&: Dog meat

A draft law introduced earlier this month would drop dog from a list of accepted domestic livestock.

I have my own prejudices about eating dog meat: since the pictures of mistreated animals and mishandled meat, and all the hanging carcasses of mismatched breeds are usually from the south, where they seem to treat dog as just another novelty meat, it wouldn’t be undesirable to ban breeding and consumption south of the Huai River. It’s only prejudice, though. There’s something that feels right about eating braised dog meat in the rugged northern hinterland; it feels decadent in the tropical south.

There's nothing wrong with eating dogs, but it feels like it’s rubbing it in the face of sentimental but good-natured people to celebrate it. I had a dog as a kid.

I’m not sentimental about meat.

I learned to field dress a deer when I was maybe nine or ten. I learned how you slice around the deer’s asshole, around its balls, then up its belly, taking care not to go deep enough to prick the guts, then set the knife at the bottom of the ribcage and kick it up through the sternum. White-tail season is always late enough into winter that there’s snow on the ground, so it feels like you’re working in sterile conditions, everything blanketed in white cotton... I had a job at a slaughterhouse the first time I dropped out of university. By the time the cows got to my station, where we took the head off, secured the esophagus, and clipped the front hooves off, they looked like meat already. But I sometimes got to see the cattle come down the chute into the knocking station, where two men with hockey helmets with cages stained brown by tobacco spit drove bolts into their foreheads.

I worked in a restaurant where we broke down whole pigs once a week.

Fan Kuai 樊哙 is the patron god of butchers.

There is a story that when Liu Bang 刘邦 was a boy, long before he became the first emperor of the Han, he lived in Peixian 沛县, and Fan Kuai sold dog meat there. Liu Bang ate the dog meat without paying for it, and eventually, trying to salvage his business, he relocated to the other side of the river. When Liu Bang realized that his source of free dog meat was gone, he tried to get a ferry across the river, but couldn’t manage to get a ride. Along came a soft-shelled turtle, which Liu Bang rode across the river. Fan Kuai, blaming the turtle for carrying Liu Bang across, grabbed a knife, killed the reptile, and tossed it into his cook pot. Liu Bang took Fan Kuai’s knife and dumped it into the river. Since he knew he wouldn’t be able to cut up the dog meat, Fan Kuai decided to give the meat a longer braise, so that it could be stripped from the bone with his fingers. The longer cooking time, as well as the addition of the turtle, made for Fan Kuai’s best dog meat ever.

Fan Kuai ended up marrying one of Liu Bang's sisters-in-law, and served as his advisor. There’s a statue of Liu Bang in Xuzhou, not too far away from Peixian. I don’t think there’s a statue of Fan Kuai.

The first time I ate dog meat, it was from Fan Kuai’s recipe, minus the soft-shelled turtle. They still make it with soft-shelled turtle sometimes—yuánzhī gǒuròu 鼋汁狗肉—but that wasn’t what I had. It was in Xuzhou, on the south side of the Feihuang River, which could have been the one Liu Bang crossed. There’s a Papa John's and a Starbucks and a Quanjude there now, but fifteen years ago, it was pretty much just a continuation of the rough neighborhood that stretched down from the central railway station. I’d been up to Up on Dama Lu, where it seemed like the only commerce was taking place in the concrete cubes where dark-skinned girls in oily makeup cracked sunflower seeds in the doorways, and I’d seen the the stalls selling dog meat, braised and dried, with dog skulls set up beside them. (There’s an idiom, guà yángtóu mài gǒuròu 挂羊头卖狗肉, which refers to the deceptive practice of displaying a sheep skull while selling dog meat, but for all I know, these peddlers were guà gǒutóu mài yángròu 挂狗头卖羊肉.) I hadn’t been curious enough to try it. I was aware of the rule that you should avoid eating outside train stations. I found a place across from the Haofulou Hotel, down an alley. There were dog carcasses hanging there, like they hanged goat carcasses outside barbecue restaurants. I occasionally came across a dog getting its fur torched off it. They made a certain kind of flatbread—not Xuzhou luòmó 烙馍, but something between báijímó 白吉馍 and shāobing 烧饼, round and cooked against the wall of an earthen oven or oil drum—and stuffed it with mahogany-colored dog meat.

Cooked that way, the texture is close to confit duck leg, dense and stringy, but tender, or like an overcooked Butterball turkey thigh. I guess it cooks in the same way, with the meat resting in the fat rendered out of it. The flavor is a bit like venison, sweet in the same way, and a bit gamey, maybe even a bit like prairie chicken or grouse, but it’s hard to find a comparison.

