Those who have say it’s like chicken. And to make it less bland, they say, you just add spice.
We’re talking about dog meat, a popular dish throughout Asia, including the Philippines, until it was banned here in 1998. Now South Korea is following suit by outlawing the farming, slaughter, and sale of dog meat by 2027.
“Dogs are different from cows, chickens and pigs,” one jubilant advocate told Associated Press. “Why would you still eat dogs when they are now seen more as family-like pets…?”
Grunted someone who disagrees: “Dogs are dogs. They’re not humans.”
My interest in the conspicuous consumption of canines got sparked back in 1989 when the Los Angeles Times sent me out to cover an unusual trial. Two newly arrived Cambodian refugees, it seems, had received a 4-month-old German Shephard from their coworker as a pet. Instead of giving it hugs and taking it for walks, however, they whacked it over the head, slit its throat, and skinned it for dinner.
Unfortunately for them, the police arrived before they could finish that scrumptious meal. Their defense: they were from Cambodia where lots of people eat dogs, so how could they know that doing so in the US would offend squeamish Americans?
In the end, the judge dismissed the case because, well, there just weren’t any laws against eating dogs. The public reaction, however, was swift and decisive; bumper stickers appeared all over town, urging citizens to “Save a Dog, Eat a Cambodian.” And within months, activists had persuaded legislators to strictly prohibit the consumption of both canines and Cambodians.
I’d forgotten about all that by the time we arrived in the Philippines more than three decades later. Until one day a neighbor met us at the gate of our house in Northern Mindanao. “There’s good news and bad news,” he announced. “Which would you like to hear first?”
The bad news was that our favorite dog, Sandy, had been killed by a car. The good news: that the construction crew across the street had eaten her for lunch. Those hardworking men, our neighbor informed us, had enjoyed a delicious meal.
In fact, Filipino dog eating is an ongoing phenomenon, according to an international animal welfare organization called Network for Animals (NFA). “We’ve shamed most people in the major cities to acknowledge this as a national disgrace,” chief campaigner David Baritt proclaimed in 2019, “but we still uncover horrific cases.”
One involved a pair of restaurants allegedly buying dog meat—called asocena—from illicit suppliers. Using a hidden camera, the NFA filmed not only those transactions, but a customer eating a barbecued dog. While the practice is rare in major metropolitan areas, the organization reports, it is still practiced in provincial regions such as Laguna, Batangas, La Union, and Benguet. Not to mention, of course, my own neighborhood in Surigao del Norte.
“The fight continues,” Barritt concluded. “We want to stamp out the dog-meat trade in the Philippines. And everywhere.”
In South Korea, that die finally got cast earlier this month despite stiff opposition from the country’s dog farmers. Among those who helped push it over the top was First Lady Kim Kleon-hee, who owns six dogs and claims she couldn’t sleep for days after viewing images of dog-breeding farms.
Which reminds me of my reaction a while back to the gut-wrenching squeals of a young pig being carried in a sack up our driveway to its slaughter. And yet I had no qualms eating the fresh lechon served later for my birthday.
So let me end by just saying this: I own no dogs, nor would I ever eat one for breakfast. In good conscience, though, I can’t condemn those of you who would or have.
David Haldane is an award-winning American journalist, author, and broadcaster with homes in Joshua Tree, California, and Northern Mindanao, Philippines. His latest book, “A Tooth in My Popsicle,” is available on Amazon. This column appears weekly in The Manila Times.