[FOUNTAIN]Does Your Dinner Bray or Neigh?

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[FOUNTAIN]Does Your Dinner Bray or Neigh?

The Japanese word "sakura," which means cherry blossom, was once popular in Korea. It referred to turncoat politicians who appeared to be with the opposition by day, but were pro-government all the way by night. The term had its origin in "sakura nikku," which translates to "horsemeat," as it is a similar shade of pink to cherry blossom. To the Japanese, beef is considered good fare. Once it became known that horsemeat was disguised and sold as beef, "sakura" came to describe something that was passed off as something else. It would be used to refer to people who were paid to cheer at speeches or rig the cards at gambling.

Horse also is part of the European diet. When mad cow disease took beef consumption on a nosedive earlier this year, horsemeat was a welcome substitute. It shares a place in the French diet along with goose liver and snails, which has spurred some Americans to criticize the French for culinary cruelty.

Meat preferences vary widely from country to country. While beef is off the menu in India, pork is strictly out of the Arab diet. Arabs must also stay away from sea creatures without scales, such as octopuses.

Diet is something that should not be criticized lightly, for it is molded gradually over history by climate, religion and customs. But animal rights activists just cannot leave some Koreans' taste for dog meat alone. Around this time of year every year, the activists always remember to write complaints and demonstrate. A rally was held recently in front of the Korean embassy in London. Not to defend the custom, but Koreans find this incessant European criticism about dog meat very unpleasant.

But there is a catch. The same protesters never take issue with the practice of the same custom in North Korea. The people who are outraged by human rights abuses in China look the other way when it comes to the exotic fare, including dog meat, in the Chinese diet. So what would explain that? Perhaps it comes from a conviction that Korea has come a long way from the days of going hungry and should know better. Perhaps it is a call for noblesse oblige of a sort on the national level, and not necessarily something to be indignant about. Maybe we Koreans should try not to shout about this custom, but keep it under wraps as a sort of etiquette.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il was reported to have enjoyed a certain delicacy on his recent rail voyage. Russian officials who had the honor of joining him were said to have enjoyed the meal very much - until they found out what they had just had: donkey.

Now that's something that doesn't get on your plate every day.

The writer is Berlin correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Yoo Jae-sik

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