork. So who’s to say? Americans eat turtles and the French eat horses, so to each his own. The question is, is it possible to love dogs and eat them at the same time?