Korean activists remind that it’s about cats, too
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2002:
DAEGU, South Korea–“Please ask our President to make a
strong law banning dog and cat meat,” Korea Animal Protection
Society founder Sunnan Kum begged U.S. President George W. Bush in an
open letter on the eve of his February 20-21 visit to South Korea.
Sunnan Kum knew there was little chance that her letter would
reach Bush–but she has learned to try to leave no Bush unshaken in
her lifelong struggle against the customs of torturing dogs to death
to get adrenalin-soaked meat with reputed aphrodisiacal qualities for
men, and boiling cats alive to make a tonic for aging women.
Sunnan Kum also knew that Bush, though fond of dogs, is
reputedly really a cat-man, whose black kitty India is believed to
be his favorite pet. If she could get him to speak up for Korean
cats as well as dogs, she hoped, perhaps the world would at last
notice that the struggle in Korea is about cats, too.
KAPS shelters just as many cats as dogs, maybe more–and the
second Korean activist group that Sunnan Kum founded is the Cat
Perhaps cats are unmentioned amid the rising global furor
over Korean dog-eating as the World Cup of soccer approaches, with
half the games to be played in Korea in June, because scared cats
strive to be invisible.
Or perhaps cats are ignored because cats boiled into broth
are less easily displayed on TV than dog corpses with their hair
singed off, lying atop cages of dispirited living dogs.
Maybe it is just that the numbers of cats consumed in Korea
are not officially counted, but are believed to be in the tens of
thousands per year, whereas dog consumption is in the low millions.
Or maybe it all has to do with the
testosterone-and-adrenalin-stoked rage of the mostly middle-aged and
elderly men who for centuries have held all the economic, political,
and social power in Korea, traditionally an intensely patriarchal
and oligarchic society, and are now sputtering beside themselves
that Korean women like Sunnan Kum, her daughter Sueyoun Cho, and
her sister Kyenan Kum, founder of International Aid for Korean
Animals, have put them on the defensive.
The dog-meat-addicted powerholders of South Korea are doing
their desperate best these days to pretend that concern for dogs and
cats is just a racist plot of foreign devils. Newspaper
editorialists and talk-show commentators are taking utmost advantage
of calls for a boycott of all things Korean uttered by
actress-turned-activist Brigitte Bardot of France, and crude jokes
about dog-eating told by Tonight Show host Jay Leno.
But the grossest part of the cultural insensitivity shown by
Bardot and Leno is not that they have denounced and mocked
dog-eating. Rather, it is that they seem to have not recognized
that more than nine Koreans out of 10 do not eat either dogs or cats.
As Sueyoun Cho tried to explain in a recent unpublished
letter to the London Times, “Some Koreans have eaten dogs in some
parts of our country, and at some times in our history, but dogs
have never been eaten by the majority of Koreans, as Korea was for a
long time a Buddhist vegetarian country, and still many people
believe in Buddhism,” although the vegetarian tradition long since
“A few traces in our history and continuing practice by
selfish and heartless people do not make dog consumption our culture.
Korean traditional food is simple and honest,” Sueyoun Cho
continued. “There is no disguising it with false colors or smells,
and most of all, there is no deliberate cruelty to animals in Korean
traditional food. If we look at the names of traditional Korean
dishes, most are called by their main ingredients. Dog-meat,
however, is called by euphemistic names such as ‘Four-season stew,’
‘Nutrition stew,’ ‘Body-healing stew,’ and so forth, which sound
more like the inventions of advertising. Herbs are used to erase the
smell of dog, again very unlike traditional Korean cookery.”
To most Koreans, Sueyoun Cho explained, being accused of
dog-eating is offensive not because it is part of their traditional
culture, but because it is not.
Dog-eating has not been abolished –yet–because it was
introduced by ruthless and powerful men, who subjugated and
exploited everyone else, ate dogs as a symbol of status and passed
the habit on to their heirs.
“Foreign criticism of dog meat is blasphemy,” opposition
politician Kim Hong-shin insisted to Damien McElroy of the London
Telegraph–who was among the few reporters describing the campaign in
Korea to mention cats as well as dogs. Kim Hong-shin did not seem to
The several dozen opponents of dog-and-cat-eating who
reportedly burned Kim Hong-shin in effigy at a downtown Seoul park
on January 26 were all Korean–and they called Kim Hong-shin the