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Dog Meat Debate In The Seoul South Korea Sociology Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 3182 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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This article dissects the long-running dog meat debate in the Seoul, South Korea. The paper begins with a brief background, summarizing the history of dog meat specifically to the Korean culture. The paper then moves on to discuss the dog industry specific to the Seoul Olympics of 1984 along with the 2002 FIFA games. From then on, one will read how the controversy affects Seoul dogs in particular, dog owners, restaurants, and the government. Throughout the paper, the reader will note the thoughts concerning Koreans in favor of dog meat consumption as well as the Koreans against the eating of dog meat.

Seoul, South Korea: Man’s Best Friend or Man’s Best Meal?

“I like eating dog meat soup when I feel burnt out” said a graduate student referring to herself as Yang. This student believes that the soup recharges her energy, aiding her to make it through the intense Seoul summer (Ji-sook, 2006, p. 1). Others believe that dog meat provides other medical benefits, such as increasing stamina, reducing sweat in the summer, and warming ones blood during the winter. Also, dog meat is said to aid in healing, and most importantly, when referring to Korean men, dog meat makes the male more virile (KARA: The History, p. 3). Regardless whether or not these myths hold any truth, dog meat consumption has sparked up quite the controversy surrounding nearly 20 million citizens existing in Seoul, South Korea.

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The thousands in favor of dog consumption claim that Posintang, or dog meat soup, as well as many other traditional dog meals, have largely been a part of their Korean culture. According to Podberscek, dog meat originated from the era of Samkug (Three Kingdoms), 57 BC to AD 676. However, after this period, dog meat fell in popularity as Buddism grew, becoming the state religion during the Koryo Dynasty (918-1392). During the Chosen Dynasty, lasting from 1392 to 1910, Confucianism became the state ideology, creating a striahgt path for the return of dog meat (Podberscek, 2009, p. 619).

Likewise, there have also been many types of art and scripture found supporting the ideology of dog meat in the Korean culture. During the 4th century, a mural was found in the tumulus named Go-gu-ryeo An-ak 3, one of the tombs at Koguryo. The mural showed a dog hanging alongside wild pigs, and a sheep or deer, in the process of being slaughtered. Dog meat also appeared in Myung era pharmaceutical text, along with the Chosun period medical encyclopedia, and the book of manners all from the same era. Summing up the traditionalist views, dogs in Seoul, along with the rest of South Korea, were never bred for pets and companionship. The dogs were not likely seen as possible workers, for example, being used to herd sheep. Dogs in this area were likely used for the sole purpose of food, categorized as livestock (KARA: The History, p. 2).

“A Korean tradition, well let’s say that it is a Chinese tradition that was copied by Koreans at some stage.” Here is word for word the thought of animal rights advocates. Scholars agree that the Chinese have eaten dog meat for the past 7,000 years. China’s trade most active in the past arose from the Korean province named Choong-cheong. Because of these facts, many in favor for the illegalization of dog meat believe that Seoul has only copied the past cultural traditions of others (KARA: The History, p. 1).

Human remains that date back nearly 2,000 years ago were found lying next to the remains of a dog in the Sacheon area of Gyung-sang Province. Once the analysis was finished, it became apparent that the dog had been buried after that of the human, suggesting that the dog was considered like family to that particular person. Likewise, images in paintings from the Chosun period depict dogs as pets and food sources. Many Koreans will insist that the eating of dog meat became popular in the twentieth century, stemming from other cultures, and not their own (KARA: The History, p. 1).

If any disapproval of dog meat had evolved from the past, it managed to disappear during the Korean War (1950-1953). During these years, people were faced with many food shortages, leading to the consumption of dog meat for protein. Later, in the 1980’s, the issue of eating dog resurfaced in the form of international condemnation. By June of 1984, the Food Sanitation Law confirmed that restaurants could not sell any food deemed to be “disgusting, repugnant, unhealthy, or unsanitary.” Dog meat then fell under this category, along with snakes, lizards, and worms. Violators of the law were told that they would first receive one warning without penalty, and then a seven day suspension of business concerning each particular offence committed. The city of Seoul adopted a code banning dog met as “disgusting food,” however this law was never exposed nor enforced (Podberscek, 2009, p. 620).

