Dog soup for the soul
Let me say right off the bat that I love dogs. I love them enough to feed them leftovers still consumable for humans. I love them enough to give them pensive kisses on the head and let them give me sloppy kisses on the hands, arms, neck and face. Dog owners who let their dogs lick their mouths give me the willies, but I can’t deny that a few silver-tongued devil dogs have slipped me the tongue while I was off my guard. I no longer cry when a dog I’ve loved dies (because there’ve been so many dogs I’ve loved), but when a good dog dies in a movie I find myself fighting tears of wholesome sentiment. I might even love dogs enough to put my own person in minimal physical danger to save one of them.
Nevertheless, I ate dog soup last Saturday, and it was scrumptious. Don’t freak out.
I’ve resided in Korea for the past six years, and Korea has a history of indulging in canine flesh. Its popularity is in decline as dogs increasingly occupy the home and heart instead of the pen and plate, but it must be understood: In a country where meat used to be a delicacy and grazing animals like cattle, sheep, goats and pigs were few or non-existent, hearty dog and seafood became main protein staples. Nowadays it’s still on restaurant menus, so I gave it a shot.
But before some of you get squeamish, let it be known that I did not eat anyone’s pet. Dogs intended for the boiling pot have no other destiny but the boiling pot — they’re born and raised for this purpose, just like cows and chickens, just like other livestock. Thus, my sensibilities against animal cruelty are not offended by dog meat. I believe animals are here to serve humanity and that humanity has the responsibility to treat them with respect and wise management. As long as we’re not causing them undue harm in the process, eating animals that are in great supply doesn’t infringe upon these directives. For me, treating animals humanely means treating them as if we are human, not as if they were.
Still, I get it. There are a lot of nasty things associated with dog meat, like the tendency to beat the poor animal just before slaughter to release adrenaline and other hormones into the muscle, thereby increasing the flavor and “invigorating power” for consumers. Even though this practice is reportedly not popular anymore, you may still wonder how I can claim to love dogs and yet willingly (and enjoyably) consume part of one.
Animal lover, not animal love
The answer is twofold. First, I don’t really love dogs. I like and enjoy dogs’ company. I think they’re cute and useful. I think the dog-owning culture has the potential to be a healthy and formative aspect of human culture. But I don’t really love dogs because I know what real love is — the willingness to both live and die for another — and I won’t do that for a dog. Love for dogs as in love for pizza, and love for the sun.
Furthermore, dogs are animals like any other, and if you’re going to eat animals you should consider dogs as a possible food source. They most certainly hold a cherished place in many human hearts, including my own, but this is a cultural phenomenon, not a universal one. I’m not a person who would argue that a practice is justified simply because of its cultural roots — some cultural roots need to be dug up and burnt to a fine crisp, then sent on an express trajectory to the farthest reaches of outer space — however, in this case I think some leniency is warranted.
So, eat some dog soup if you want, because when in Korea … well, you know.
Dog soup is denoted by different names — bosintang (보신탕), boyangtang (보양탕), sacheoltang (사철탕) and yeongyangtang (영양탕) — and it’s more readily available in the hottest parts of the year, in the “dog days” of summer. It’s cheap and easily accessible, but if you do choose to enjoy some dog meat, remember that it isn’t legally recognized as food in Korea, and as such it’s not as carefully monitored for sanitation. Eat at your own risk.