CATS - FRIEND OR FOOD?
Everyone must eat in order to live. Most of us think that what we eat, and the way they eat it, is the normal or correct pattern. Therefore anyone who eats different things is considered odd. Until relatively recently, human societies were localised and had their own localised eating habits. In the 20th and 21st centuries, globalization has led to culinary conflicts as one culture's delicacy is another culture's taboo. To some the cat is a legitimate food source. Others find the concept of cat-eating abhorrent. Is it right for cat-loving countries to impose their cultural values on cat-eating societies?
WHAT THE WEST IS SHOWN
Some years ago, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation show "Witness" explored the exploitation of animals and the great love of pets, especially in western countries. The show documented the worst and the best that people mete out to animals. Many Canadians and Americans were most horrified at the segments showing how cats and dogs, companion animals in the west, were raised for slaughter and food in certain South East Asian countries.
Previously a British TV programme had shown the preparation of cat at restaurants in part of China. The diner selected a cat and observed its preparation. The conscious cat was thrown into boiling water then dumped in a pail of cold water. This made skinning easier. Some "boiled" cats were alive and moving feebly when dumped in cold water. Some were still moving during skinning and would ultimately have bled to death, perhaps during evisceration. The Chinese place great emphasis on freshness of food hence the live skinning of food animals. I spoke to a Chinese colleague who said that the word for "animal" in his native tongue translates as "moving thing" - animals are considered no more sentient than vegetables.
An image from campaign leaflets shows kittens being sold in a Cantonese market.
Cat forms a part of Cantonese cuisine, but the fact that these are longhaired kittens suggests they are on sale as pets. Where cats are kept as pets, longhairs are preferred. Where they are sold for meat, a plump adult cat offers better eating than a small kitten.
Even earlier IFAW, WSPA and others had distributed leaflets depicting the barbaric slaughter of cats and dogs for the Korea and Philippine pet-flesh trade. Images showed dozens of cats and kittens stuffed into a single wire mesh cage, a cat tethered beneath a boiling cauldron into which it was to be thrown alive, the soaking body of the previous victim dumped on the ground and rows of boiled cats ready for the next stages of preparation. A veterinarian observing the boiling of cats claims that they remain conscious and struggle for some seconds and that he could hear them trying to claw their way out of the metal cauldron of boiling water for up to 10 seconds.
A woman's magazine in Britain printed images of Korean housewives "shopping" - a terrified cat being dragged from its mesh cage by string around its neck while the woman struck its head repeatedly with a household hammer. Another photo showed the purchaser carrying a plastic grocery bag containing one or more dead or dying cats. Accompanying text suggested that the cats were bought and sold just like cabbages with no regard for the fact that they were living, breathing, conscious animals capable of feeling terror and pain.
The overall message was clear - killing cats and dogs for food is wrong. Cats and dogs are family members. Cats and dogs are companion animals. South East Asian countries who eat cats and dogs are barbaric, primitive, uncultured etc. In 2001, WSPA's magazine carried and article on the dog-meat trade in China telling readers that those countries must be educated that eating cat and dog is unacceptable and that those animals are companion animals not foodstuffs. While the pictures are distressing to Westerners, the message is skewed. It appears to be an attempt to impose Western cultural values on foreign cultures. What is undoubtedly wrong is the level of cruelty. Instead of re-educating certain countries about what can and cannot form part of their diet, it would be better to make the farming/slaughter process a humane one.
In 2010 China appeared ready to end the centuries-old custom of offering cat and dog on the menu. State media announced that a draft law was expected to go to the National People's Congress (Chinese parliament) in April 2010. Anyone caught eating cat or dog meat would face a fine of as much as 5,000 yuan (£450) and up to 15 days in jail. Organisations involved in selling cats or dogs for consumption, or their meat, could be fined between 10,000 and 500,000 yuan. How effective this is remains to be seen, since dog meat is technically "off the menu" in other countries yet is openly transported and eaten.
WHAT THE WEST IGNORES
Western viewers commented on how the Asians depicted in the programme treated animals the same way as they treat vegetables - trussed, crated, roughly handled etc. Many Western countries raise farm animals such as chickens, pigs and veal calves in sunless factory farm conditions, transporting them in crowded trucks with insufficient water to a distant slaughterhouse. "Efficient" Western factory farming gives us battery chickens, broiler-house turkeys, lactating sows immobilised in crush cages, calves in veal crates, cattle with insufficient room for exercise on concrete beef lots etc.
In Europe, animals might be transported across several countries in baking heat without being fed, watered or rested. Slaughter methods range from humane on family run organic farms in England through to unacceptable such as killing sheep by stabbing it through the eye with a long screwdriver (reported in Italy) and skinning live sheep and goats (reported by an ex-patriot Briton in rural Spain) or the simple failure to pre-stun an animal before it is bled.
Our treatment of cattle appals Hindus. How would Western cultures feel if Indian Hindus began huge public campaigns to re-educate us that it was unacceptable to eat cows as we offend whose who consider cows sacred? Americans in particular would feel it an infringement of their divine right to eat burgers and hotdogs! Yet this is exactly what Western countries are doing by re-educating other cultures that it is wrong to eat cats and dogs. While Western countries might (if economically viable) be willing to improve farming standards in order to cause less offence, they would not be willing to forgo their burgers or their steaks. Likewise, the pet-flesh trade needs to be made humane, but attempts to completely eradicate the eating of cat and dog could be interpreted "Western Imperialism".
