First, I want to warn any of you out there who are true animal lovers that this post might not be for you. This post might be unpleasant to read, and it might also change your opinion of me. I’m not saying that to be cutesy! You have been warned.
We met at the big Yangshuo food market the other day at the start of our cooking class. I thought we were actually going to buy all of our ingredients for that afternoon’s instruction, but it turned out that we were just there for an introduction to Chinese ingredients. It was fun to see all the different produce grown in this part of the world, and I’m also intrigued by animal markets in not-America. They butcher the animal right there in front of you (i.e. there’s no splatter guard) and then just throw the meat in a simple plastic grocery bag, no styrofoam backing and no vacuum sealing.
Anyway, there are two parts to this market: a big produce building and a big meat building. The produce side is colorful, yet uneventful. The meat side is pure madness; and it’s, it should be obvious by now, the setting for this post! The interior of the building is laid out by type of animal. So, if you want duck or chicken, for example, you know to head towards the middle. There’s everything available, from turtle to snake to fish to cow to pig to pigeon and beyond! If it moves, you can find it here to eat! Most of the animals are live with the exception of the big beasts, like cow and hog; those have been slaughtered ahead of time, but the meat is still largely butchered on demand.
Our cooking school teacher warned us before entering the meat side of the market that some sights might be unpleasant, and I think one member of our party decided to skip all of it. For the most part, honestly, there was nothing that should have given any meat eater any problems.
And then, Hannah warned us a second time; this time more pointedly. She told us that back there, in what I swear was the darkest, seediest corner of the whole building, was the dog vendor. Most members of our group looked at each other to confirm that no one would be going over there. I, on the other hand, looked around to see if anyone else wanted to go. I would definitely be seeing this!
Two of us headed over, not really sure what to expect. What we found was definitely, definitely intense. There were dogs in four states: alive (and terrified!), being slaughtered, being butchered, and butchered. Each of the four states was intense in its own way. For the dog being butchered, the woman was holding a big knife right in the head, between the eyes, of the dog she was processing. Phew! It was definitely odd to see that. There was also a cage of cats right in the front of the shop. The cage was already small, but the cats were smashed all together in the back corner, trying to make themselves invisible.
I think that was the most intense part about it; Westerners connect with dogs and cats; we can look into their eyes and feel something. It’s not really the same with cows and chickens.
Our guide asked us not to take any pictures of the dog stall, and it’s fairly easy to guess why. China knows that most of the rest of the world does not eat dog, and they don’t want to feel judged. But seeing the slaughtered dogs made me ask myself what makes it OK to eat cows and chickens but not cats and dogs. Is it that cows and chickens can’t connect emotionally with us? It seems like an odd criterium for which animals are acceptable to eat and which are not, but I’m not sure there’s much else separating the act of eating beef from eating dog.
It would be crazy to say that we don’t eat an animal if we can connect with it emotionally. If that were the case, then we would need to evaluate every animal individually; it would be pure madness! So, I don’t think that really has anything to do with it. And I’m reminded here of Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem, which proves that no system can be complete and consistent. That’s just a fancy way of saying you cannot explain everything without at least a few inconsistencies, and it’s basically just a reminder for me that not everything can be explained. Here, I suppose, is an example of something that simply cannot be explained. Chinese people eat dogs, and Chinese people eat cats. Is this different from what we do in the West? Absolutely! That much is clear. But it’s not something we can attach a judgement to. I can say, “I don’t want to eat dog.” I’m not sure it’s something I want to say, but I could say it if I wanted to. But I cannot say, “Chinese people should not eat dog.” In fact, I would go a step farther and say that saying that is ignorant and disrespectful. Chinese people can do what they want in their own country, and they don’t need to feel embarrassed or ashamed about it. In fact, and this is really the intent of this post, we should celebrate our differences. We should celebrate the fact that Chinese people eat dog; there’s nothing wrong with it! The more colors in our rainbow, the more colors we have the opportunity to get to know, and the more perspective we can gain on ourselves!
Slaughtering any animal is intense, and it reminds us that some of us live because some of us (whether plant or animal) have died. It’s an important lesson on respect and only consuming what you need. And, I can tell you right now that if you ate some dog without knowing what it was, you would be just fine. Basically, just don’t be hatin’!