Protesters Want Dogs Taken Off the Menu

Getty Images/Chung Sung-Jun

SEOUL, South Korea - A small group of animal rights activists caged themselves in protest against eating dog meat.

The protest came on "malbok," the last day of summer according to the lunar calendar which is often celebrated in South Korea with "bosintang," a dog stew.

The protesters picked today to highlight their claim that 1.2 million dogs are consumed every year in Korea.

I had dinner with three male friends tonight who all had wanted to go for dog meat. South Korea is undergoing the worst heat wave in two decades. But we went for Korean beef barbeque instead as they correctly assumed that I would refuse.

The talk on the dinner table was about the pros and cons of the dish which comes roasted or mostly made in a stew type called "bosintang," meaning literally "body nourishing soup."

All of them agreed that the dish makes you energetic and is quite tasty. The response to my disbelief and a bit of disapproval was that it is not just Koreans who eat the dog meat, but all other Asians and also Westerners in the past as well.

I have no intention to judge what people eat. As an international correspondent I am trained to respect cultural differences and keep a balanced view. So just to check facts, I went online for quick research.

I found that:

* Dog meat today is consumed in Switzerland, China and Vietnam.

* Hong Kong banned the killing and sale of dog in 1950.

* European countries like Belgium, France and Germany also have records of eating the dish in 19 th to early 20 th century.

* South Korea banned sales in 1984 classifying it as "repugnant food," but laws are not strictly enforced.

As we flipped beef on the charcoal barbeque at dinner, I stopped eating after memories of my one and only experience of the dog meat dish flashed back. A long time ago a bunch of my Korean friends tricked me into tasting it saying it was chicken. I remember how strangely soft the texture was.

Conversation came to pets. One of my dinner companions has a 14 year-old poodle which he adores. He does not eat "bosingtang" often, but does occasionally due to social pressure because it is somewhat a "male thing to do" when a bunch of guys need stamina. He takes a shower before returning home out of guilt and in courtesy of his beloved poodle.

My two other friends pointed out repeatedly that the type of dogs Koreans eat is of a totally different breed, not the pets that we live with.

They strongly disapprove of the traditional process of slaughtering those edible dogs by beating them to death. They are also against illegal dog farms and slaughterhouses that are unsanitary and that cage sick dogs, for example, with eye infections.

What I also learned today was that most dog meat at South Korean restaurants is imported from China and North Korea. The North Korean leader Kim Jong Il who died last December was reportedly a dog meat lover.

During my numerous trips to North Korea, twice the schedule included lunch at their prized dog meat restaurants in Pyongyang and in Gaesong which I sat through nibbling at biscuits except for a quick sip of the broth at the end.

But the most surprising information I learned tonight is the price of what my friends consider a properly prepared "bosingtang" meal for four persons; almost $1,000.