And the Chinese know them all – in addition to having accumulated similar expertise in skinning and jointing dogs.
Both animals are widely used in China not for companionship but for their gastronomic value. Nor are Tabby and Fido seen in purely utilitarian terms as a cheap source of protein. No, the Chinese actually have discerning palates and appreciate the pets for their nuanced taste.
So, when a visiting Chinese businessman responds to your profession of love for your Siamese by identifying himself as more of a dog man, you may be talking at cross purposes. In fact, in China as many as 20 million dogs are slaughtered for food every year, and a similar number of cats, so your interlocutor may well be a connoisseur.
This predilection for canine delicacies is normally associated with Koreans. In fact, a few years ago, when there was a South Korean playing for Manchester United, every time he touched the ball the fans chanted “He will run and he will score, he will eat your Labrador!”
Yet in this area the Chinese won’t easily cede the position of top dog, as it were. Witness the annual dog meat festival, currently under way in Yulin, where 10,000 barbecued dogs and cats will be enjoyed in just a few days.
The animals are typically bludgeoned to death with steel rods, not a slaughtering method likely to win an RSPCA approval or a ringing endorsement from animal rights groups. And even cynical old me can’t help wincing.
To add piquancy to the situation, apparently the demand is so voracious that neither stray animals nor those specifically raised for this purpose can satisfy it fully. Hence some of the carcasses still bear collars with name tags, suggesting they had been pets before becoming the main course.
While any decent person will object to brutality and theft, the matter of canine or feline repasts isn’t as clear-cut as one may be tempted to think. How would we feel about eating, say, a Yorkie if we were sure he was slaughtered humanely?
One suspects that even the inveterate meat eaters among us would turn up their noses at a Yorkie steak. Moreover, such fussy eaters may feel superior to the Chinese for this reason – and that’s before we’ve talked about another Chinese delight: eating a live monkey’s brains right out of the opened-up cranium.
It has to be said that the British, while having lost much of their conservatism in areas that matter, still retain it in gastronomy. Even my multi-lingual wife, who spent her formative years in Paris, winces every time I tuck into such French delicacies as andouillette (chitterling sausage) or tête de veau (calf’s head).
Yet for all my catholic tastes in food I’d draw the line at eating dog or cat, regardless of how humanely they were slaughtered or how delectably cooked.
This admission didn’t come easily for several reasons. The main one is that I’m owning up to a feeling for which there is no rational justification, something I deride in others and hate in myself.
Why not eat dog or cat? Because we are what we eat? Muslims claim that ‘if you eat pig, you become one’, yet they eat beef without growing horns (unless, of course, an interloper slips into their harem).
Because the Bible says so? But its says nothing of the sort. On the contrary, Genesis doesn’t exempt dogs and cats when stating “Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you.”
Because dogs and cats are more intelligent than other animals? There’s no evidence for that. In fact, pigs are considerably cleverer than either, yet we don’t seem to mind having a couple of rashers with our morning eggs.
Partly because of their relative intelligence, pigs are supposed to be better pets than either dogs or cats, though they are seldom used for that purpose. And here, I suspect, we touch upon the real reason for our fussiness.
Dogs and cats serve as pets, and many of their owners anthropomorphise them to a point where they’re seen not as animals, typologically indistinguishable from goats, but as family members, typologically indistinguishable from humans and in fact preferable to some.
This is an extension of the general modern tendency to replace sentiment with sentimentality, typical of a godless world. By implicitly raising Fido to a human level, we implicitly lower ourselves to Fido’s taxonomic tier, relinquishing the unique status humanity was granted by God.
Thus I loudly protest every time I visit my friends, whose Yorkie is always happy to see me. Yet his owner – a man, may I add, of supreme intelligence – always says “Say hello to your uncle Alex”, unfailingly eliciting my impassioned response: “I’m not his bloody uncle! He’s a ******* dog!”
Having said all that, and having constructed what to me seems to be an unimpeachable argument replete with theological and philosophical implications, what would I say if offered a rack of Beagle ribs?
“No, thanks, Li. I’m not hungry.” I’m ashamed at myself for being so illogical.