The British have long been appalled that anyone could eat equine. Eating horses and ponies is taboo in British culture and causes friction with its nearest European neighbour, France. The fact that surplus wild ponies are rounded up and shipped (in often appalling conditions) to continental Europe for consumption remains a convenient blind spot. Many British cat owners cannot believe that some American cat foods contain horsemeat. The concept is anathema to most Britons yet during the Second World War when meat was rationed, many families unknowingly ate horsemeat believing it to be beef.
An anonymous writer in the magazine "All the Year Round" (edited by Charles Dickens) in 1861 wrote of human cultural food prejudices : "The Christian pities the Jew and the Mussulman [Muslim], because they hold pork in abhorrence, and yet the Christian repulses the notion of touching horse-flesh. The Hindoo has an equal horror of beef. Mutton is by no means a cosmopolitan dish. ... The Russians still abstain from pigeon ... the Italians hold the rabbit in aversion. ... The French eat on a small scale frogs, and on a large scale snails ... which would be rejected by the English labourer, even if starving." (the writer admitted that some intrepid Frenchmen ate horse-flesh)
Historically cats have been eaten in the West. Tales of cat-eating are nothing new and can be found in Charles Dickens’ "The Pickwick Papers" (1836/7) where Sam Weller tells Mr. Pickwick that he’s heard about pies made from kittens being sold on the London streets as ordinary meat pies. In 1885 an English newspaper reported the story of a woman convicted of trapping and butchering cats and selling them to people as rabbit meat.
Le Monde Illustre, April 1871. During the Siege of Paris (Franco-Prussian War) market stalls did a thriving business in cat, dog and rat meat.
During the siege, with no food to spare, even the animals would have been starving.
This recipe for "Roast Cat as It Should Be Prepared" is from Ruperto de Nola, Libro de Cozina, 1529: Take a cat that should be plump: and cut its throat, and once it is dead cut off its head, and throw it away for this is not to be eaten; for it is said that he who eats the brains will lose his own sense and judgement. Then skin it very cleanly, and open it and clean it well; and then wrap it in a clean linen cloth and bury it in the earth where it should remain for a day and a night; then take it out and put it on a spit; and roast it over the fire, and when beginning to roast, baste it with good garlic and oil, and when you are finished basting it, beat it well with a green branch; and this should be done until it is well roasted, basting and beating; and when it is roasted carve it as if it were rabbit or kid and put it on a large plate; and take the garlic with oil mixed with good broth so that it is coarse, and pour it over the cat and you can eat it for it is a good dish.
In England in the Middle Ages, it was considered lucky to roast a cat alive on a spit before a slow fire prior to eating the first meal in a new house. Whether the cat formed part of the meal was uncertain as cat-torture was rife at the time. However, the cat was also used in medicine. An old recipe "for hym that haves the squyhansy [quinsy" begins "tak a fatte katte, flae hot wele and clene." The cat is then stuffed with hedgehog fat, resin, fenugreek, wax and other ingredients before being roast. After roasting, it's not the flesh that is consumed, but the grease that is used to anoint the patient. While not eating a cat, it certainly demonstrates a willingness to roast one.
During Britain's Industrial Revolution (late 18th to early 19th century), the Livestock Journal and Fancier's Gazette published and article called "Eating Cats in West Bromwich" (a West Midlands town close to Birmingham). Cat has also been eaten in Britain. During wartime rationing, cats found their way into "rabbit" stews/pies and hence earned themselves the nickname "roof-rabbit". With so many city strays and pets abandoned by bombed out families, cats were a substitute for rabbit. A former colleague whose father was in the butchery trade during that time told me that butchers sometimes kept cats as ratters; the cat later ended up being sold as "rabbit". The rationale was simple - a surplus of homeless cats living off of vermin, plus the fact that the supply of wild rabbit from the countryside had been suspended. The following rhyme summed up the keeping of cats in peace-time and the eating of them in times of hardship.
Oh kittens, in our hours of ease
Uncertain toys and full of fleas,
When pain and anguish hang o’er men,
We turn you into sausage then.
Today, pet cats in the UK are apparently stolen to satisfy the continental fur trade; the skinned carcasses have sometimes offered to butchers as "wild rabbit". A former colleague who controlled rabbits on local farms supplied wild rabbit to a local butcher. In 1993, the butcher asked him to leave the head and feet on the carcass because he had been offered skinned cat by other shooters and wanted to be sure of the true identity of the meat. Once the paws, head and tail are removed, the only way to distinguish cat from rabbit or hare is by looking at the processus hamatus of the scapula. In the cat, this should have a processus suprahamatus.
The Spanish expression "pasar gato por liebre" (to pass off a cat as a hare) and the Portuguese expression "Comprar gato por lebre" (to buy a cat as a hare) are derived from this practice and mean "to pull the wool over someone's eyes". These expressions derive from the practice of hunters trying to sell skinned cats as hares. When butchered, the animals are supposed to look almost identical. In "Our Cats" may 1950, correspondent Mrs Lois Hutton of Saint-Paul, Alpes, Maritime, France wrote of French "chasseurs" (hunters) attitudes to cats: "It is a common 'joke' to serve cat for rabbit to one's friends and afterwards display the head and tail."
