For Day -1 of the Olympics, let’s take a look at your dining options while in Beijing. You might think that hey, it’s China, so the Chinese food is going to be great! But the quality of ingredients available in China, as compared to what we’re used to in the States, is alone enough to make many diners-out in China disappointed with what they get. But hey, you can get traditional dishes there, things you can’t get back home, right?
Well, no. Because those “traditional” dishes have been removed from local restaraunts’ menus at the behest of the government, micromanaging the mom-and-pop stores so as not to give offense to the influx of foreigners anticipated in their midst. For instance, restaurants in Beijing have been asked to take dog off the menu — for the duration of the Olympics. After all the foreigners go home, canine flesh will again be served to hungry diners. So if eating dog meat is so bad, why hasn’t the practice been banned completely? The answer is, there is nothing inherently bad about eating dog meat; it is simply not a part of Western tradition to eat a dog.
So why inconvenience the restaurants at all? The westerners who are offended by dog meat will simply not order it. It’s the concern with appearance over reality about this that is offensive. To engage in a bit of philosophy — either it’s objectively wrong to eat dog meat or it isn’t. There’s nothing special about a dog as opposed to any other animal that makes taking its meat good or bad. If you’re a vegetarian because you think it’s wrong to eat meat, then it doesn’t matter to you whether the meat is from a pig or a dog or a monkey or a sheep. If you’re carnivorous, then you get to make choices about what kind of meat you will eat. For the most part, those decisions are based on taste, which is largely driven by cultural norms.
So the reason that I don’t eat dog or cat or monkey is cultural. In western culture, these sorts of animals are not taken for meat but either allowed to remain wild and unharvested, or kept as pets. But in other cultures, the norms are different. Dogs and cats are kept as pets by some Chinese, but certain breeds of dog are raised for meat the way pigs or cows are raised for meat here in the west. I don’t think it’s my place to tell Chinese people that they’re eating the wrong sort of meat. And I think it’s well-known all over the world that China has its own culture — and it’s also well-known that in that culture, dog meat is not considered taboo. While you may not like the practice, it’s the way that culture is and there’s nothing objectively wrong with it; it’s just different from what you’re used to.
But not even in China will anyone force a tourist to eat dog. You can order “corrugated iron beef” or some such incredibly awkward mistranslation instead. What I object to here is that the Chinese government seems to think that tourists must be protected from seeing parts of Chinese culture that they might find disagreeable. If the practice is really all that disagreeable (and as I’ve suggested here, it’s really not) then why is it allowed in the first place? If the practice is not all that bad (which I for one don’t think it is) then why go to the trouble of micromanaging every restaurant in Beijing to hide it? This kind of governmental intrusion into the smallest sorts of decisions of life would be thought of as obnoxious almost anywhere in the West, and that, in my mind, is a whole lot worse than acknowledging that some Chinese people enjoy eating the meat of a dog in a savory brown sauce.
So too will an Olympics tourist be unable to locate the traditional delicacy with the delightful name “Husband and wife’s lung slice,” which turns out to actually be the tripe of a beef cow and a bull in chili sauce.
Donkey meat has apparently been overlooked, though. So enjoy that, adventurous diners!