Dogs in China: Pets and Cuisine or “To Animals, all People are Nazis.”

March 18, 2008

Nobel Prize winner Isaac Bashevis Singer put his own feelings into one of his characters when he wrote: “In relation to [animals], all people are Nazis. For [them], it is an eternal Treblinka.”

The International Herald Tribune has an article on dogs in China, as pets and cuisine, here.

Once considered decadent and restricted by the Communist Party leadership, pet ownership in China is now expanding along with its huge middle class. Dog ownership used to be seen as ‘Western,’ politicly incorrect and license fees remain extremely expensive. To have a pet dog in China today is to make a statement: “I have enough abundance that I can conspicuously waste some on a pet (see Veblen below the fold, text beginning “The dog has advantages in the way of uselessness. . .”).

To Western eyes this throws into greater relief the distinction the Chinese see between canines as pets and canines as food. Large, mixed breed dogs are preferred for the kitchen, while small dogs are the current companion animal of choice. About 120 restaurants in Beijing offer dog on their menus.

–Associated Press Photo

“In Beijing, there’s a huge market with pitiful dogs waiting in cages to be sold as meat, and literally a few yards away standard poodles dyed in all colors of the rainbow,” said Jill Robinson, chief executive of Animals Asia Foundation, an animal welfare charity based in Hong Kong.

If we are shocked by this Chinese double standard, consider how we American’s treat the domestic pig. Viet Namese pot-bellied pigs are highly intelligent, some claim even smarter than dogs. They are said to be impeccably clean by nature, personable, curious, and playful. These pigs can be trained to the equivalent of basic dog training: house trained, leash trained, even learning a few tricks.

Yet almost no Americans have pigs as pets because we love to eat crispy fried bacon, Virginia ham and pulled-pork sandwiches. So instead of sharing our homes with them, we raise them in factory farms under horrifying conditions.

The thought of raising dogs in such conditions makes me ill; it’s the stuff of nightmares. It would be worse than any puppy mill in existence, and those are pretty bad places. But only because I’m conditioned by my culture to accept the agony of pigs. So how I can I pass judgement on the Chinese for eating what to their eyes are ugly, unwanted, yet tasty dogs? Around 300,000 a year are raised, killed, cooked and served; generally roasted, or in a stew or casserole.

The traditional Chinese belief system has many negative associations with dogs; they are synonymous with the dregs of society, or seen as pawns, boot lickers, and bound servants. There is no Chinese Lassie.

There is one positive folk belief concerning eating dog: that it has medicinal benefits. Such as improving blood circulation to allegedly keep you warmer in winter (a nice conflation of magical thinking and the warmth of a ‘three dog night’).

Despite all the attention being paid to the worldwide growth of Muslim fundamentalism, the meat with the largest growing demand from global consumers is pork. The reality is that to meet this demand the factory farming of pigs will have to increase exponentially. Hundreds of millions have been killed and hundreds of millions more will die instead of being personable, curious, and playful.

Is it unfair to call this an animal holocaust? It would certainly qualify for me, if it was dogs instead of pigs.


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