Food historians said that Italians in cities such as Vicenza devised cat recipes in times of economic hardship. Inhabitants of Vicenza are still nicknamed magnagati (cat eaters), and in some butchers' shops rabbits are sold with their heads to assure buyers that they are not cats. In the 1930s and 1940s when wartime food shortages in Tuscany, Italy put cat on the menu. The meat was tenderised by leaving it under running water e.g. a stream for three days resulting in pale and tender meat used in stews. This has also been claimed to be a long-held tradition in Valdarno, a town near Florence, although eating cat is now illegal throughout Italy.
In one region of Europe, the traditional Christmas meal is not a turkey or a beef joint, but a cat specially fattened for the occasion. It is served stuffed and roasted. A cat rescue shelter in a French town became aware that a local man who adopted kittens from them was rearing those kittens for food, killing and eating them at six months of age. He considered them a delicacy.
As well as feeding cats to humans, Diego Rivera wrote in his memoirs "My Art, My Life: An Autobiography" of a Parisian fur dealer who fed cat flesh to his cats to make their pelts firmer and glossier.
While Western activists attempt to eradicate pet-eating, they fail to realise that the animals eaten are not "pets" but livestock. Having pets is a luxury. It is also conveniently forgotten that Western farming and slaughter methods are frequently inhumane in order to achieve high turnover. Some of the animals routinely eaten in Western cultures are considered taboo or sacred elsewhere, making Europeans and Americans appear barbaric by somebody else's standards.
"It is inappropriate for someone to denounce another country's food just because it differs from his or hers," said Korean consular staffer Sok-Bae Lee in a December 1996 interview with Ciaran Ganley of the Toronto Sun. "Eating is a result of longstanding cultural practices, not an issue of morality. In Korea, there are dogs who are bred to be pets and there are certain kinds of dogs who are bred to be used as food."
Westerners equate eating cats and dogs to cannibalism (particularly to cannibalism of children) because we are raised to think of them as family members and are attached to them as such, yet millions of unwanted cats and dogs in Western countries are either euthanized in shelters or abandoned on the streets. Is this somehow a better fate than being eaten?
RACIAL SLURS AND STEREOTYPES
Most readers will be familiar with tales of cat or dog carcasses found when Public Health officials raid an ethnic restaurant. Or tales that "ever since that ethnic family move into the street cats have been going missing". There is an entire genre of urban mythology built around ethnic restaurants and cat eating. This demonstrates a Western distrust of unfamiliar foods as well as racial stereotyping and is explored in The Role of the Cat In Urban Mythology. Some Asian individuals have encountered hostility and suspicion from new colleagues and new neighbours or may be asked an outright "They eat cats in your country don't they?"
These are racial stereotypes and racial slurs. It is wrong to lump together many countries, cultures and races as "Asians" (e.g. Indian subcontinent, Thailand, Vietnam, Korea, Malaysia) or "Orientals" (Chinese, Japanese). Too many Westerners still think of Asia as one homogeneous area and not a range of countries with different cultures. An analogy would be a Japanese person assuming that, since Spain is known for its cruel bull fights, all Europeans indulge in bull-fighting. A number of Asian and Eastern religions advocate vegetarianism. Thailand and Japan are both long-term "cat loving" countries although the standards of cat care are different from Western ideals. Cats were valued there at a time when they were being tortured and killed in Europe because of their association with witchcraft.
Viewers from a Western pet-owning culture sometimes ask whether primitive/developing societies were more realistic in their attitude towards animals or whether they were savage, heartless monsters. The concept of a "primitive" society carries a lot of cultural baggage: the notion that the "primitive" is more in touch with nature, that "primitive" societies show little regard for women or children, that "primitive" life is "nasty, brutish, and short." What exactly is a primitive society anyway? Is it a hunter/gather society, a Masai-style cattle-herding culture or simply a culture which lacks television and McDonalds? South East Asian countries cannot be called primitive by any of these "definitions". The term "primitive" is often used as a term of abuse to suggest any culture which has not adopted Western values.
Those parts of China where cats are supposedly eaten are not primitive. My Chinese colleague explained to me that some cat-eating areas are rural and poor; though considered backward by city-dwellers, they are not primitive by any modern definition. In the urban areas where cat is served, it was considered a gourmet meal. He found it odd that I accorded my pet cats the status of family members and not livestock or utility animals (ratters). If they were family members, how could I be comfortable with "owning" them as property (which I could dispose of at will) - would I feel comfortable about owning, buying and selling a child or an aunt?
Having heard so much conflicting information about pet-eating in Korea, I spoke to the Korean wife of a colleague. She was quite upset at the suggestion that all Koreans eat pet cats. She told me that cats are eaten, but mostly in rural areas since well-educated Koreans consider pet keeping a status symbol and sign of Westernisation. She stressed that the cats eaten are bred and bought for food, just like Westerners breed cattle for food - they are not pets. This parallels the fact that China has a specialised breed of dog raised specially for meat - the Mongolian Chinese Meat Dog (often crossed with imported St Bernard dogs to improve yield) - just as Westerners raise some rabbits for meat and other types of rabbit as pets. The "Chow" breed was a meat dog - "chow" means "food".
