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When in Korea, Eat (Dog) as the Koreans Do By: Chris Weinkopf
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, January 23, 2002

"I AM SURE that Westerners will like dog meat if they eat it," predicts Ahn Yong-keun, a South Korean food-science professor. "It is tasty and healthy."

Yong-keun, who goes by the nickname "Dr. Dogmeat," is a prominent defender of his country’s centuries-old tradition of canine cuisine. Along with many a Korean restaurateur, he fears that Western pressure might cause his government to crack down on the practice. But with some good PR and the right recipes, Korean dog-eaters are confident that they can woo Westerners through their taste buds.

They hope to use this summer’s World Cup soccer tournament, which Korea and Japan will host jointly, as the international staging ground to win converts to the doggie diet. According to a CNSNews.com story, they plan to launch English and Japanese-language websites in support of their cause, hold sampling parties for foreigners, and heavily promote the various pooch eateries located near World Cup venues.

The specter of the global village coming together to feast on house pets naturally has animal-rights activists apoplectic. Yet it is the animal-rights crowd, by trying to use the publicity and the economic clout of the World Cup to further its agenda, that has spurred the dog-eaters to go on the offensive.

French actress/activist Brigitte Bardot has spearheaded an international campaign to ban Korean dog-eating. American and British animal-rights groups have threatened to boycott the World Cup if the Korean government refuses to force its citizens to conform with Western dining standards. International Aid for Korean Animals, an Oakland-based group that loves dogs as companions, not lunch, is urging President George W. Bush to speak up in the puppies’ behalf during his visit to Seoul next month.

Even FIFA, soccer’s international governing organizationwhich has no moral qualms about kicking around a ball that’s stitched together from cows’ hideshas weighed in with a protest of its own.

All of which should make South Korea an interesting place this summer. On one side of the debate there will be Dr. Dogmeat and fellow canine aficionados, and on the other, Western animal-rights champions, who would toss the likes of Dr. Dogmeat into jail if only they could.

Then, as an aside, there will be the internal conflict of leftists world over, forced to choose between two of their most cherished orthodoxies: animal rights and cultural relativism. Does the loyal lefty side with the critters, or with the vaunted traditions of the non-western cultures he usually extols? It will be a crisis of conscience, indeed.

Technically eating dogs has been illegal in Korea ever since the country hosted the 1988 Olympics, but the law has been scarcely enforced since then. The ancient practice of beating or hanging dogs prior to slaughtering them (because adrenaline ostensibly makes the meat more tender) is aggressively prohibited, but it reportedly continues in some quarters.

Ironically the best way to stop such cruelty would be to lift the ban on canine-consumption altogether. That would take the practice out of the black market, and subject it to humane and hygienic government regulations. Far fewer dogs would suffer, but that doesn’t much appease activists like Bardot, who blanche at the very prospect of Rin-Tin-Tin as an appetizer.

Not that Bardot is alone in her uneasiness about turning dogs into chow.

Like most other Westerners, I have little interest in eating dog. Because I grew up with pooches as beloved pets, I’d have a hard time swallowing a serving of General Tso’s schnauzer without thinking of my childhood pals. If need be, I could probably get over my reluctance, provided that the meal weren’t a pup I’d ever met, and if it were served in something light and flavorful, say a tomato-based sauce. Still, it would never be my first choice off the menu.

But my distaste for dog is just that, a matter of taste. There’s no moral argument to be made against eating dogs as opposed to any of the other animals that regularly grace our dinner tables. Pigs are said to be no less intelligent than dogs; cows generally have a very sweet disposition; even chickens, their friends say, make for good company.

There are some foreign practices worth fighting againstChina’s barbaric one-child policy, slavery in the Sudan, female circumcision in Africabut Korean doggie-dining isn’t one of them. (If there’s an international sporting event that merits a boycott, it’s the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.)

What makes forced abortions, slavery, and genital mutilation very different from canine consumption, of course, is that their victims are humans. It’s humans alone who are endowed by their Creator with certain alienable rights, and humans alone whose lives demand our vigilant protection.

By lining up in defense of dogs, our most popular and beloved pets, animal-rights activists hope to blur that crucial distinction between man and beast. "Dogs are human friends, not animals for food," Bardot has said, "so eating dog meat is like eating humans."

Actually it’s not like eating humans at all. But in the service of their broader goals, animal-rights extremists hope they can elevate our cultural affinity for dogs to the level of a moral absolute. It’s the first step in a gradual process of convincing the world of PETA co-founder Ingrid Newkirk’s infamous dictum that "a rat is a pig is a boy is a dog."

And that’s far sicker than a bowl of dog soup.

Chris Weinkopf is an editorial writer and columnist for the Los Angeles Daily News. To read his weekly Daily News column, click here. E-mail him at chris.weinkopf@dailynews.com.

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