During the year of 1988, Seoul hosted the Olympic Games, where the dog meat issue received much international publicity and ridicule. Like mentioned earlier, the Seoul government had previously banned the consumption of dog meat, however, it was poorly, if at all, enforced. With foreigners enraged, the Korean government scrambled quickly, doing whatever possible to demonstrate that Seoul was up to “international standards.” The government banned doggie dishes from the menu, while also teaching their waiters to encourage customers who wanted the dog dinner to order something else. The result of this was Korea’s first animal welfare and legislation laws under the Animal Welfare Law of 1991. This law considered dogs as “domestic pets”; however, these laws had the same impact as the laws before. The Animal Welfare Law was only an attempt to blindside the rest of the world to what was really taking place. Due to little change in the dog meat industry, the world continued to put the Korean government under pressure to lift its Animal Welfare Law to international standards (KARA: The History, p. 2).

According to the Korea Times, located in the heart of Seoul, controversy was said to heat up again as Seoul co-hosted the 2002 FIFA World Cup Finals with Japan. FIFA unofficially asked the Korean government to hold back from selling dog meat; however, they were turned down. Local dog meat restaurant owners planned to provide foreigners with the chance to sample the dog meat itself. A group of about 150 members, known as the National Dog Meat Restaurants Association, were the head of this master plan, all of whom sell dog meat in their own restaurants. They explained how visitors would be able to taste free samples of various dog meat dishes, which would be distributed near the World Cup stadiums in Seoul (Korea Times: World, 2002, pp. 1-2).

The overall goal here, as stated by Park Song-soo, head of the association, exclaimed “We decided to hold the event to help legitimize the consumption of dog meat and change foreigners’ prejudice against our culinary culture” (Korea times: World, 2002, p. 1). Samples were handed out in cups along with leaflets summarizing the nutritional benefits to dog meat. Those foreigners that showed favorable responses during the tasting were asked to serve as volunteers for the next days of the Seoul World Cup Games. A member of the association known as Choi-Han-kwon stated “by receiving help form foreign volunteers, World Cup visitors will be able to consider dog meat in a more positive manner, while communicating more easily” (Korea times: World, 2002, p. 1). At that time, dog meat restaurant owner’s strongly engaged in campaigns to help promote canine cuisine to the city’s foreigners’ (Korea times: World, 2002, p. 1).

In one specific case, Seoul restaurants decided to gather together and create the “National Dog Meat Restaurants Association.” Their overall goal is to fight against the government crackdowns and current criticisms. The owners announced that they will “launch efforts for legitimizing the consumption of dog meat while making sure the entire procedure of breeding, distributing and processing of local dogs is carried out in a sanitary, scientific and effective way.” Officials at the state-owned telephone giant said that their telephones were ringing off the hook. One call after another, full of complaints from animal lovers, some of whom even threatening to boycott Korea Times, the local Seoul newspaper, if they agreed to host the dog meat association. Choi Han-kwon, the main organizer of the association, said that it is time for them to openly promote the positive aspects of the cuisine culture, rather than continuing to cover up the issue. Clearly, the issue was not going away on its own (Korea Times: Dog Meat, 2002, pp. 1-2).

With certainty, the entire campaign held in Seoul riled up many animal rights activists around the world. Many of these critics are specifically concerned with the ways in which these dogs are killed (Gluck, 2002, pp. 1-2). Dogs are commonly electrocuted for their deaths; however, many are killed in an illegal, inhumane way. There is a common belief in Seoul that the dog meat tastes much better if the animal has a high level of adrenaline in their meat before they are pronounced dead. In short, this means that many dogs are deliberately made to experience extreme fear and suffering in the lead up to their deaths. Therefore, some dogs are hanged while being beaten as they are still alive, until they reach their death. Others are hanged while experiencing a blow torch to their bodies to remove the hair, while still alive. Others are simply beaten and tortured to death. The controversy refuses to disappear (KARA: Current, 2009, p. 1).