One racial slur which did the rounds of the internet was a fake letter claiming to come from Malaysia (cats are not eaten in Malaysia):
"To make use of the unwanted animal we can make pleasurable cuisine for the people. Please to arrange air shipment for cats which can be used in our culinary educations program. Will pay for no less than cats in 50 pound lots. Only alive please. Malaysia have many delicacy for eating the cat, only in the most humane way of course. I would like to share our culinary heritage with you in the overseas. In my honorary role with the martial arts, we gain great strength from the eating of the young cats. Fondestly to you …"
Another myth which has surfaced on usenet and circular emails was that it was common for restaurants in neighbouring Singapore to serve cat meat in a dish called "Mew Goo Guy Ding". The "Mew Goo Guy Ding" story has been told of Chinese restaurants around the world and is debunked on several urban legend sites.
Another circulating chain email states that a Catholic parish in America had a Vietnamese priest [Father X] who was called out late at night by an old man to give Last Rites to a pet cat who had been a cherished member of the household. While Last Rites may not be appropriate to an animal, the angry priest apparently took the cat home and had it for dinner the following day. Although several people swear to its veracity and ask for protests against the Catholic church for "permitting this disgrace", it seems an unlikely tale and a racial slur against an immigrant population in the USA.
While most accusations are aimed at those originating from Asian countries, other foreigners and their unfamiliar cuisines are also sometimes suspected of using cats and dogs. A similar racial slur is found in folksong portraying a German ("Dutchman" means "German" i.e. Deutsch) immigrant as untrustworthy and malicious (in American English, "mean" means nasty rather than miserly).
There was a jolly Dutchman, his name was Johnny Rebeck
He was a dealer in sausages and sauerkraut and speck
One day he invented a new sort of machine
And all the neighbors' cats and dogs, they never more were seen.
Oh, Mister, Mister, Johnny Rebeck, how could you be so mean?
I told you you'd be sorry you invented that machine
Now all the neighbors' cats and dogs will never more be seen
They're all ground up to sausages in Johnny Rebeck's machine
There is also a rumour that there are few cats in the town of Solvay (near Syracuse) in the USA because its large Tyrolian immigrant population eat cats; a habit that, according to the rumour, goes back to the First World War when Austrians suffered serious food shortages. It is reputed that the cats are prepared in a variety of ways, including a secret Tyrolean recipe (probably salted and smoked since surplus cats are still sometimes salted, smoked and eaten in parts of rural Switzerland). Children in the area were told not to eat a meal containing rabbit at an Austrian, Tyrolese or Piedmontese home, because the meat was really cat.
Doner kebab shops in the west (mostly run by Turkish Cypriots) are sometimes suspected of using dog or cat in the cylinder of reformatted lamb (known as "mystery meat" in Britain). There is a popular Russian joke about doner kebab/shawerma stands:
Customer: Is this meat fresh?
Cook: Of course - I personally heard it meowing yesterday.
In his 1998 travel diary “From The Holy Mountain”, William Dalrymple gives the following tale of alleged cat-eating in Jerusalem. His guide, Bishop Hagop, points out a tall man called Isa and tells Dalrymple that Isa was formerly a cook who specialized in dainty sandwiches for wedding parties. "He was famous for his special liver sandwiches and soon became the most popular caterer in the Old City. Then someone noticed that the cat population near his house kept declining every time there was a wedding: eight to ten cats went missing whenever a reception was held. News spread about this, but people kept begging him for sandwiches. In the end he couldn’t satisfy demand: the cat population ran too low and he couldn’t produce the goods." At that point Isa apparently left the catering trade. The Bishop considered Isa to have been quite humane with the cats compared to a Cypriot monk who made his cats fast during Lent.
WHERE ARE CATS EATEN?
Jean Bungartz referred to cat-eating in China and other parts of Asia in his 1896 book "Die Hauskatze, ihre Rassen und Varietäten" (Housecats, Their Races and Varieties) in " Illustriertes Katzenbuch" (An Illustrated Book of Cats). He wrote that Chinese Hanging-Ear cat (Chinese Lop-eared Cats) were bred for meat and considered delicacies with noodles or rice. Bungartz wrote the Europeans were often revolted at the creatures the Chinese ate. The cats were kept locked in small bamboo cages and fattened like geese on plentiful portions of food (the image below shows these cats in their cages). These were traded with other parts of Asia, but the canny Chinese would not allow tomcats to be exported in order to prevent interference in this lucrative form of income. The cats were longhaired and usually cream in colour and were larger than housecats. One exported to Hamburg by a sailor was described as languid and only the sight of milk or food animated it.
Cat and/or dog eating has been documented, filmed etc in Korea and in China. Documentary evidence shows that in parts of China, cats do form part of the diet and may even be farmed as dual flesh/fur livestock. China has suffered periodic famines for centuries. This has led to them eating a far wider range of meat and vegetables than most Western cultures. Cantonese cuisine uses a particularly wide range of "exotic" ingredients. It is often said that the Chinese will eat anything with four legs except a table and anything with wings except an aeroplane. In practice, the commonly eaten meats are pork, beef, chicken, rabbit and duck.
