[OUTLOOK]Not All Dogs Are Meant to Be Eaten

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[OUTLOOK]Not All Dogs Are Meant to Be Eaten

The Olympic Games and the World Cup are global symbols. Dog meat soup is a local dish. Behind the dispute over the consumption of dog meat in Korea are arguments over cultural values.

Warner Brothers Co., which criticized dog-eating Koreans, represents those who argue that Western cultural values are universal. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, a German daily, which editorialized that Koreans regard the Western demand to alter their culinary culture as cultural imperialism, represents cultural relativism.

Rather than choosing between globalism and localism, the best course of action for Koreans, sandwiched between the World Cup and their dog meat, would be to establish a venue for "glocalism".

Human beings and dogs have coexisted for as long as 30,000 years. There are 2,414 places in Korea with names related to dogs. Among these is "Gaemok Gogae," or "Canine Hill," named after a dog that saved its drunken owner from a wildfire. Koreans should disseminate information of this nature to the people of the world. The information should be analyzed for the cultural code hidden in Korean culinary culture.

Hidden in the marriage and culinary culture is the idea that things should not be too distant from nor too close to each other. "If you are too close to the sun, you will burn to death; if you are too far away, you will freeze to death," goes a saying. This is why people don't marry a close relative and are less likely to marry a foreigner than someone from their own country. Human beings don't eat their pets nor do they eat most exotic animals.

But the distance between human beings and various objects differs from culture to culture. In Korea, men and women with the same last name cannot marry, but in Japan even cousins marry. This is because the definition of "close relatives" differs across cultures.

Cross-cultural differences exist for the definition of the distance between human beings and pets or between humans and wild animals. This is particularly pronounced in the case of dogs. In Western cultural code, dogs come close to being thought of as human beings. In Confucian culture where hierarchy is valued, however close human beings and dogs may be, at no point are they considered even remotely equal. This is why fully grown dogs can play around in living rooms in the West, whereas they never come inside the house in Confucian countries like Korea. In Korea, cats and goldfish that live inside the house with human beings are not eaten. Should someone try to eat them, that person would be despised as though incest had been committed.

This is not to say dogs are considered livestock in Korea. Puppies live inside the house, and when they grow up they occupy the entrance and the garden where no other livestock is allowed. The ambiguous status of dogs in Korea allows some dogs to be eaten but others to be taken good care of. Placed in the Western cultural context, Korean dogs fall somewhere between pets and livestock. As such, dog meat is distinguished from beef and pork. Without understanding this, people in the West think all Koreans eat dogs and every restaurant in Korea serves dog meat. If they knew that a certain group of people ate dogs on the hottest days of the summer at certain restaurants, Westerners would not look at Koreans as if we were cannibals.

In Korea, dogs and pet dogs are two different concepts. The yellowish dogs that some Koreans eat are radically different from what Westerners commonly regard as dogs. With the country's industrialization, Korea's cultural code has gone through a radical transformation and now chihuahuas and poodles are found in living rooms. Even without the World Cup, pet dogs in Korea do not have to worry about being eaten on the hottest days of the summer. With further transformation in the cultural code, eating dog meat is increasingly frowned upon and the number of people eating dog meat is declining.

If one understands this cultural code, why the Japanese don't eat dog meat is not difficult to comprehend. It is not because Japan opened up to the world before Korea. Buddhism influenced Japan more than Korea; until the Meiji Restoration, the eating of all four-legged animals was banned.

If opening up the country in the 20th century meant opening the door to your house, in the 21st century it means destroying the wall between your house and your neighbor's. If the World Cup represents globalization, dog meat soup represents a wall. If one has a one-sided view of culture, different cultures are bound to clash. But if one knows how to interpret different cultural codes, cultural relativism and arguments for cultural universalism are two sides of the same coin. With that understanding, we can produce the natural mixture of globalism and localism that is "glocalism."


The writer is a senior adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee O-young

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