Why don't westerners eat dog meat

Do you have your dog and do you eat him too?

9,400 year old human feces with a dog skull segment,

Samuel Belknap, a graduate student at the University of Maine, recently made a surprising discovery while analyzing a 9,400-year-old human idiot. The "intact human paleofecal specimen" was found in a cave in southwest Texas. Among the small pieces of mammals, fish, and birds that were embedded in the feces was a piece of domestic dog skull. It appears that the day before the Paleolithic Defecator had eaten on a stew of dog brain and meat that was flavored with some prickly pear. Belknap had found the earliest evidence that early Indians not only lived with dogs but also ate them for dinner.

I have to admit that the report is a little spoiled. Everything about it was disgusting. First, like most westerners, I don't like the idea of ​​eating dog meat. Second, it was about eating brain, which I know is a godsend because as a student in Beirut I ate sheep's brain on occasion. Third, the piece of dog skull was embedded in a piece of ancient feces that essentially turned into feces once Belknap soaked it in water. While this archaeological discovery was making national news, it occurred to me that the combination of shit, brain, and dog meat constitutes the ultimate trifeca of disgust triggers.

Why is dog meat disgusting?

Why are most people so concerned about the idea of ​​dog eating but not concerned about eating an animal as intelligent as a pig? University of Virginia psychologist Jonathan Haidt studies disgust as part of his research on moral intuition. In some of his experiments, people have been asked to make decisions about situations that are annoying even though they do not cause suffering or harm.

One of his scenarios involved a dog: One family dog ​​was killed by a car in front of their home. They had heard that dog meat was delicious, so they cut open the dog's body and ate it for dinner. Haidt then asked his subjects if it was okay for a person to eat their dead pet and explain the logic behind their answer. When I present this scenario to my students, almost all of them agree that it would be immoral for the family to eat their dead dog. However, most of them cannot find a coherent logical reason for their decision. After all, the dead dog will not suffer. They tell me it just feels wrong. It's the yuck factor.

Flesh of a culture .....

The "yuck factor" is a human universe. People in every culture experience feelings of disgust, and it is often associated with eating meat. However, the meat that a culture considers disgusting varies greatly. Dog is a prime example. People have eaten dogs since dogs existed. The surprise is the extent to which dogs are being eaten today. Most of the world's dog meat is consumed in Asia, where around 25 million dogs are killed for food each year. The Chinese eat more dogs than anyone else. In China, dog meat is about as expensive as beef. In 2004, the retail cost of a pound of dog meat was around $ 2, although organ meat is cheaper. Dog brains were about $ 1 each and a penis was $ 1.45.

Anthony Podberscek, an anthrozoologist at Cambridge University, has researched the cultural conflict that is emerging in South Korea over the consumption of dog meat. While South Koreans consume over 12,000 tons of dog meat annually, dogs have become popular as pets over the past two decades. How do Koreans manage to eat the same members of a species they love as companions?

The answer is subdivision. South Korea puts meat dogs in a different moral category than dogs. The meat dogs are usually medium-sized animals with short, light-colored hair; They look disturbingly like Old Yeller and are given a special name (Nureongi). Meat and lap dogs are sometimes sold in the same markets. However, the meat dogs are housed in special cages with pink-orange bars that clearly mark them as "food" rather than "pets".

Cultural differences as to why dog ​​meat is banned

Despite the popularity of dog meat in some cultures, dog meat consumption is taboo in many parts of the world - but sometimes for opposite reasons. Americans find the idea of ​​eating a golden retriever outrageous because dogs have become our friends and full family members. The pet industry refers to this trend as "humanizing pets". Psychologically, humanizing your dog means eating it would be akin to cannibalism.

In contrast, in the Middle East and parts of India, dog eating is one reason dogs are considered bugs. In classical Hinduism, for example, dogs were despised for supposedly eating vomit and corpses and for having sex with their relatives. Most interpretations of the Qur'an also consider dogs to be unclean. In short, in these countries eating dogs would be like eating rats for an American. This shows an important principle of the human-flesh relationship: we do not eat creatures we love, and we do not eat creatures we detest ...

That brings me back to the man who dumped a piece of dog skull on a cave floor 9,400 years ago. I think he probably didn't have any animosity towards the dog he ate for dinner. But I also suspect he didn't consider it a pet either.

Postscript: A Culinary Case Study for Dogs

Sometimes you hear that people don't eat their pets. This is not always the case. When my friend Dan was a Peace Corps volunteer in the rural Philippines, he lived with a family who had a dog. One afternoon, the dog bit Dan on the leg for no apparent reason, causing an injury that was severe enough to require a visit to the local clinic. The doctor feared that the dog might have rabies and asked Dan to bring him for observation. An hour later Dan returned to the house to pick up the dog, but it was too late - the family's pet was already in the casserole. Dan said to me, "I'm one of the few who can say," I ate the dog that bit me. "


1. The title of this post was stolen (with permission) from a great essay on the complexities of human-animal relationships by James Serpell: "Our Dogs Have And They Eat Them: Why Animals Are a Social Problem."

2. For an excellent discussion of dog eating and cultural clashes, see Frank H. Wu's essay The Best "Chink" Food: Dog Eating and the Dilemma of Diversity.

3. For a discussion of the laws against pet eating, see Brian Palmer's article, Here Kitty, Kitty, Kitty: Is It Legal To Eat Your Cat?

If you like this post, check out others on this series Hereand mine new book on human-animal relationships.