In Canton, southern China, there exists a dish called "The Dragon and the Tiger''. It is made with snake and cat meat stir-fried together and is an exotic delicacy. "Snake Soup", "Dragon Fights with Tiger Soup" (longhudou) or "Dragon-Tiger-Phoenix Soup" contains cobra, serpentine, old cat, and young chicken. The snake stands for the dragon, cat stands for tiger and chicken stands for phoenix. "'Tiger Fights Dragon'" is described as consisting of a roast snake entwined around a roast cat.
There are persistent rumours that the rise in demand for cat (a delicacy), and the apparent willingness of some Chinese to pay extravagant prices for cat dishes, has led to pet cats in Beijing being stolen to Cantonese-style restaurants. In January 2000, the New York Times reported allegations that the popularity of Cantonese-style restaurants in Beijing has led to cat-thefts to meet the rising demand. Lu Di, a Beijing woman, professor of classical literature and long-time animal welfare campaigner (a rarity in China) apparently stated that between September and the date of the report, up to 500 Beijing families had their pet cats stolen. This estimate was extrapolated from complaints received by her Association for the Protection of Small Animals.
Lu Di apparently described a case in which six cats in one north-western section of Beijing were stolen in one day. The distraught owners found the animals caged at nearby restaurants. The police apparently refused to help them, because there are no specific laws relating to pet-theft. The owners called the Association for the Protection of Small Animals, but when they returned to the restaurants the cages were empty and the owners were distraught. Certainly knowledge of the manner in which cats and other small animals are dispatched would create great distress in an owner whose cat had been stolen for the restaurant trade.
Cats being traded in China in the 1840s. One buyer is examining the offered cat for plumpness, leaving little doubt as to its fate.
While dog meat ("fragrant meat") is popular and dogs are farmed in some parts of China for both meat and fur, cat is less popular and many Chinese avoid it because of a superstition that the animal will return at night to exact revenge, however it is popular in southern Guangdong, especially in a stew of cat and snake with spices. Cats are also farmed for meat and fur and animal rights groups have fought to halt mass shipments of cats into Guangdong from the north; the animals are squashed into wire cages which are tossed around, breaking limbs that poke through the mesh. Guangdong is the only province known for eating cats. An estimate by the Yangcheng Evening News suggests that a cat stall in the game-meat market can easily sell 300-400 kilograms of cat meat daily in winter. There are about 80 stalls selling cats in the three [game meat] markets. This adds up to 10,000 cats a day. The report claimed that almost all the cats sold to restaurants were domestic cats, many of which had been stolen or caught on the streets rather than purposely bred. The cats are crowded into cages and are often injured.
Freshness of ingredients is paramount and many ingredients still come from traditional markets. The animal is killed at point of sale (strangulation is one method) or, a concept abhorrent to most Westerners, bought live and trussed and killed by the buyer. Sometimes it is skinned alive with casual cruelty for the sake of freshness. Because it is hard to skin something moving without getting clawed or bitten, the animal is stunned, trussed or paralysed by neck-breaking. Killing methods in these markets may be rough and ready - bludgeoning, boiling (stunned or conscious) or stabbing.
In 2010 China appeared ready to end a centuries-old custom and remove cat and dog from the menu. According to state media, a draft law is expected to go to the National People's Congress (Chinese parliament) in April. This would be China's first law against animal abuse. Anyone caught eating cat or dog meat would face a fine of as much as 5,000 yuan (£450) and up to 15 days in jail. Organisations involved in selling cats or dogs for consumption, or their meat, could be fined between 10,000 and 500,000 yuan.
Koreans claim that cat and dog eating is an old tradition in their country though animal welfare bodies dispute this saying that pet flesh consumption came about in the 1980's and that pet flesh is a delicacy for the rich rather than being a food of necessity for the poor. Archaeological findings confirm dog-eating in Confuscian times but in the long cultural tradition of Korea, the recorded instances of eating cat or dog are almost non-existent. Korea has been occupied for prolonged periods by both Chinese and Japanese conquerors. Japanese influences eschew cat and dog eating and influence educated Koreans. Cat and dog eating thrives among working class and rural people, where the Chinese influence remains strong.
It has been reported by military personnel once stationed in Singapore (post World War II) that they had eaten cat while there. Keema Roti is a dish comprising minced lamb, mutton or beef. However, the Keema Roti at that time was reputed to contain cat and other types of meat not normally eaten. The cats lived in monsoon drains and were considered easily available at that time. While modern Singaporeans might dispute this (based on modern sensibilities), atypical food sources have been used in many countries at various times in the past. Modern Singaporean food regulations and Muslim culture restricts the type of meat used in Keema Roti and cat is not an acceptable meat among Muslim Indian and Muslim Malays. In my visit to Singapore I was advised that cat has sometimes been eaten by ethnic Chinese, a practice dying out among younger generations. The country is now very westernized and Singapore Centre for Animal Welfare emphasise that in modern Singapore, slaughter of dogs and cats for food is not permitted. Under the Singapore Wholesome Meat and Fish Act, meat can only be imported from approved sources using internationally acceptable humane methods. There is currently no accepted humane method of slaughtering dogs and cats for human consumption and such consumption is considered socially unacceptable in modern-day Singapore. There have been tales of "Thai" workers (generally of Chinese/Vietnamese origin) killing and eating dogs and sometimes cats and one case (reported by SPCA Singapore) where construction workers were jailed as a result of killing a dog.
