Braised or roasted, sir?
France is shocked by the news that a man has been caught eating his dogs. But why are we so horrified by the idea of cooking our pets? Matthew Fort investigates
Friday 26 May 2000
Earlier this week Jean-Louis Lacoste was fined £300 in France for eating an unknown number of the dogs in his care. Sadly, the reports in the newspapers here told us nothing about how he cooked them. Did he, for example, braise them with soy sauce, sugar, fermented bean curd, dried bean curd, water and rice wine to make the classic Chinese dish of hon tsao go zo (red cooked dog)? Or did he favour the Hawaiian style of spatchcocking them and grilling them on the barbecue with sweet potatoes?
Of course, it could never happen here. In a country where a large number of people will take direct action on behalf of veal calves and mink (although not for the less appealing battery chickens or farmed salmon), Lacoste would probably have been lynched by a mob of Barbara Cartland lookalikes long before he got to court.
It’s many years since dog and cat have been on the menu in the western world, with the exception of aberrations such as the Swiss gedörrtes hundefleisch (dried dog meat) and the Spanish recipe caldo de gato Extremadura (Estremaduran cat stew in which the feline is cooked in white wine with bay leaves and thyme and served with broad beans, carrots, turnips, potatoes and onions). But this wasn’t always the case.
At the same time that the Greeks were debating the shape of political institutions and the transmigration of souls, they were also partial to a spot of dog. Indeed, Hippocrates recommended dog or puppy flesh as part of a health-giving diet. But subsequently their position as our most favoured domestic companions, frequently with human qualities ascribed to them, has created a taboo against eating them almost as powerful as that of cannibalism.
There has never been the same prohibition in other parts of the world against eating dog or cat. The Mexican hairless dog was a prime food source for the Aztecs. In his landmark work, Unmentionable Cuisine, Calvin W Schwabe lists 10 recipes for dog and four for cat, covering China, Ghana, Hawaii, Burma and the Philippines, as well as those from Switzerland and Spain already described. He fails to mention Korea, where there is a fine tradition for eating dog (indeed, there is said to be a Korean restaurant in New Malden where you may be served dog if you ask for it politely), and he only touches briefly on the Filipino passion for dog, which is so great that the government had to control the consumption after several people contracted rabies as a result of eating rabid animals. Continue reading