Dog meat: a matter of cultural dissonance, not cruelty

Dog videos make their way around Facebook faster than you can say ‘inspiration porn.’ One more serious story I’ve seen recently is the tale of dogs rescued from Korean meat farms and repatriated west for adoption.  Even as a ridiculously overbearing dog-owner, a longtime vegetarian, and a total nut about the animal trade, I consider this story a total joke.


Dozens of rescued pups were brought to North America, while six dogs made their way to the UK. According to the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, Canadian shelters took in 35,000 dogs in 2015, and nearly twice as many cats. Why are we importing pets from abroad for the purpose of “rescue” when shelters already struggle to meet the needs of the neglected and abused animals in their care?


The initial outrage of the story the thing that makes it such a point of interest, and such a rallying point for drastic action comes from the shock we’re inclined to feel toward the idea of dogs being farmed for meat. But what seems ridiculous in the Western world of Lassie, Air Bud, and Paw Patrol is actually quite normalized elsewhere; our negative attitude toward eating dog meat is prejudice at its best.


Take China, for instance, a country where dog meat is just the tip of the culinary iceberg. When an estimated 134 million of your country’s people face hunger and 10% of your nation’s children suffer from stunted growth despite leaps and bounds in recent years, the cold-hearted truth is that dogs are easy and inexpensive to raise, and they offer nutrition to those who may have no other alternative.


Of course, the industrialization of animals’ lives, which places financial gain over animal well-being, is definitely an issue to discuss. Unethical farming practices, such as starving animals or cramming them in inhumane cages, are prevalent in the dog meat trade, and the health hazards of improperly handled meat (such as rabies) are undeniable.  


However, pointing out the cruelty of dog meat means pointing fingers at the meat industry as a whole, which includes beef, pork, and chicken and has its problems even on North American farms.  Shutting down inhumane dog farms in Asia and Africa does absolutely nothing to address the wider problem of unethical farming. Instead, it allows misinformed animal rights activists to point the finger away from home, rather than consider their own dinner plates more deeply.


The idea of consuming dog meat is so provoking because of our cultural links to dogs as companions, best friends, movie stars, service animals, and much more a link I understand and feel very deeply myself. But no matter how easy it is to apply our values abroad, it’s a risky and short-sighted practice especially if the conversation doesn’t start with asking ourselves how good we really are at taking care of animals.