Some Vietnamese formerly ate cat, but only through starvation. Ironically, this resulted in a rodent problem. In fact cats and dogs will have been eaten in almost any siege once other food sources had been exhausted. Cat-eating is now illegal in Vietnam because cats are essential to control rice-eating rodents, though there are accounts of raids on cat-meat restaurants. Cat-eating is considered a vice. This is comparable to the wartime eating of cat in Britain (along with other taboo meats such as whale and horse) where cats were sometimes consumed in the guise of "roof-rabbit". Similarly, it is said that cats and dogs vanished from the streets of Japan after the second world war.
In Madagascar, cats apparently make a tasty and welcome addition to an otherwise boring bowl of rice. Western travellers are advised to beware of any dish purporting to contain rabbit. Cat and rabbit are distinguishable only by the different shape of their ribs.
Cats are reputedly eaten by gypsies in various parts of India, but are not openly eaten anywhere in India. It is also reported that cats are eaten by some members of lower castes as well as by gypsy tribes such as narikorvas (a South Indian gypsy tribe) throughout India and by some people from Kerala. Cat is not openly eaten in Sri Lanka thought there are tales of butchers and restaurants in Sri Lanka illegally selling cat disguised as some other kinds of meat; however similar tales are found in Britain!/P>
Cat eating is not widespread in the Philippines and there is no commercial trade in cats, although there may be some personal consumption. Rumours of cats being delivered to Chinese restaurants apparently caused a boycott of the restaurant.
In Australia, where the feral cats have become a severe problem, Aboriginal tribes now hunt and eat the feral cats. They may have little choice because the cats have nearly wiped out their normal prey.
Every September, the Festival Gastronomico del Gato (cat eating) takes place in the town of La Quebrada, Peru, to celebrate the day of Santa Ifigenia. The cats are bred especially for the festival, nicknamed "Massacre of the Moggies", and diners believe the cat cuisine, including friend legs and tails, can cure bronchial disease or be an aphrodisiac. I have also heard of cat consumption in Mexico but this may be a racist slur. One person wrote that her house was burgled by a man of Mexican appearance. She challenged him and as he fled, he grabbed her young cat, broke its neck and pocketed its body. She had heard reports of cat being eaten at the time. She had heard many jokes about cat tacos and dismissed it as Texan bigotry. She later was told that poverty among Mexican illegal immigrants had led some to snatch cats and dogs to supplement their diet. If true, this seems to be a case of pet-flesh consumption by people to impoverished to afford more "acceptable" forms of meat rather than a Mexican tradition. There are many racial slurs about domestic pets vanishing in "ethnic areas".
In Western culture, forensic psychiatry considers killing dogs and cats (other than humanely, due to accidents or incurable illness, or by animal controllers tackling overpopulation) to be an indicative step towards a career as a serial killer. In the USA, a man who ate cats ended up in a psychiatric hospital despite protestations that eating an animal traditionally regarded as a pet did not mean he was mentally sick. In many countries throughout the world (including Britain), animals traditionally classed as pets were eaten at times of severe food shortage e.g. war-time.
In the United States, thousands of cats are bred as a result of owners' failure to neuter their pets and end up in animal shelters where many of them are euthanized (or worse, handed over to laboratories). So long as the conditions are not stressful and the method of dispatch is humane, there is little difference in breeding cats for food and breeding them as (ultimately unwanted) pets - at the end of the day, the cat is just as dead. Readers should bear in mind that the issue is not the consumption of animals considered pets in the Western world, but the humane treatment of those destined for consumption and a legal/ethical source (i.e. not stolen or relinquished pets).
WHY ARE CATS EATEN
In the vast majority of cases, cats (and dogs) are eaten because they are a source of protein. They can be fed on scraps unfit for human consumption and convert those scraps into edible protein. This is no different from the family pig fed on household leftovers and windfall fruit and killed to feed the family during the winter. In some countries they are eaten through choice e.g. as a gourmet item, elsewhere they are eaten through lack of choice i.e. other animal protein sources are in short supply. Depending on how it is prepared and served, cat is described as tasting either like rabbit or like chicken.
In pet-keeping cultures cats and dogs are a food of last resort during times of siege or famine. Except where there is a huge rodent population, it is uneconomical to rear large numbers of cats purely for the table.
The commonest meats habitually consumed by humans (discounting subsistence hunters) are the simplest and most economical to raise - they are either herbivores or omnivores: pigs, cows, chickens, sheep, goats. They are low down on the biomass pyramid and their diet includes vegetation humans cannot digest. It is economical for cattle to convert indigestible grasses into digestible steak.
Cats are obligate carnivores and are expensive to rear, feed and fatten. They are at or near the top of the biomass pyramid. The cat consumes many prey animals e.g. pigeons, rabbits. It makes better sense for humans to eat those prey animals than to eat the cat. Humans and cats are at roughly similar levels in the food chain and are competitors rather than predator/prey. However protein is protein and most carnivores/omnivores will eat other carnivores/omnivores if the need or opportunity arises.