It is important to remember that although these inhumane things may go on, many people in Seoul do not contribute in such nauseating, cruel incidences. According to Dr. Kim Seong-kon, an author of The Korea Herald newspaper in Seoul, only a very small percent of people repeatedly eat dog meat. As of 2003, most Korean women despise dog flesh, as well as any who take part in the action. Likewise, the majority of Korean men are not interested in the canine cuisine, nor would the majority of them enjoy or take part in the gruesome death of the dog. Many Koreans in Seoul are worried for their country’s reputation and disappointed in their Governments actions and indifference to westerners. Many feel that this attitude has ruined their unusual culinary tradition, while agreeing that there are no excuses for those who choose to cruelly slaughter the dogs (Seong-kon, 2003, p. 1).

As a couple years went on by, it seems as though the situation is still a “hot potato.” A local movie director, Kim Sun-rye, is reaching out to many, in hopes of persuading people to stop eating dog meat. She states that “we are over-nourished and yet are trying to supply unnecessary thing into our bodies by taking other lives” (Ji-sook, 2006, p. 1). She explains to others how her experience with breeding pets allowed her to understand much about life, and taught her that eating dogs is a selfish act. While many others believe that there are certain dogs bred for eating and certain dogs bred for pets. Many Seoul residents are neither proud nor ashamed of this fact (Ji-sook, 2006, p. 1).

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In a 2006 survey done by KBS Radio, 35.6 percent of dog owners said that they themselves eat “poistang,” or dog meat soup. The percentage of people who ate dog meat soup most often were the ones who had pet dogs for a long duration of time. Like mentioned earlier, many eat dog meat soup only when they feel exhausted. Bae Ji-sook, a renowned author for the Korean Times tells the story of a local woman. The woman explained how she breeds dogs at her home, having acquired them for years. However, she says it has nothing to do with eating dog meat soup. She doesn’t eat her dogs, she loves them. She, like many others, believes there’s different kinds of dogs bred for food. 85.1 percent of the radio respondents were for eating the soup, saying that they believed it was a personal manner, and a part of Korean culture. Many, who said they were against the eating of canine cuisine, said that dog was a bad taste and brings hatred unto others (Ji-Sook, 2006, p. 1).

Becoming more and more obvious, dogs in Seoul, South Korea have quite extreme fates. Some of them are eaten, while some of them are abused beyond imagination. However, some of them are treated like a humans own child. Yes, it’s true, some Koreans cannot do enough for their dog. A pet dog rage is spreading in Seoul, which is starting to become as popular as the dog soup itself.

Many foreigners that visit the large city notice right away that there are two kinds of pet dogs. The first kind is a dog tied to a leash all day, surviving in such a small area, an area even too small for a chair. This type of dog is a household pet in name only. These dogs receive no love, no attention, and no room for play. They freeze in the extreme cold and become quickly dehydrated in the hot Seoul summer sun. The second type of dog is the smallest of them all. They are dogs such as Chihuahua’s, Miniature Poodles, Shih Tzus, and so on. These small dogs are popular mainly among the middle class because they are both expensive and small. The owners, being mostly female, carry these little ones everywhere they go. They bring them into restaurants, subways, and shopping malls. With such an outrage of pet dogs in Seoul, the government has managed to issue a set of health regulations governing the dog meat industry. The government now taking action, has once again, brought the Korean cuisine back in the hot seat (Huer, 2009, p. 1).

