On April 19th, dog meat stew, also known as bosintaing (보신탕) was featured on a food delivery app. Alarmed, a citizen reported it to an animal protection organization and insisted action be taken regarding the matter. As a result, the organization reported the issue to delivery app companies, which in turn responded by banning all dog meat products from their menus.
The policies state that the sale of dog meat is prohibited. However, some vendors fake their menus or change the names of their products that contain dog meat and continue to operate, posing a challenge for the companies responsible for monitoring these restaurants. According to research conducted by the Humane Society International (HSI) in 2020, 89.8% out of 1,000 respondents have never consumed dog meat, and 58.6% of which supported placing the prohibition on dog meat. Consumption of dog meat is no longer customary in South Korea, as most Koreans consider it to be inhumane and outdated.
The start of the practice of dog meat consumption dates back to the mid-Joseon era in the 1500s. Then in the latter part of the Joseon era (the 1630s), it became the main food consumed during boknal (복날), The dog days of summer, which refers to the period from July to August.
The main reason behind the practice was for protein, as during those times in the summer, common sources of protein, such as cows, were used for farming purposes. Therefore, many people looked for dogs as sustenance. According to Dongui Bogam (동의보감), a book written by the royal physician Heo Jun (허준) during the Joseon era, “Dog meat makes [the] stomach comfortable, fixes blood veins, strengthens intestines and stomach. Also, it strengthens marrow, which helps the spine and knees, and it strengthens one’s stamina.”
However, during President Rhee Seung-Man’s regime in the 1950s, dog meat was banned across the country. First lady Francesca Donner Rhee was Austrian-born, and she thought it was unsanitary and uncivilized to consume dog meat. However, it gained popularity again in the 1960s when the Moran Market (모란시장) formed. From then on up to the year 2001, 54 restaurants opened.
Dog meat became a popular ingredient again in the 1980s, which is when it received global attention during the 1988 Seoul Olympics. As a result, the government categorized dog meat as hatred food and banned the sale. However, menus that included dog meat were sold under different names like yongyangtang (영양탕) and sacheoltang (사철탕).
During the 2002 World Cup, the National Dog Meat Restaurant Association, which made up of 150 restaurants that serve dog meat, served samples of dog meat menus to visitors of the 10 different stadiums that hosted the World Cup in South Korea. The samples, along with leaflets outlining the nutritional and cultural values of dog meat consumption, were distributed in order to remove the prejudice against dog meat consumption amongst foreigners and encourage visitors to try the restaurants that served these menus as well.
Additionally, students from Seoul University set up a website with articles in both Korean and English to outline the benefits and cultural significance of dog meat consumption in the country, and had started a petition to promote dog eating, which garnered over 11,000 signatures.
The 2000s: Era of Changes
The consumption of dog meat was common during the early 2000s. In 2006, the number of the annual consumption of dogs marked two million. In one study, 567 out of 1,025 respondents said that they had consumed dog meat. At that time, those who opposed the consumption of dog meat were more focused on cultural identity rather than animal rights. For example, in 2002, when Jay Leno, then-host of NBC’s The Tonight Show, mocked Koreans for consuming dog meat, Korean internet users expressed their frustrations by bashing the online comments on the broadcasting station’s website. They were frustrated because of the direct insult that they felt from the host.
However, starting from the mid-2000s, animal rights organizations called for the prohibition of dog meat consumption. The controversy regarding this issue was brought to light during the Jangsu-Dong incident (장수동 개지옥사건) where the harsh treatment of dogs was explicitly shown via mainstream media in 2006. The incident included the inhumane acts towards the dogs, where the dogs were starved by the farmers while being domesticated. In that same year, 75% of the survey respondents opposed consuming dog meats even given their past experience.
In 2008, farmers who raise dogs for consumption founded the Korea Dog Meat Organization (대한육견협회), and have been advocating the legalization of dog meat ever since. They favor the mass production system of dog meats just like for beef, chicken, and pork.
In 2017, there were 2,862 dog meat farms in total and 781,740 dogs were being domesticated. 422 farms were taming more than 500 dogs. However, the issue of dog meat consumption is no longer a pressing concern as people’s conception has changed over time.
The Rise of Animal Rights
In the past, pets were just described as “pet animals.” (애완동물) However, the terminology has changed to “companion animals,” (반려동물), giving it a more friendly connotation.
The attitude towards pets differs from one generation to another. According to the HSI, for the young generation specifically, the interaction with their pets has given increased interest and empathy towards them. This has contributed to widespread interest in animal protection and negative perception towards the consumption of dog meat. Even among younger generations, the increased interest in human rights gave rise to the awareness of animal rights.
The Case Against Fully Legalizing the Consumption of Dogs
The poor condition of the dog meat farms has developed concerns over animal rights as well. At many farms, dogs are being tamed in alleviated cages and the floors are made it easy for their paws to slip out. Not a single farm has water placed even in the midst of smelting summer. The width of the cage is narrower than the size of the dogs so they are crammed in an uncomfortable position. Dogs can't even stretch their bodies all the way. Animal cruelty still persists within the farms even with enforced animal rights policies.
There are more than a million dogs tamed within the farms, but current standards only cover the issue of waste management of the farms.
However, dog meat is not approved as a food ingredient under the current law. According to the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety standards, dog meats were not part of approved ingredients for consumption. Dogs are included as livestock; however, it is not designated as poultry, which is necessary for approval for slaughter, production, and sale.
The Case For Fully Legalizing the Consumption of Dogs
Korea’s Cultural Identity?
Just like kimchi, dog meat can also be considered a part of Korean cuisine, the dog meat proponents say. There are multiple other countries that consume dog meat as well, but Korea is the only country that has a real system for dog meat production.
Why is dog meat banned when all other livestock are authorized for consumption? Some say that dogs must be spared from consumption as they possess a high level of cognitive ability. However, other animals possess high intellectual capabilities, such as squid or cows, and are consumed without controversy.
To resolve the dispute, the dogs can be separated into two categories: for consumption and companionship, the proponents say. As far as the matter of hygiene issues goes, it can be resolved through the implementation of a management system during the process of slaughter and production. Advocates also point out that many opponents of dog meat often fail to propose solutions for people employed in the process of selling dog meat.
A combination of the words “dog” (개) and child (어린이). It’s used to describe puppies.
A: 와~ 이 강아지 너무 귀엽다!
B: 개린이 아니랄까봐ㅋㅋㅋ
A: Wow! This puppy is so cute!
B: I know, right?! Such a Gae Ri-ni!
개춘기 (Gae Chun-gi)
This term connects the words for a dog (개) and puberty (사춘기). It describes the phenomenon that dogs go through in their pubertal period, usually from six months to one year after their birth.
A: 요즘 내 강아지가 너무 팔팔하다. 왜그러지?
A: My dog is so hyperactive recently. What’s the matter?