Vice Report: Eating Dogs In Yulin
People in Southern China have a tradition of eating dog meat. If they feel that their traditions is under threat from outsiders, they will show more resolve and double their efforts to celebrate and kill more dogs. Adding a big “fuck you,” to critics adds more joy to an already special occasion. So the question is:
How do you get people to stop doing something that you find appalling?
I am not a dog person. I think dogs are stupid, dirty, and overly dependent. Some people who have dogs enjoy the companionship while others enjoy having something that they can control. In the long run, the dog controls your life and disciplines you, not the other way around. I wouldn't want to care for a dog that needs to be given a regular schedule for feeding, walking, etc. Still, I am not interested in eating a dog simply because I am not interested in eating exotic meats not because of some kinship I have with them.
Even though dog meat is available in China, it is not easy to come by. Dogs are popular pets in China. Besides the universal appeal of pet dogs, the one child policy has created a society with parents facing an empty nest sooner and young adults with fewer friends and siblings. Dogs are a surrogate in a way. For the most part, Chinese are less interested in eating dogs than they are in caring for them. This doesn’t mean that dog meat isn’t enjoyed from time to time. Dog meat is supposedly good for elderly people in the winter months. It is usually eaten as a soup. I have seen it sold in a small restaurant as a luxury item. Stories of unwitting foreigners being served dog accidentally seem preposterous as the soupy meat has a thick oily fat layer, it is usually labeled, and much too precious to waste on people who would spit it out back into the bowl if they found out what they were actually eating.
This brings me to a recent report published by VICE News from Yulin, Guangzhou in Southern China by Izzy Yeung. I think the western audience, which they are targeting, will be shocked by what they see but not simply because the opening section shows dead dogs being butchered. Probably most meat eaters would shy away from the slaughtering and butchering process in most cases. Open air meat markets are pretty nasty. Southern China in the afternoon is hot and sticky. The smell of raw meat in the tropical heat would be stomach turning for me too. The reporter is aware of this and goes so far as says such. She steels herself for interviews with the delivery men and the butchers.
She asks people if they think eating dog is cruel:
A woman responds that eating beef is more cruel because a cow helps in the fields.
I guess what she means is that eating beef is less practical because a cow can be used for other things that bring a greater benefit to a farm. Cows may be helpful on a farm but enough cows can be bred for farming while others can be bred for food. That doesn’t address the cruelty part. If the dogs are farmed in industrial factories like cattle and pumped full of antibiotics to stave off painful infections like most beef cattle are, then yes it is cruel. If the dogs are stolen and locked in tiny cages then yes it is cruel. The interviewees were adamant that these dogs were farmed. But they could not answer from where. Overall the market seems less cruel and more stomach-turning because of the lack of hygiene and possibility of infectious disease from the animals. Still, seeing dogs packed in cages is sad but in this instance they are treated less like cows and more like cooped up chickens.
When the reporter asks one of the butchers if eating dog meat is cruel, the butcher has the most pragmatic answer:
I am not forcing anyone to eat it. Why should they be able to stop me from killing dogs?
That kind of attitude is hard to argue with. She is pretty much saying, if you don’t like it, then don’t eat it. Now kindly go fuck off.
A woman at the downtown live market talks with the reporter and offers to get extremely real She is just doing business and has to raise a big family without her husband. She then crassly asks rhetorically,
”What should I do, become a whore?”
Who can argue with a poor woman who is just trying to put food on the table? Ultimately she is saying that she isn't taking a principled stance. She would gladly take the best economical opportunity. It just so happens that trading in dogs is the best one at the moment.
Other people in the dog meat trade seem acutely aware of the stigma attached to what they do and are defensive about it. They make the point that they don’t eat the dog, that the dogs are not stolen pets, that this is just a business.
At the banquet held in the front yard of a family’s countryside home, a young man defends their culture of eating dog meat.
Essentially he is saying, all things being equal, in India cows are sacred. If you eat beef in England should Hindus in India be outraged?
There are a few different points one could make to address the issue he raises:
- Hindus in many parts of the world are free to publicly protest.
- The care of animals and handling of meat can be questioned in many parts of the world.
- Many places have regulations to assure the safety of the meat.
After a banquet in the countryside, the reporter visits an activist who wants to see the dog meat festival stopped. She thinks it is particularly violent and has hope that the practice can end just as the torturous practice for foot-binding came to an end one hundred years ago. She spent all of her money buying as many live dogs as she could to save them from the slaughter. That of course doesn’t solve the problem. But in light of the fact that protesting the dog meat festival to the government can get activists arrested and harassed by thugs, options for preventing the deaths of the animals is limited.
Criticizing the Chinese for consuming dog might be the best way to ensure that it never stops. No one likes to be told what to do by people who don't understand how important it is to the people involved. The festival participants are simply emboldened by the protests instead of being swayed to think differently.