With focus back on the cuisine, the Seoul government set plans to inspect the sanitation of dog meat served in local restaurants. During the inspection, the researchers took samples from 530 restaurants and examined each one carefully for harmful substances. Under the current Seoul law, it is illegal to butcher dog and sell their meat as if they were livestock. However, the government claims that it has been unable to regulate the sale of dog meat because it is part of a “long-rooted private Korean culture” (Tae-jong, 2008, p. 1). Dogs at that time were categorized in the same group as donkeys, rabbits, horses, and deer, which do not enable the government to apply proper regulations for livestock to the killing and trading of dog (Tae-jong, 2008, p. 1).

As dogs are not currently listed as livestock, there are no legal grounds authorities can take to regulate dog meat in restaurants and those who breed them for human consumption. Dog farms have specifically been a main cause for such pollution issues. Immense amounts of dog excretions are dumped into the water and soil, made possible by the lack of regulations. This issue led to the revised law known as Livestock Night Soil Disposal Act, requiring dog farmers with amenities of 60 square meters or larger to acquire proper waste disposal facilities. The farmers must also report these disposals to local authorities (Tae-jong, 2008, pp.1-2).

Animal Rights Activists also have strong feelings concerning dog farms. Most of the dogs live in very small cages lifted above the ground. The owners of the farm fit as many dogs as possible into the cages, leaving the dogs with little space to move. Because they are kept in cages, the dogs lack time to play, run, and mingle with their companions. Many pups are separated from their mothers too early in life and slaughtered. The dogs are also kept outside; forcing them to endure whatever extreme weather may come their way. This means some end up dying of heat exhaustion, or freeze to death. Sadly, many of these dogs are also not fed well; most of them consume kimchi, meaning human food waste. The canines receive limited amounts of water and are known to have their eardrums burst t o prevent them from barking. Not all dog farms are like this; however, most are due to the lack of governmental regulations (KARA: Current 2009, p. 1).

In 2008, Seoul began sanitation inspections of all restaurants that serve dog meat. During this four day inspection, authorities randomly chose 30 restaurants and checked their storage bins of ingredients, as well as hygiene conditions. Some restaurant owners feared that the inspection might cause a severe downfall in business, for dog meat was in the peak season. One owner stated “We have been in bad business and it worries me that the inspection will keep out guests from dining here. We do our best to serve delicious and safe dishes” (Tae-jong, 2008, 1).

This move was seen as an official recognition of dog meat as food, since it was currently not listed as livestock (Tae-jong, 2008, 1). However, city officials said that the inspection does not mean that the government is acknowledging dog meat as food. The inspection is however, the first in Seoul in about 20 years; therefore it can be seen as an attempt (Tae-jong, 2008, 1).

Currently, local authorities in Seoul say that “they have had enough of fudging the legal issues and say they will attempt to bring dogs bred for meat at last under the banner of livestock.” The whole issue is chiefly ignored, and an estimated 500 dog meat restaurants operate in Seoul alone (Anger, 2009, 1). Seoul is also urging the central government to do the same across all of South Korea. This will help Koreans to rest assured that the meat they eat from canines is safe and healthy. Also, they can be hopeful that the dog was humanely reared and slaughtered.

Korean Animal Rights Activists, as well as other animal lovers in the world, see the issue completely different. In their opinion, banning dog meat is the best way to protect people from dog-meat related illnesses, as well as protecting people’s pet dogs from ending up as dog meat. Also, the banning of dog meat is the most successful way to stop the horrible cruelties and suffering dogs in Seoul must endure from birth to death (KARA: Current, p. 4).

President Lee Myung-bak stated, “If dog does become classed as livestock and an existing South Korean law that safeguards the human treatment of animals is enforced, I can’t see how anyone can complain. He says that Western cooks regularly shish-kebob Bambi – an absolute affront to the mightily lobby for the cute in East Asia” (Fitzpatrick, 2009, 1). As Michael Fitzpatrick, author of Seoul Food puts it, “to ask South Koreans to stop eating dog meat after it is regulated as livestock would be a case of plain old cultural superiority, wouldn’t it?”


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