Cat flesh only becomes economical where the cat is fed on scraps or where it eats rodents. Otherwise the expense of rearing cats for consumption makes it an expensive delicacy. There is not much meat on a cat unless it has been specially fattened. Stray cats which rely on their own hunting or scavenging skills are generally very scrawny.
Where cat is eaten it is eaten through necessity or as a delicacy. Sometimes this is bound up with superstitious belief about certain foods endowing certain properties upon the diner, especially if the food is prepared in a particular manner. Certain animals are used in traditional remedies which owe more to superstition than to fact. This is the case in Korea. Those of a squeamish disposition will not wish to read any further.
According to veterinary professor Lin Degui at the Beijing Agriculture University, cat meat can be dangerous since cats carry parasites. Several people in Guangdog were reported as being made ill by eating street cats which had consumed rat poison. There have previously been similar reports of rat poison in cat flesh in Singapore.
CAT EATING IN KOREA
In China, the skin of a cat is believed efficacious against rheumatism. In Korea, a soup or paste made from cat forms part of a traditional remedy for rheumatism although actual cat-eating is considered to be relatively rare.
The abolition of cat and dog eating in the Republic of Korea was supposedly achieved in 1978, 1980, 1984, 1986, 1988, and 1991, according to statements by Korean officials. The Korean Animal Protection Law was approved on May 7, 1991 and was supposed to prevent cat and dog eating. Despite the illegality of the cat and dog meat trade, the law is rarely enforced. Attitudes have certainly hanged, but not in the way Westerners would like. In the 1970s and 1980s, merchants proudly posed for photographs with doomed dogs and cats or allowed the activities to be filmed. In late 1998 a photographer was allegedly assaulted while trying to photograph the same activities.
Western slaughterhouses believe that a stressed animal produces tougher meat. Popular Korean belief is that due to the adrenaline rush it creates, the more painful the death, the tastier or more potent the meat. Hence certain animals are tortured to death rather than killed outright.
Cats may first have their bones broken with a hammer, before being boiled alive and pureed into a "health drink," which may be sold in plastic packets for home consumption. They may be beaten to death in hessian sacks. Cat soup is the preferred way to prepare cat meat and kittens are considered to have a more delicate flavour. "Goyangi-tan" (Liquid cat) (being a phonetic translation it is sometimes rendered "goyangi-tang" or translated as "cat stew") is believed to have medicinal qualities. Though they might not eat the cat meat, a soup paste made from cat is used to treat rheumatism.
In 1986, press attache Young Mo Ahn of the Korean embassy in Washington D.C. stated " Koreans have never made a practice of consuming cat meat. There is an old belief among the people that a benevolent spirit resides within cats. Therefore, to harm a cat would be to harm the spirit. Cats are kept by many households and restaurants in Korea to keep rodents under control, and are therefore highly valued. " According to other Koreans, many there have a disdain for cats and could not imagine eating them though they could imagine harming them.
The rough handling, crowded caging and slaughter in front of each other may be little different from the treatment of many food animals in the US and Europe, but the deliberately cruel methods used to make the meat more potent is unnecessary and are based on superstition.
Cat and dog eaters are currently an influential minority of Koreans. Governments tend not to oppose popular practices in order not to lose votes hence the problem of enforcing legislation. In addition, the cat and dog meat is worth about US$950 million per year, making it about as lucrative as the US retail fur industry - in a far poorer nation. Though a distressing concept to many Westerners, the fact that cats are eaten is not the fundamental issue. The real issue is that they are dispatched using procedures designed to intensify and prolong their suffering for superstitious reasons and that this is dismissed as a matter of cultural practice, not of morality.
PREPARATION OF KOREAN "LIQUID CAT" (FROM IFAW LITERATURE)
An overcrowded crate of cats and kittens awaiting slaughter. Cats are territorial creatures and find overcrowding highly stressful. They will be able to see other cats being slaughtered and prepared.
Cat tethered in front of a cauldron of boiling water. Its bones may be broken before it is dumped into the cauldron. Cats have been heard trying to claw their way out of the boiling water for several seconds.
In all likelihood this cat was boiled alive. The suffering endured is believed to enhance its potency as a health food or traditional remedy.
The bodies of cats await the next stage of preparation for "Liquid Cat".
DENMARK: JOURNALISM STUDENTS EAT CAT AS "ANIMAL WELFARE PUBLICITY STUNT" (2008)
In June 2008, a group of journalism students from the Danish School of Journalism in Århus have discovered had their Facebook accounts closed by Facebook administrators after uploading photos of themselves cooking and eating a cat. 30 pictures and a recipe for a dish called “litter box” were removed Facebook. The group claimed they wanted to highlight animal welfare. They said that owners were willing to large sums on their pets, but did not give consideration to the welfare of food animals and bought cheap meat from intensively reared animals.
The cat was a feral cat that had been shot by a farmer who had too many cats on his land. The students argued that the cat had been killed humanely and said it had been prepared by a professional chef. One of the students, Laura Bøge Mortensen, is editor of a student magazine called Citat, which printed an article about the meal. The students admitted they had to overcome a reluctance to eating a companion animal.
