When I was in Korea I knew that I wanted to try eating dog for the experience, but that I was apprehensive to do so. So one day when my director said to my co-worker and I that he would take us to eat dog, I was more than a little nervous.

He took us to what he said was a particularly good restaurant for dog which was located in a small town near to mine which seems to almost deserted, something which only added to the surreality of the situation. We went down a run-down, narrow alley way and into a little courtyard where we knocked on a dirty screen door. A little old ajumma let us in, casting a sideways glance at us foreigners.

Boshintang (which is where the dog-meat is cooked in a stew) was simply listed as “tang” (or soup) on the menu. As we waited for the stew to arrive we noticed that the proprietor’s husband had only one arm, something which made us wonder whether it was he himself that slaughtered the dogs and that he had on one occasion been on the receiving end of a particularly vicious cocker-spaniel’s manifested desire to live. To make things worse, there was a mangy cat sitting outside with a contented look on its face.

At last the food arrived and, with hesitation, we got stuck in. The meat was tender, and tasted a lot like beef. It was, I must admit, pretty good. The problem was that with every chew, all I could hear in my head was “dog, dog, dog, dog, dog”. I ate maybe a third of the stew, but my co-worker faired much better, finishing most of his. My director ate with much gusto and had finished his before very long at all. We left and I felt a greasy, queasiness in my stomach for the rest of the day, though whether that was to do with the meat or the knowledge that I had eaten dog remains to be seen. I can say with certainty that I did not feel anymore energetic because of eating it.

Today, both the sale and the procurement of dog-meat (known as GaeGogi) is illegal in Korea, but it is not policed with any stringency. It is estimated that around 9.000 tons are consumed in around 6,500 restaurants every year. When Seoul hosted the Olympic games in 1988, the government urged its citizens to cease the consumption of dog so as to save national face in front of the international press.

It would be easy to look down on the consumption dog meat from a western perspective. But is that simply because we have grown accustomed to viewing dogs as pets than as dinner? Opinion polls amongst younger Koreans certainly indicate an aversion to dog meat based on these grounds. It seems logical to assume that this attitude goes hand in hand with the rise in dog-as-a-pet ownership in Korea over the last decade or so.

A Korean friend was telling me recently that the traditional reason for eating dog was essentially down to a lack of cattle and other farm animals in the past. If you have the choice – he said- between eating dog and starving, what would you do? That this attitude does not translate to modern times because of the freely-available abundance of other meats is, I think, a moot point. If you remove the attitude of dogs as pets from the equation then there really is little other reason not to eat dog if you are perfectly willing to eat other (sometimes more intelligent) animals such as pigs. I remember realising even as I ate dog that my slight sense of repulsion was massively hypocritical.

This is true also about the rumoured nature of how the dogs are killed-they are beaten to death with a bat (supposedly so as to tenderise the meat). The official national line on this is that it doesn’t happen anymore, but then eating dog is meant to be illegal anyway. It would surprise me greatly if this practice had been entirely stamped out. But even then, if the dogs are slaughtered in this horrific manner, is that still a just reason to not eat dog, but to continue eating other animals? We are all aware of the conditions at most intensive farms in the west, and the suffering of the animals there, but we persist with the illusion that it is somehow necessary, or at least, that it is easy enough to disenfranchise ourselves from the meat-making process without breaking out in too much of a moral sweat.

In all likelihood the consumption of dog meat in Korea will continue to decline in the near future as younger generations brought up in prosperity and with the notion of dogs as being pets will reject their traditional heritage. For the time being however, perhaps attitudes towards the consumption of dog-meat serve as an interesting counterpoint to the majority attitude in the west towards meat in general.

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