What South Korea doesn’t want you to see during the Winter Games


With the world’s attention focused on the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in South Korea, the host country is facing some unwanted attention on other aspects of their culture. Like their diet.

Specifically, that part of their diet that involves the raising and slaughter of dogs for meat.

According to a 2008 study, dog meat was the fourth most-consumed meat in South Korea after pork, beef, and chicken, and around two million dogs are slaughtered for food each year. More than twenty thousand restaurants in the country serve dog meat, mostly in the form of a stew commonly known as Bosintang. The literal translation is “invigorating soup,” and it’s especially popular with older Korean men who believe it increases virility.

The consumption of dog meat is not illegal in South Korea, but it’s not exactly legal, either.

Instead, the dog meat industry occupies a kind of twilit gray area in Korea. There’s no clear recognition of dog meat as a legitimate food for human consumption, nor is there a clear ban on the sale or slaughter of dogs for food.

What is clear is that eating dog meat has been a part of Korean culture for thousands of years. And while cultural attitudes are slow to change, South Koreans are keenly aware of how distasteful the rest of the world finds the practice. That’s why the government temporarily banned the sale of canine meat in the run up to the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics and attempted to do so again this year before the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, which kicked off last Friday.

The government called on restaurants in Pyeongchang County to temporarily stop serving dishes with dog in them, and to take down signs advertising that they served dog, at least during the games, but only two restaurants have honored the request. Meanwhile, a petition to boycott the games entirely because of the practice gained nearly half a million signatures.

The plight of Korean dogs raised specifically to be slaughtered for meat got a high-profile boost from two-time world champion Olympic figure skater Meagan Duhamel of Canada, who saved a mini-dachshund named Moo-tae from winding up on some dinner menu by adopting him when she visited South Korea a year ago. Now, Duhamel is asking her fellow athletes at the Pyeongchang Winter Games to do the same.

Duhamel couldn’t have saved Moo-tae without the help of EK Park. Park is the founder of Free Korean Dogs, a Canadian nonprofit headquartered in Toronto that facilitates dog adoptions between South Korea and the US and Canada. Park helped rescue Moo-tae from a dog farm as a puppy and delivered him to Duhamel when she was competing in Pyeongchang last year in a test run for the Olympics.

The good news is, attitudes toward eating dog are changing in South Korea, if slowly.

A 2015 Gallup poll showed that only 20% of men in their 20s had consumed dog meat in the previous year, compared to half of men in their 50s and 60s. That’s pretty good, considering that the idea of dogs as companion animals is a recent one in Korean culture: Pet dogs only became common in South Korea in the 1980s.

That number should continue to shrink as a growing number of young Koreans see dogs as companions rather than cuisine.

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