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The other kind of hotdog

Updated: 2013-08-10 11:44
By Raymond Zhou ( China Daily)

Photos of extracting gall bladders from live bears have shocked some celebrities into taking a stand against such practices. Bear bile is used in traditional Chinese medicine as an ingredient. And sports superstar Yao Ming openly launched a campaign against the consumption of shark's fin, a major cause for slaughtering sharks.

While many people like to frame the controversy as East versus West in gastronomical customs, it goes much deeper than that. As a middle class burgeons in China, the role of pets has evolved. When I was a child, we kept a cat or a dog mainly to finish up the leftovers so that not an iota of food would be wasted and dogs to keep burglars at bay. Sure, they could be fun, but few treated them as equal to us humans.

Pet as friend is a concept that is not only new, but a corollary of growing affluence. In an age of subsistence, the scope of edibles was infinitely larger. Beggars cannot be choosers, and when you are starving, the burden of feeding one more mouth could be so much more daunting and the temptation of turning it into a source of food is so much greater.

When urban women first started calling their pets "my baby", it was seen more or less as a joke. But the relationship between human and pet has been shifting to the point that more and more people begin to see the pet as a friend rather than a potential item on the dinner table. Western influence may have affected their outlook, but the determining factor is probably economic, not cultural.

Again, it is economic consideration that will eventually change the customs and habits like dog eating. I'm not implying cities like Yulin are economically deprived, but they surely have fewer people bothered by this age-old custom.

Say, if Yulin morphs into a tourist mecca with millions of visitors from Beijing, Shanghai and overseas, would they be willing to give up their culinary delight? Rationally, they'll weigh the options: Do we want to offend these big-city spenders by hanging out roasted dogs as if they were roasted ducks, or do we want to be sensitive to our biggest source of income?

My guess is they'd probably drive it underground and away from the curious eyes of the tourists.

A complete phase-out will take a change in mindset. It is very difficult to argue on the premise of animal rights alone. If dogs must not be eaten, what about pigs and turkeys? Unless one is a strict vegetarian, one may run into counter arguments that cannot be easily brushed away.

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