The “Dog Days” of Summer: Dog Meat in Korea
I don’t need a calendar to know it’s summer. I know it’s summer time when newspapers and blogs worldwide start discussing, analyzing and criticizing Korea’s history and ongoing medicinal consumption of boshintang (dog meat soup).
A blogger for the LA Times newspaper posted a blog about the ongoing debate in South Korea over the consumption of dog meat. Members of a South Korean animal rights group called Coexistence for Animal Rights on Earth along with an American animal rights group called In Defense of Animals (IDA), sponsored a protest asking the South Korean government to make the killing of dogs and cats for food illegal and to vigorously enforce laws already on the books against the practice.
According to the IDA’s website, the IDA organized simultaneous protests at Korean embassies and consulates all over the United States, including the Korean consulate in San Francisco. I did notice that the Korean consulate in Anchorage appears to have escaped their ire (for now). Considering the fact that only 20 people showed up for the protest in Seoul, I doubt the protests in San Francisco or other areas were much larger.
I was curious to see if any of the Korean media have covered this issue today and found this article in the Korea Times about a concert which was held in Cheongdo, North Gyeongsang Province (near Daegu), where dogs were the pampered guests of honor rather than the main course on the dinner menu. The inaugural concert was held to mark the beginning of Chobok. What is chobok? The Korea Times tells us,
It marks “Chobok” ― the first of the so-called dog days in July-August when dog meat soup called “boshintang” is consumed nationwide as a traditional health food for summer.
The concert symbolizes the changing lifestyle of Koreans, with more and more men refraining from eating dog meat these days out of concerns at the content of boshintang.
Due to a lack of supply, boshintang sometimes contains other animal meat, including rabbit and cat. Sometimes ill and stray dogs are used for boshintang.
So much for “health food”, eh? There are dog meat soup restaurants still in operation in Korea but many of the younger generation have not developed a taste for it. The Korea Times article says,
On the other hand, many young Koreans love to live with puppies and dogs as pets, and this new generation has grown up without eating dog soup.
The LA Times article goes on to say,
While only a tiny percentage of people in South Korea eat dogs, reports suggest that about 6,000 restaurants in the country engage in the practice of serving them, according to Slate magazine. And although the practice is illegal under South Korean law, an underground industry continues to flourish.
Inevitably whenever someone starts asking me questions about my life in South Korea, I am asked “Have you ever tried dog meat?” The answer is always, “No.” There might be a few reasons why I’ve never been exposed to dog meat.
- As a Messianic (formerly Seventh-day Adventist), I don’t eat any meat which the Old Testament says is un-kosher. Dog is about as un-kosher as one can get.
- Dog meat is considered a medicinal food, promoted mainly to men to increase virility. Since I’m a 미국 여성 (American woman), I am not the target audience for this “health food”.
- The consumption of dog meat is supposed to be illegal in South Korea going back to the late 80’s when South Korea wanted to clean up their image in preparation for the 1988 Summer Olympics. It’s not easy to find, thought not impossible if you know where to look.
However, despite my obvious disdain of dog meat, I find it pretty arrogant for Westerners to go into Asian countries and tell them what to eat. Plenty of South Koreans who abhor the practice are speaking out and raising their own voices on this matter. The fact that the younger generation in Korea are not developing a taste for dog meat is a good sign that the practice will fade away on its own. If South Koreans themselves demand action by their government in enforcing the laws currently on the books, the practice will fade away in time.