By Jeck Tirambulo | Features Editor
Vol. XCI No. 17
Feb. 21, 2020
Everybody loves to eat. Food is, after all, the bread and butter for survival. Since the pre-modern ages, food has evolved in response to people’s preferences and availability of resources. From eating it raw to cooking it with fire and preparing it with aesthetic values, food sure has transcended many times and appeared in forms that vary across different cultures. However, the diversity of food also happens to be a potential source of conflict. As such, it has led to a misunderstanding between cultures and races, at worst, discrimination.
There’s food that everyone agrees to eat, and there’s also food that others find disgusting and deplorable to put on their plate. No matter what form it is, it seems there’s isn’t one human-made thing in this universe that everyone would agree. If we go back to history, countless wars filled the land with blood as food was an asset equivalent to gold. Rome conquered Egypt for grains; profitable spice trade caused Magellan to navigate the earth and inadvertently enabled the Spanish colony in the Philippines for three centuries. Life in medieval times was never rainbows and butterflies.
Food wars these days have become benign, comical at most as they are mostly fueled by cultural differences, not by survival. Despite being a mainstream food, beef products are still frowned upon by some. They may be popular among Americans, but Hinduist Indians will certainly not jump on the bandwagon. For most Hindus, cows are venerable beings that are held with utmost devotion as they are equivalent to the patron saints of the Catholics.
However, exotic foods (not the mainstreams) are what define a particular culture. They may represent a culture, but they are also agents of cultural disparages. Exotic foods such as dog, snake, rabbit, and guinea pig meat are just a few examples of pet-turned-food that can cause disparity among men.
Abominable for most of us, but dogs are palatable creatures to some people. In Yulin, Guanxi, China, a dog meat festival is held annually every summer solstice (June 30). The festival itself has sparked controversies and criticism from animal rights groups while others considered it as utterly appalling. Hence, Chinese people have been stereotyped as barbaric beings with little to no disregard for pets or companion animals. However, there are factors that people often overlooked before expressing their disgust. Yulin Festival was never part of the long Chinese history, and it only appeared around ten years ago. It is also a festival that only a few Yulin residents organized but not recognized by its local government. Nonetheless, the current legal system of China does not give special status to dogs and only accept the duality of dogs as being companions and food items.
Dog meat-eating isn’t native to China. Countries such as Nigeria, Indonesia, South Korea, Switzerland, Vietnam, and the Philippines still have a portion of its population who are keen on eating dog meat. In Nigeria, eating dog meat is regarded by some as medicinal, with properties that can boost immunity and improve one’s sex life. In Indonesia and Vietnam, dog meat is consumed by some during special occasions. The same goes for some Filipinos who eat dog meat and use it as pulutan when having a drinking session. Some locals in Switzerland also do the same as it is still legal as long as the dogs are killed humanely. Dog meat was a famous cuisine in South Korea until the younger generations have shifted their preference from keeping it as food to pet. Those who have eaten dogs described its meat as capable of warming their body; hence it’s a preferred food to some during the cold season.
Snakes may be portrayed by most as man’s greatest nemesis as they have caused the downfall of humanity according to the bible. However, the tables have turned as they’re now a delicacy to some. These slithering reptiles ought to have symbolized fertility, now served as viands with aphrodisiac properties. In China, snake soup has been considered as a high-status delicacy as its roots traced back to the Qing Dynasty. Its varied ingredients and complicated preparations made it a symbol for bravery, wealth, and respect; served only to certain officials and celebrities. In Jakarta, Indonesia, several restaurants are established solely with king cobra-based foods as their specialty. In Cambodia, eating snake meat has been part of their cuisine after famine ravished the country during the Pol Pot regime. In the Philippines, pythons prepared in adobo style are prevalent to the natives living in the province. Hence, don’t be surprised when somebody is interested in buying those snakes caught inside houses or school buildings. They rumored to taste like chicken meat when prepared well.
Rabbits are symbols of prosperity, fertility, and are often bringers of fortunes. These fluffy, cuddly, cute, and seemingly harmless bunnies are, however, recognized by many for their meat as healthy alternatives. They are said to be healthier than pork and chicken. Rabbit meat is more popular than those of dogs and snakes; hence they are recognized worldwide, most notably France and Spain. Paella, one of the best-known dishes in Spanish cuisine, contains rabbit meat as one of its ingredients.
Guinea pigs, although loved by many as pets, are also loved by some Colombians and Peruvians as food. These gentle, nervous-looking rodents that eat alfalfa pellets are usually cooked whole, often grilled, sometimes deeply fried. Pet lovers may cry upon hearing this, but according to some activists, guinea pigs as food is a better option for the environment. These small mammals emit less carbon than cows; hence a shift from beef to guinea pig meat promotes low impact living.
Pets turning to food and vice versa may persist even in the coming days. It all depends on the changes in culture and circumstances. You may find it disgusting when a particular group of people eats fried tarantulas or turtle soup, but the same group whom you despised much for eating exotic foods might also feel the same to you as you eat balut. Differences, as they emanate from circumstances, will linger on and one cannot simply alter it. Just don’t eat somebody’s pet, though.
Photo from goodhousekeeping.com