WHY DO KOREANS EAT DOGS?
It wasn’t until very recently that samgyetang became synonymous with “health food.” There always had been an undisputed No. 1 king – boshintang 보신탕. The soup, which uses dog meat as its main ingredient, has been believed to provide rich nutrients to the heat-weary Koreans while promoting stamina, as the name “invigorating soup” implies (the original name is gaejangguk 개장국 (“dog soup”), and boshintang is one of the less direct/offensive names people used). The soup is very similar to another Korean dish, yukgaejang 육개장 (made with shredded beef with scallions, fernbrakes, onions, and gochugaru (chili powder).
Nongshim Soup Bowl Noodle Hot and Spicy [Amazon] – Try this ramyun noodles version of yukgaejang.
What is Boshintang 보신탕? Sacheoltang 사철탕? Yeongyangtang 영양탕?
However, with the hosting of international events such as the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics, voices grew for establishing a food culture that conforms to the global standard, mostly fueled by the condemnation from the Western media. As a result, boshintang restaurants had to take a renaming strategy into consideration because of city-wide ban and crackdowns of such “abominable food.” They chose to use different names such as yeongyangtang 영양탕 (“nutrition soup”) or sacheoltang 사철탕 “four-season soup” to stay off the radar. And this is when saymgyetang found the opportunity to jump in and become the successor to the throne, which used to be an alternative option for those who didn’t want to choose boshintang.
Today, boshingtang still maintains its existence, especially in the rural parts of Korea, but voices opposing dog meat are louder than ever. Partly due to the unsanitary environment and inhumane methods in the slaughter process, but the dramatic shift in the perception towards the domesticated animals, from livestock to family members has been the driving force. Considering that there are over 10 million pet owners in Korea, such change seems totally natural. And at this rate, many project that boshintang will soon disappear in Korea.
HISTORY OF DOG MEAT CONSUMPTION AROUND THE WORLD
While Korea has been widely perceived as the only country in the world that eats dog meat (again, up your marketing/PR game, Korea!), there were and are many countries that ate and are still eating it in other parts of the world (hats off to Korea for taking the rap for other countries?). For example, in mainland China, over 20 million dogs are slaughtered for meat every year. In Taiwan, dog meat consumption used to be allowed, but was outlawed in 2001, and a law banning all consumption was passed in 2017. In the markets in Vietnam and the Philippines, dog meat is sold as regional delicacies.
Even in Europe, which vehemently opposes eating dog meat, there is a historical record of consuming dog meat, as part of the food culture, but mostly as an emergency source of food to survive special circumstances such as famine and war. Whatever the case, the most important thing is that these countries have a long history of banning dog meat from being sold and consumed, and are also calling for other countries to join in the battle for better treatment of animals. Dog meat advocates argue that it’s an imposition of Western culture on their unique food culture, but this argument is losing steam.
To understand, it would be meaningful to explore how dog meat became a popular ingredient in the history of many countries, including Korea. First, cows were the most important farming tool and asset in agricultural countries and thus the slaughtering was regulated by law. Although beef consumption was quite substantial, it was difficult for ordinary people to enjoy unless it was a special occasion like someone’s birthday or a wedding. What about pigs? Pigs were also not a common food ingredient because it was a difficult animal to raise in private homes because what they eat completely overlapped with what people eat and they eat a lot (double the food expense!). They also provided no use for an agricultural society.
Naturally, the ideal candidates for meat were limited to chickens and dogs. But because chickens are small in size and lay eggs every day, it made more sense to take eggs everyday than to eat them. Considering all that, dogs were a choice left for meat. If it’s any consolation, most of the dogs consumed for meat are the yellow mongrel breed named hwanggu 황구 or nureonggi 누렁이 “yellow one,” which is raised specifically for meat. As previously mentioned, with the abundance of other meat alternatives and improvements in animal rights, dog meat consumption is rapidly decreasing.