Another problem I have with southerners eating dog meat is that they don’t cook it that way. As far as I’m concerned, the only way to eat dog is a slow braise until the fat is rendered out, and then, ideally, it is stuffed in flatbread. In Xuzhou, they serve it with yángròu tāng 羊肉汤, which is nothing like the Chinese Far West's lamb soup, and is supremely rank and fatty, full of guts and sinew, and the perfect winter warmup.

They dog meat into soup in Shandong, especially in the cities along the coast, like Weihai 威海 and Yantai 烟台, where Korean sex tourists fill up on it before going to the spas and KTVs. I never tried it there. Shandongers ate dog meat before the Koreans came, but even in the Northeast, populated by transplants from the region, dog meat restaurants usually serve it with kimchi.

Dog meat is a masculine meat, but I associate it with country girls. Whenever they challenged me with it, and I accepted, it was a rare chance for them to eat it. There was the girl in Lianyungang 连云港, who comes up in that ketamine story, who I ate dried dog meat and tofu with. A girl from Fengxian 丰县 told me once that, as a child, her father had discovered her eating dried dog meat and told her **** ** **** **** *** ****** ****. *** ********** ** *** ** *** *** ******* *** ** **** ****. ** *** ** ***** *** ***** **** *******. ****** ******** **** ******* was just a myth to discourage women from eating dog meat, but it was true in her case. She also had an impressively square jaw. It was probably more genetic than the result of dog meat consumption. When I went for dinner at her house, her father opened up a vacuum-sealed bag of dried dog meat, sprinkled it with huājiāo 花椒, and we stuffed it into luòmó. None of the women present ate it.

I worked with a Chinese-Korean girl in *****. She was the hostess at the restaurant and I worked in the kitchen. The staff met most nights at a ****** **** a few blocks away to drink until the last train. One night, a ******** coworker brought up eating dog meat. She said, proudly, that she ate it often. He mimed vomiting. Later, she told me that she didn’t eat dog meat very often, but it felt wrong to deny her love for it.

When I met her again in ********, we spent the night trying to find a Korean dog meat restaurant that was supposedly on the third floor of a shopping center in *****. I’m not sure we spent enough time looking. When we couldn’t find it, we settled on a far more pedestrian Korean barbecue.

Dog meat has become a cause for Chinese and Korean nationalists.

Moon Jae-in adopted a rescue dog in 2017, which was possibly going to end up being eaten. The shelter he got it from was in trouble a year later for secretly euthanizing dogs. A receipt was uncovered that showed they sent 5.7 tons of dog carcasses to a rendering plant.

In China, attempts to shut down the Yulin Lychee and Dog Meat Festival 玉林荔枝狗肉节 are seen as an attack on cultural traditions by socially progressive worshippers of the West.

I’m sympathetic to Chinese nationalists, but the festival does seem kind of gross. There’s something revolting about mass, coordinated consumption of meat. Let the people of Guangxi eat their dog meat in peace, until my Huai River rule is enacted.

One problem with dog meat is that it can't be farmed. If you go to Peixian, you aren’t going to see acres of dog ranches. The dogs being raised out that way are companions, farm dogs, or fighting dogs. That’s close to how it would have always been. Dogs weren’t usually working on farms, and nobody was cuddling them, but they were around, eating shit and scraps, like pigs.
Westerners refrain from eating dogs not because dogs are their most beloved pets, but essentially because dogs, being carnivorous, are an inefficient source of meat; Westerners have a great abundance of alternate sources of animal foods; and dogs render many services alive which far outweigh the value of their flesh and carcass. In contrast, dog-eating cultures generally lack an abundance of alternative sources of animal foods, and the services which dogs can render alive are not sufficient to outweigh the products they can provide when dead. For example, in China, where perennial shortages of meat and the absence of dairying have produced a long-standing pattern of involuntary vegetarianism, dogflesh eating is the rule, not the exception. (Good to Eat: Riddles of Food and Culture by Marvin Harris, 1985.)
Dog meat at commercial quantities can’t be achieved without a large number of people owning companion animals. Dog meat is a byproduct of the far more cruel and decadent pet industry.

Even if it’s left off the list of accepted livestock, dogs are going to get eaten one way or another. They will still make it to connoisseurs in Peixian and Yulin. The rest will go to the rendering plant and get fed to cattle or Pekingese.