Dogs: Friend or Food?

Most delicious?
Most delicious?
Dear Bloody Dave,
I’m interested in trying a traditional, but quickly dying out, specialty in Taiwan called xiāng ròu (“fragrant meat”, 香肉, or “mutton of the earth”, 地羊 dì yáng) in Mandarin Chinese and “3-6 fragrant meat”, traditional Chinese: 三六香肉; fragrant meat). There’s one restaurant here in Miaoli where for about 400NT (about US$12) they specialize in dog meat. I wonder how they present it on their menu, advertise for it, cook it up and serve it.

A bartender here told me that as a child, a friend made it for her as a soup with Chinese scallions. She didn’t know what meat it was at the time, that xiang ro was something like a cold weather dish at the time, and “It tastes good, but I don’t like to eat dogs” (adding she had one at home). After all, it’s been only in the past decade or so when there were so many types of meat available; if you ask middle-aged Taiwanese people what meat they ate in their youth, it’s usually restricted to far fewer animals: small quail, dove, duck, sometimes chicken, pigs (if aboriginal, shan ju, mountain pig, and flying squirrel)…and the occasional dog. Not cat, for some reason, at all…

This is what I’m wondering, and can’t find an answer: what changed so that dog meat was no longer an accepted source of meat? To what extent was it determined by a scarcity of food, or types of meat available… and what part is from the growing notion that dogs are our ‘good friends’? And how did dogs go from source of food to good friends?

Any comments, questions, cute remarks?
Hungry in Miaoli

Dear Hungry,
When a country develops, certain things transfer from being a necessity to a luxury. Take bicycles for example. Twenty or 30 years ago, bicycles in Taiwan and certainly other parts of the world, were an almost essential form of transport. Now, people will endure looking like an absolute imbecile, dressed in Lycra and an aerodynamic helmet that puts Concorde to shame, just to get on a bicycle and tootle off down to Bitan for a Sunday afternoon of showing off. It’s the same with dogs.

At one time, all across the world, dogs were an indispensable part of a community, offering protection, aiding in hunting and in some cultures (but rarely), being used as food. Now, they are generally regarded as pets and a human companion – the intention for which they were bred (badger hunting in my example) no longer exists.

However, where dogs being a source of food is concerned in Chinese culture, I’m fairly sure that dogs offer a supposed benefit, probably based on the fact that you shouldn’t really eat them (think tiger feet or rhino nostrils). Anything in Chinese culture that you shouldn’t really eat suddenly becomes somehow beneficial to your health in some way, and dogs are no exception. Obviously, there is more to it than this, but you get my drift.

Anyway, a very interesting program I watched very recently in fact, might solve this question. However…I can’t find it. So I will have a look for it on the net and see if I can get it or provide a link.

One thought on “Dogs: Friend or Food?

  • November 8, 2010 at 5:48 pm

    Dogs have historically been emergency food sources for various peoples in Siberia, Alaska, northern Canada, and Greenland. Sled dogs are usually maintained for pulling sleds, but occasionally are eaten when no other food is available.

    British explorer Ernest Shackleton and his Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition became trapped, and ultimately killed their sled dogs for food. Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen was known to have eaten sled dogs during his expedition to the South Pole. By eating some of the sled dogs, he required less human or dog food, thus lightening his load. When comparing sled dogs to ponies as draught animals he also notes:

    “…there is the obvious advantage that dog can be fed on dog. One can reduce one’s pack little by little, slaughtering the feebler ones and feeding the chosen with them. In this way they get fresh meat. Our dogs lived on dog’s flesh and pemmican the whole way, and this enabled them to do splendid work. And if we ourselves wanted a piece of fresh meat we could cut off a delicate little fillet; it tasted to us as good as the best beef. The dogs do not object at all; as long as they get their share they do not mind what part of their comrade’s carcass it comes from. All that was left after one of these canine meals was the teeth of the victim – and if it had been a really hard day, these also disappeared.


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