Dog-eating Koreans may soon have to bid an aggrieved farewell to the gamey taste of their favorite meat as proffered for centuries in dogmeat restaurants around the country.
Bowing to the outcries of rising numbers of Koreans who love their dogs for patting and petting, not slaughtering and sizzling over a brazier, South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in suggested outlawing the practice in a rhetorical question at a policy session with his ministers and advisers on Monday. “Hasn’t the time come to prudently consider prohibiting dogmeat consumption?” South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted him as asking his prime minister, Kim Boo-kyum.
Moon’s popularity ratings, descending over economic difficulties, seem likely to bounce up if he follows through on his proposal to ban dogmeat from the diet of aficionados who swear a serving on a hot summer day is just the thing for enhancing sexual appetite.
“I’m absolutely happy,” Choe Sung-hee, a teacher in Seoul who has owned a succession of dogs over the years, told The Daily Beast. “He better do what he says.”
Choe, often critical of Moon for policies that she blames for rising prices and unemployment, saw him as capitalizing on a trend against dogmeat-eating that’s caught on in the capital of Seoul and other big cities, but less so in the countryside.
“Now it’s not easy to find a dogmeat restaurant,” she said. “In the past ten years you don’t find such places.’
Already, she noted, the huge Moran Market south of the capital has had to shut down its dogmeat sales after activists found overcrowding, neglect and cruelty as they photographed dogs in cages lining alley ways in the center of the market. Images of dogs yapping away furiously while buyers selected just the animals they wanted for dinner were too much for sales to survive openly. It’s still rumored, however, that dogs are slaughtered secretly for those willing to pay premium prices.
Dogmeat eaters these days are mostly elderly, from rural roots, for whom dogmeat is often viewed as a real treat. “We eat dogmeat once a year or so,” a woman from a farming community near the east central coast told The Daily Beast. Although she now lives in Seoul, feasting on dogmeat, one of her favorite foods, takes her back to her youth.
“It’s fine on a hot summer day,” said the woman, now in her seventies. “When I was young everyone ate dogmeat, at least occasionally.”
Others wondered if the commotion over dogmeat-eating was really justified. “There are many more important things to worry about,” said another woman outside Seoul, who’s been involved in activism over political issues, not dogmeat. “People make a fuss over a minor issue.”
In the face of tradition, however, dogmeat-eating has become less fashionable in recent years despite opposition from those who swear there’s not much difference between killing a dog or a cow or a sheep. No longer, at least in major cities, does one see small wooden signs featuring the head of a dog, indicating dogmeat is available inside.
However, dogmeat eating is so deeply embedded in Korean culture, as it is in China and Vietnam, that it’s not likely a simple decree or law will do away with a custom that often includes unspeakable acts of cruelty. In an unpublished book given to The Daily Beast, Mark Dake, a Canadian teacher in Korea, described surprising two or three men in a village as they were about to hang a dog with a rope around its neck.
As Dake approached, a man “put his hands around the animal’s throat and removed an unseen cord, tied so tightly that I hadn’t noticed it,” Dake wrote. “One of the men had clandestinely retreated to a nearby dwelling to hide a blow torch attached to a small canister of gas used to sear the fur off the dog. The meat then would be cooked and eaten.”
Dake rescued the dog by loading it into the back seat of his car and driving off with it. The police, called to the scene, said the dog’s owner was liable for a fine for “hanging a dog in a public place” while Dake would have to pay the man for the dog.
Though some Korean dogmeat lovers supposedly devour only a few medium-sized types, a wide range of canines have been displayed in Moran market. Dogs owned as pets were sometimes dognapped if not carefully watched and leashed.
Unbelievably to dog lovers worldwide, some owners simply sold their aged dogs for a pittance to men coming around in search of cheap cuts of meat to take to local markets. I actually witnessed the scene of a cute little dog barking pathetically after his owner handed him off at his doorstep to a tough-looking guy. He grabbed it with a rope and bashed it into whining silence with a rubber mallet before tossing it into a truck, likely to be taken for slaughter.
Protests against dogmeat-eating have proliferated in urban areas in recent years, where dog owners are often seen walking with their beloved pets. Increasingly, Koreans see dogmeat-eating as “animal abuse rather than tradition,” Yonhap quoted Jeon Jin-kyung, head of Korea Animal Rights Advocates, as saying.
Dogmeat eaters, though, say there’s nothing quite like eating dog meat, minced or stewed or on the bone, braced with the sharp tangy taste of adrenalin. Historically, dogs were hung from tree limbs and beaten to a slow, hideous death with a stick to get the adrenalin flowing.
“Killing dogs for their meat is a sensitive subject in Korea,” Mark Dake summarized in his writing. “Many citizens oppose the practice, and many have pet dogs,” but he foresaw the difficulties Moon will have in making good on his desire to do away with eating dog meat.
“A hardcore group of mainly conservative old-timers condone the practice,” he wrote, “and politicians loath to introduce new laws banning the sale of dog meat.”