By Kim Bartlett, Merritt Clifton
Recent developments signify that dog and cat meat industries of Southeast Asia, South Korea, and China may be approaching the beginning of their end, if current campaigns sustain present momentum. The dog and cat meat industries are vulnerable to eradication through a combination of factors, including rising education and affluence, the increasing popularity of keeping dogs and cats as household pets, and democratization of traditionally oligarchic and patriarchal societies, so that women and younger people––who are more likely to be sympathetic toward animals––have more say in what goes on.
The most influential factor, however, may be that eating dogs and cats was never as deeply and widely accepted in most of the places where dogs and cats are eaten now as industry defenders have argued and western activists have often believed.
Historically there have been parts of southern Asia where dogs and cats have been eaten for centuries and perhaps millennia, just as dogs have been eaten at times––and at times still are––on every other inhabited continent. Dog-eating documentedly occurred in northern coastal China, near the Korean peninsula, between about 400 and 189 BCE, but by the latter part of that time came to be regarded as a practice of criminals.
The 14th century Italian explorer Marco Polo mentioned specifically that the people of Kinsay, the city now known as Hangzhou, “eat every kind of flesh, even that of dogs and other unclean beasts, which nothing would induce a Christian to eat.” As cats were at the time viciously persecuted in Europe, by Papal decree, Marco Polo may have been describing cat consumption as well as dog-eating. Hangzhou is just north of Guangdong, the only place known to sustain high-volume traffic in cats for human consumption, and the only place where cats are openly part of a celebrated regional cuisine.
Though Marco Polo wrote extensively of the dietary habits of the other cities he visited in China, he did not mention that dogs or cats were eaten anywhere else. Neither did Marco Polo list dogs or cats among the 13 animal species he found offered for sale at the Hangzhou live market, a hint that while dogs and cats were eaten sometimes, they were not eaten often enough to be offered in commerce.
Dogs and sometimes cats have also long been eaten in the southern Chinese border provinces, in the most mountainous parts of Laos and northern Vietnam, and––in a ritualized form––among the Igorot people of the Philippines. More....