Today is bok day in Korea. Bok refers to the three days in summer on which Korea is the hottest. Traditionally, on bok days Korean people eat hot, boiling soup that is supposed to make you sweat and restore balance of your body. The favorite dishes of the bok days are samgyetang (chicken and ginseng soup) and boshintang (dog meat soup.)
The Korean's previous exposition on dog meat is here. Below is Mr. Hwang's take on boshintang, which shows how the dog meat debate is shaping up within Korea.
I wrote a column about dog meat in 2007, and received curses and insults that I have never faced in my life. Since then, I re-live that nightmare every year on bok day. I do not particularly want to rehash that event, but I re-post the columns that I wrote at that time because cowering in the face of insults would mean defeat. My thoughts on this issue remains the same today as it was when I wrote it. The columns were carried on Weekly Dong-A.
Chewy and Supple, the Best Health Food
(Weekly Dong-A, July 18, 2007)
Ever since I was born, my house always had a dog, be it a Jindo, Spitz or Poodle. I always had a pet dog even after I was married and had my own family. Currently my family raises a Yorkshire Terrier. My family and I have devoted a lot of affection for our dogs. If one happened to die, we would all sink in sorrow for days.
But I eat dog meat. (The rest of my family does not. The children are too young for dog meat just yet, and I never suggest it to my wife since she never eats it.) I do not eat it just for the sake of health; I eat it for the flavor, like the way I eat beef or pork. When my coworkers or clients ask, "Should we go have some meat?", I instinctively associate the "meat" to include dog meat. I am sure most middle-aged men are the same way as I, particularly during summer.
For people like myself who loves dogs as well as dog meat, there is a historical document that provides comfort. (Don't we love it when something is written down somewhere?) Bonchogangmok, the leading book of ancient oriental medicine, categorizes dogs into three groups based on use: "The first is a hunting dog; the second is a guard dog/home dog; the third is a meat dog. Dog raises the yang of the body, heals the five fatigues and seven injuries, aids blood flow and warms the waist and the hips. It is good for illnesses that cause loss of appetite; it also brightens one's eyes..." These categories are still useful today. As long as we avoid misusing a home dog as a meat dog, they are very helpful toward alleviating the dilemma of being a dog-loving, dog-meat-gourmand.
Inability to distinguish dogs for a pet from dogs for food really hinders the enjoyment of dog meat. Imagine boshintang restaurant listing the items by breed, such as "Sheppard soup -- $ 9", "Yorkshire Terrier soup - $ 7", "Jindo soup - $ 10". Even a person who does not have a pet dog would have a hard time adjusting to that.
The term boshintang ("body-helping soup") itself was a strategy to subdue the imagery of pets when the word "dog" is mentioned. Reportedly, the term boshintang was coined during the Rhee Syngman administration; traditionally, the name used was either gaejang or gujang ("dog soup"). The administration forbade the use of the term gaejang or gujang because it thought that foreigners would consider the dog-eating habit to be primitive. As the name boshintang became widely known for its true meaning, other names like yeongyangtang ("nutrition soup") or sacheoltang ("four-season soup") were used as well.
The names boshintang, yeongyangtang and sacheoltang imply that dog meat is good for your health. Most Koreans who enjoy dog meat believe that dog meat would benefit their health. I believe that foreigners consider dog meat consumption as "primitive" at least partly because they are critical of Koreans' obsession over health.
But should dog meat be had only because of its supposed health benefits? To my palate, dog meat is a very delicious meat. It does not have as much umami as beef, but it outshines beef in its lean texture and subtle, unique aroma. In particular, the grease from dog meat is much lighter, which makes the flavor fresh and clear. The meat with skin has an elegant combination of chewiness and suppleness.
I do, however, have a lot of issues with the restaurants that serve this delicious meat. Many of them serve meat in the color of tree barks, limp vegetables that are too green and too dark at the same time and unappetizing broth. The pot and the gas burner are riddled with soup stains, as are the table and the cushions. The interior smells damp and the lighting is dim, giving off an unhygienic vibe. I think this atmosphere partially contributes to the trend in which women tend not to enjoy dog meat. It is said that food is 70 percent atmosphere, 30 percent flavor. There is no reason why dog meat cannot be enjoyed in a presentable format served at a clean, upscale interior.
Recently, boshin.com, a website selling dog meat online, was summarily closed after receiving unfavorable and angry Internet attention. Even though the website might have enabled people to enjoy boshintang in the clean atmosphere of one's own home instead of in an unhygienic restaurant, dog meat remains in the center of controversy.
Food Cannot be Immoral
(Weekly Dong-A, August 1, 2007)
I am going through some truly unbelievable events. In my column last week I wrote that I eat dog meat; now I am a target of all kinds of insult. I would just ignore the online comments on the column itself, blaming the crass Internet culture. But now I am receiving emails with insults. I am considering filing a police report.
I had no intention of starting a debate with dog meat abolitionists. As a food columnist who eats dog meat, I merely wrote a column about food that many Koreans eat. I do see a point in what dog meat abolitionists are arguing, since they may see it disgusting to eat an animal that is close to people. But that position cannot be the universal truth.
It is violence to fling insults and threats to dog meat-eaters, screaming that "You should not eat dog meat because I do not eat dog meat." That people who do not maintain the most basic respect to fellow humans force other people to respect dogs is incredibly wrong. I, a dog meat eater, have no intention to force-feed it to dog meat abolitionist, as much as I have no intention to force-feed pork to my Muslim friend.
As I study Korea's food culture, I feel that there is a certain attitude of cultural superiority within a certain class of our society. The people who consider themselves to be in a higher class has a tendency to eat different things, as if to show off, "You can't eat this, can you?" But lately, this distinction has slowly eroded as restaurant industry developed. Food has been democratized, such that the dishes that were only available in five-star hotel restaurants are now cheaply available at any franchise restaurant. This trend hampers their strategy to distinguish themselves through food. I believe that the dog meat controversy is a part of the new strategy -- to highlight their superiority by looking down upon what others eat.
The reason why I think the dog meat abolitionists are the same with Korean society's cultural aristocracy is because of their rationale that dog meat is immoral. Food can be neither moral nor immoral, as much as a lettuce cannot be categorized as moral or immoral. But they seek to categorize moral humans and immoral ones on the basis of whether one eats or does not eat dog meat. This is how they reconfirm to themselves that they are on a morally superior position.
I will reiterate that dog meat abolitionists have a point. There is no culture that must be preserved absolutely at all cost. Culture changes over time. Not long ago, dog meat was a "seasonal dish for healthy summer," but now many have come to regard it it as repulsive due to the pet dog culture that flourished in the last decade. Consider how long it has been in Korea since people started raising dogs inside the house -- for Koreans, the culture of dogs for meat is several thousands of years old, while the culture of pet dogs only a decade. But currently, the pet dogs have the upper hand in popular culture. The trend will almost certainly reduce the population of those who eat dog meat in the future. This change does not depend on the idea of whether or not dog meat is moral or immoral; it only depends on the idea of dog meat is edible or inedible.
The cultural difference regarding food has a potential to cause a lot of damage, because food strongly reflects the cultural identity of those who enjoy it. So please, dog meat abolitionists, stop with the insults and charges of immorality just because there is a difference in opinion. Just loving your own dog is enough to slowly phase out the dog meat eating culture.
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