April 23, 2024

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Contrasting Cultures: South Korea’s Ban on Dog Meat vs. North Korea’s Culinary Traditions

Contrasting Cultures: South Korea’s Ban on Dog Meat vs. North Korea’s Culinary Traditions

Contrasting Cultures: South Korea’s Ban on Dog Meat vs. North Korea’s Culinary Traditions

North Korea: Contrary to South Korea’s Ban on Dog Meat Consumption, “Dogs Are Not for Walking, but for Eating”

In Seoul, South Korea, a special law prohibiting the breeding, processing, and distribution of dogs for food purposes (the Dog Meat Prohibition Act) was passed on January 9.

Violators face a maximum of three years in prison or a fine of up to 30 million won (about 3.3 million yen). To protect industries related to dog meat, a grace period of three years from the announcement of the law’s enforcement was also provided.

For South Koreans, “Kegogi” (dog meat) was considered a “traditional special food.”

Contrasting Cultures: South Korea's Ban on Dog Meat vs. North Korea's Culinary Traditions

Known by names such as “poshintang” and “yongyangtang,” it has been enjoyed as a nourishing food during the hot summer months, equivalent to Japan’s “doyo no ushi” or “sanbok.” Dog meat has also been said to be “good for beauty” and to “quickly heal injuries from accidents or surgery.”

The driving force behind this legislation in South Korea is said to be the increasing status of pets, referred to in Korean as “wiasang” (position), which has recently been rising significantly.

In South Korea, pets have long been referred to as “aewandongmul” (companion animals), but recently there has been a shift to calling them “banryodongmul” (partner animals). The trend of regarding pets as family members has been ongoing for several years and has accelerated dramatically since the spread of the novel coronavirus from 2020 to 2022.

So, what is the situation in neighboring North Korea?

In North Korea, dog meat is called “tankogi” (sweet meat) and is also popular among citizens as a nourishing food.

Every year, during the season of “sanbok,” chefs from all over the country compete in a program broadcast on Korean Central Television to prepare tankogi dishes. I have personally eaten a tankogi set meal at the restaurant of the Chilbosan Hotel, operated by North Korea, during the Japan-North Korea talks held in Shenyang, China, in August 2008. I found it slightly greasy but without any strange odor, and I remember eating it normally.

According to an acquaintance who settled in South Korea in 2019, in Pyongyang’s Sadaedong area and other major cities, there are areas called “ketchon” (dog villages) where stores that exclusively handle dog meat are gathered. The price is slightly higher than that of pork, which is about 15,000 won per kilogram (about $2 at the actual rate), but it rises in price during the hot summer months when demand increases. (Rice in North Korea costs about 5,000 to 6,000 won per kilogram.)

It is said that ordering a tankogiku (dog meat soup), rice, and kimchi set meal at a restaurant cost 15,000 won. In Pyongyang, where a family of four is said to need 100 dollars a month for living expenses, this is not a small amount. According to a defector, “The wealthy eat it almost every week, but ordinary people find it difficult to eat it once a month.”

While there are specialized breeders of dogs for consumption in South Korea, in North Korea, many people raise dogs at home to sell to dog meat dealers. It is not uncommon for people to raise not only dogs but also chickens and pigs on their balconies. In the summer, the smell of pigs spreads around, causing a lot of commotion. Several years ago, African swine fever also spread widely in North Korea, causing panic among households that raised pigs, as their “precious source of income was ruined,” according to reports.

Thus, the practice of keeping dogs in ordinary households exists in North Korea, and while there are people in Pyongyang, mainly among the wealthy and government officials, who keep dogs as pets rather than for consumption, they do not walk their dogs outside. Defectors say this is because “Kim Jong-il decided that keeping dogs as pets was a non-socialist act” during his time as leader.

In North Korea, engaging in activities such as spying or anti-government activities is severely punished as “anti-socialist acts.” While not as serious as being “anti-socialist,” ostentatious clothing or excessive luxurious behavior is criticized as “non-socialist acts.”

Walking a dog is considered a “decadent action of luxury and bourgeois decadence,” so it is natural that a culture like that of South Korea, where dogs are considered part of the family, does not emerge, and the dog meat culture persists.

In the past, Kim Jong-il, the former leader, gave the natural monument of North Korea, the “Pungsan dog,” to Kim Dae-jung, the former president of South Korea, and Kim Jong-un, the current leader, gave it to Moon Jae-in, the current president of South Korea. However, according to defectors, “There are no North Koreans who know about the Pungsan dog.”

Few people in North Korea can enjoy meat dishes freely. Most people only eat them on special occasions such as the Lunar New Year or weddings. As for beef, it is strictly forbidden to buy or sell it without the state’s permission. Beef is not sold in markets, and if necessary, it is bought and sold secretly at the homes of market-related people. The number of restaurants where beef can be eaten is also limited.

On the other hand, on January 7, Kim Jong-un visited the Kwangchon Poultry Farm in Kwangju County, North Hwanghae Province, and conducted an on-site inspection with his daughter, known as Kim Ju-e. He was pleased to see meat and eggs overflowing from the modernized production process, and urged efforts to increase production.

However, according to defectors, even in Pyongyang, in the past, only 1 to 3 eggs per person per month were distributed. This practice also ceased in the mid-2000s.

In Japan, where chicken eggs are called the “top student of prices,” even during times when they are considered expensive, they cost about 300 yen for 10 eggs. In North Korea, 10 eggs cost about 7,000 won (about a dollar). This is about one-hundredth of the monthly living expenses. If the monthly living expenses in Japan are estimated at 200,000 yen, a pack of eggs would cost 2,000 yen.

Defectors say, “The delivery network is weak, and the production volume of eggs is simply too low. It’s not as easy as Kim Jong-un says.” In this situation, it seems unlikely that the day will come anytime soon when North Koreans can do without eating dog meat.

Contrasting Cultures: South Korea’s Ban on Dog Meat vs. North Korea’s Culinary Traditions



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