The History of the Dog-Eating Stereotype
Along with countless other Asian American elementary school children, six-year old me–who attended a predominantly white school–was a constant victim of the dog-eating stereotype. I was incessantly pestered about whether the meat in the side dishes I brought for lunch was dog meat despite my persistent attempts to explain that dog-eating was not at all a common practice among Asians not to mention Asian Americans. I started to beg my mom to stop packing me Korean dishes and to instead send me to school with chicken nuggets and Uncrustables. It was not until Korean barbeque became trendy and fashionable among my non-Asian peers that I started to bring the food of my heritage to school again. But children were not and are not the only perpetrators of this stereotype. The only way children could have known to ask their Asian American peers about whether they ate dog meat was if this stereotype was passed down through the generations.
The dog-eating stereotype has historically been utilized to belittle Asians and Asian immigrants as well as to justify imperialistic pursuits of Asian countries like the Philippines. At the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, the Philippine Exposition depicted Igorot people grilling dogs. The purpose of the exhibit was to portray the indigenous people of the Philippines as primitive and in much need of the reconstruction that the United States was so generously bringing upon the nation with their victory in the Philippine-American War. A century later, the dog-eating stereotype is still being used to justify xenophobia and white supremacy. Just five years ago in 2016, Oregon Senate candidate Faye Steward suggested that taking in Vietnamese refugees back in the 1970’s and 80’s was a mistake because they were “harvesting people’s dogs and cats” and that they should not make the same mistake with Syrian refugees. The dog-eating stereotype is ever present in today’s politics and social issues.
The recent global fervor surrounding the Yulin dog meat festival in China has reinforced the assumption that all Asians eat dogs. The festival spans 10 days and was first introduced in 2009 as a celebration of the summer solstice. After a flood of protests arose across social media and among the vast majority of Chinese residents who found the practice to be distasteful, the number of dogs slaughtered during the festival decreased from 15,000 to 3,000. In fact, the campaign against the Yulin dog meat festival was instigated by the Chinese themselves, as Dr. Peter Li, policy advisor for China and Humane Society International activist, told Business Insider. From there, they gained international support as well as xenophobic comments that hindered their efforts more than helping them. Rather than using their platforms to stand in solidarity with Chinese protestors, many social media users took advantage of this ruckus to express their hatred for China. Even though most Chinese people had never eaten dog meat and were instead fighting to put an end to this festival, the entire country and Chinese Americans were stereotyped and labeled as uncivilized, dog-eaters.
Above all, it is extremely important to note the hypocritical nature of “dog-eating” even being used as a negatively connotated trope. At the root of this problematic stereotype is the Western double standard of what is civilized and what is barbaric. Though both dogs and cows are animals that have been domesticated by humans, slaughtering cows and eating hamburgers is considered civilized behavior while eating dog meat is quick to be criticized as savagery. However, the variable between these two scenarios that fuels the stereotype is not the inherent value of the type of animal being eaten but rather the culture in which the animal is eaten. Dog meat does remain a traditional food among farmers in select areas of southern China, India, Nigeria, Vietnam, South Korea, Ghana, and Switzerland. Yet, we do not hear much from the mainstream media about dog meat consumption in Switzerland, a predominantly white country, or about how the consumption of dogs is legal in most states throughout the U.S. Remember that though dog meat can be considered traditional food among some individuals of a country, that does not mean that every person or even a majority of the people from that country eat dog meat. It also does not mean that the people living in towns where dog meat is a traditional food are uncivilized. It has been a part of their diet for centuries just like cows, pigs, and chicken have been an essential part of the Western diet. I am in no way in support of the Yulin dog meat festival and its cruel practice of killing thousands of dogs within a ten-day time span. But, I am also firmly against the mass slaughtering of cows and pigs in the U.S. and European countries. Limit your own consumption of meat if the pictures of bloodied dogs from the Yulin festival disturb you because the butchering of any animal is bloody and cruel. Compared to the 20 million dogs consumed in China every year, 25 million broiler chickens, 11 million ducks, 121 million pigs, and 800,000 cows are killed every day in the U.S. Using euphemisms like “beef” and “pork” to mask your participation in the meat industry does not make you more civilized than individuals who consume dog meat. There is no such thing as humane slaughter.
Though Asian cuisine has gained a foothold in the Western culinary industry, the dog-eating stereotype is still prevalent in pop culture and our daily experiences today, except now, we see it in the form of so-called “jokes” or what I like to call normalized racism. Jay Leno, American comedian and former late-night television host, received backlash after commenting that the pets in Simon Cowell’s painting could be seen “on the menu at a Korean restaurant.” Back in 2002, when Leno was hosting NBC’s “Tonight Show,” he also remarked that South Korean Olympic short-track skater Kim Song-sung “was so mad” after being disqualified in the 1,500-meter speedskating final that “he went home and kicked the dog and then ate him.” Several Asian American organizations, such as Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC) and the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, called on NBC to sever ties with Leno on account of these inappropriate comments. Nonetheless, NBC has yet to take any substantial action to express their disapproval of Leno’s behavior. Abraham Kim, executive director of the Council of Korean Americans, best summarizes the detrimental effects of such comments made by celebrities like Jay Leno and the long-term harms of the lack of punishment for making such insensitive statements:
“The problem is that Korean Americans, who are not well-represented in the media and entertainment, are being disparaged and misrepresented by these comments made by public figures like Jay Leno. Mr. Leno continues to repeat these comments in different settings.”
Fellow comedian Alonzo Bodden even defended Leno’s use of the stereotype, saying that “that’s just old school humor” and that he doesn’t view it to be a racist joke because “a racist joke is more pointed … at a specific person, versus doing a joke about a common stereotype.” This response, however, defies the very definition of racism, which is prejudice directed against people on the basis of their racial or ethnic group. The very existence of this stereotype is racist in itself.
So no, I will not eat your dog nor have I ever eaten dog meat. Do you eat cows?