I’ve never had the urge to sample dog meat, probably for the same reason that I am mostly a vegetarian. I’ve lived on a farm, so I have an inkling of an idea where meat comes from: pig meat, cow meat, even chicken flesh all originates from the body of a friendly critter. In the US anyway, most of our meat comes from factory farms.
THOSE who hope to taste dog meat when they visit Beijing for this summer’s Olympics may be disappointed. The Beijing Catering Trade Association has ordered all 112 designated Olympic restaurants to take dog off the menu, and has strongly advised other establishments to stop serving it until September. Waiters have been urged to “patiently” suggest alternative dishes to customers who ask for dog. It’s all part of a wider campaign to avoid offending foreigners during the Games. (Beijingers have also been told to line up nicely, to stop spitting and even to avoid asking tourists questions about their ages, salaries and love lives.)
The order is not likely to bother many residents. Though dogs have been raised for food in China for thousands of years, you have to hunt around to find the meat on modern menus. Certain regions, like Hunan and Guizhou Provinces, are known for their canine predilections — but even in these places, dog is a relative rarity. And in Beijing itself, you hardly find it except in a few Korean and regional Chinese restaurants.
Dog eating, in any case, tends to be a seasonal pursuit. According to Chinese folk dietetics, which classify every food according to its heating and cooling properties, dog is one of the “hottest” meats around, best eaten in midwinter, when you need warmth and vital energy, not in sultry August.
That eating dog is seen as an issue says more about Western preoccupations than Chinese habits. Since time immemorial, Westerners have had a morbid fascination with the weird fringes of the Chinese diet. Marco Polo noted with distaste that the Chinese liked eating snake and dog; modern Western journalists just love to get their teeth into a juicy story about some revolting delicacy like the assorted animal penises served at the Guolizhuang restaurant in Beijing. And for gung-ho foreign tourists, a skewerful of deep-fried scorpions in the night market in central Beijing has become a rite of passage.
Speaking on that topic, there’s a show dedicated to such conspicuous consumption of oddities called Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmer (blog here). We watched several one day, an oddly fascinating travel show.