Ole Münster, director of animal welfare organisation Dyrenes Beskyttelse said the stunt was the worst way to draw attention to animal welfare. The choice of a cat was especially bad as the organisation got most of our calls about cats
AUSTRALIA: BAN ON CAT-EATING IN VICTORIA (2002); CAT EATING AT ALICE SPRINGS (2007)
In October 2002, Australian government officials in Victoria banned the eating of cats and dogs. The move by Victoria state came after a newspaper sparked public outrage by publishing a story about a man pretending to eat a dog in a shopping centre. A report in the Moonee Valley Community News stated that an Asian man was seen in Victoria acting as if he were consuming a 10-week-old dog. The puppy's owner said she couldn't believe someone was trying to eat her dog. As a result, Agriculture minister Keith Hamilton decided to toughen up meat industry laws concerning the consumption of animals, describing the practice of dog eating as "abhorrent". There has been concern that minority groups would be offended by the new law, but the President of the Korean Society of Victoria said Koreans living in Victoria did not eat dog because they followed Australian culture.
During 2002, there have been email and newsgroup stories of Australians eating dogs and cats at barbecues and this being quite normal. Quite why Australians have been singled out is uncertain. In the outback, feral cats are eaten by Aboriginal people. Feral cats are considered a serious pest species in Australia and have severely affected species which traditionally formed part of the Aboriginal diet.
In August 2007, an Alice Springs contest featured wild cat casserole as part of a promotion to cull feral pests by harvesting and eating them. The meat was claimed to taste like a cross between rabbit and chicken, but was found impossibly tough by one of the competitions judges who had to spit it out. Unusually, considering their normal antipathy towards feral cats, wildlife campaigners expressed dismay that Australia's wild cat could become a menu item. Feral cats are considered good eating by some Aborigines, who roast them on an open fire. However, the diner risks exposure to harmful bacteria and toxins.
The woman who created the cat stew recipe believed Australians could help the environment by eating feral pests such as cats, pigeons and camels. Her recipe for feline casserole impressed some of the judges at an outback food competition in Alice Springs. The meat is diced and fried until brown. Lemongrass, salt and pepper are then added along with 3 cups of quandong (a sweet desert fruit also called native peach (Santalum acuminatum)). The stew is left to simmer for 5 hours and is garnished with bush plums and mistletoe berries. One judge found the meat impossibly tough and politely excused herself to spit it out in a backroom. Note: The fruits of Australian mistletoes are apparently edible when ripe; those of European mistletoe are considered toxic.
KENYA: BOYS ARRESTING FOR EATING CAT IN NAIROBI (2002)
In December 2002, Reuters reported that three Kenyan schoolboys, aged 12-14, had been arrested for killing and eating a cat they suspected of stealing chickens set aside for their Christmas feast. The three boys had killed, skinned and roasted the cat for lunch on 17th December according to the Kenya News Agency (KNA). They were arrested after complaints from residents in Mororo village in eastern Kenya.
BRAZIL: MAN HUNTING AND EATING NEIGHBOURHOOD PET CATS (2003)
In March 2003, Folha de Sao Paulo reported that a 70-year-old man was arrested in Brazil on suspicion of hunting and eating domestic cats. Elias Cassini was allegedly caught skinning a Siamese cat outside his home in Sao Paulo and two further dead cats were found inside the house. According to a police spokesman, police received an anonymous phone call alerting them that Mr Cassini was hunting all the cats in the neighbourhood. Cassini will go on trial for animal cruelty and faces a month in prison if convicted.
Cassini is reported to have said: "I do have the habit of eating cat stew and fried cat. I do that because I don't have enough money to buy food." However, Mr Cassini's family told the police that he has adequate means to support himself and that cat eating is a bizarre habit, not a means getting adequate food.
SWITZERLAND: CAT EATING IN RURAL AREAS (2003, 2004)
In June 2003, Animal protection groups in Switzerland became concerned about the increasing popularity of dog and cat meat, especially in rural areas of the country. The meat and fat of cats and dogs was also believed to have medicinal qualities. Slaughtering pets for their meat is prohibited under Swiss law but the meat is available on the black market.
In January 2004, Reuters reported that Swiss culinary traditions include puppies and kittens. While many European countries prohibit the eating of cats and dogs, in some rural parts Switzerland the only prohibition is on the trading and distribution of pet meat products. Private consumption of cat and dog is permissible. Swiss animal welfare groups say it is hard to estimate how many pets end up salted and smoked, or in Swiss frying pan, each year. Animal protection legislation is unlikely to end this longstanding tradition because meals served in private homes are none of the state's business.
There is a waste-not-want-not logic to the consumption of pets. As with many countries, many farm cats and farm dogs are not neutered. When the farm's cats or dogs have offspring, there are surplus ones which will be killed. Since they are going to be killed, they might as well be eaten. Despite laws in many European countries, the rural habit might be even more widespread. Several years ago a man in a rural town in France was reportedly put on local animal rescuers' blacklists after regularly adopting (or buying) kittens for his own consumption.
MALAYSIAN: VIETNAMESE WORKERS ATE CATS (2003)
New Straits Times 25th July 2003. Alor Gajah (Malacca): Vietnamese workers who were recently laid off when the Super Latex Sdn Bhd factory went into receivership, apparently resorted to eating cats and dogs. Residents in the Kelemak industrial estate began complaining of pets going missing. Phan, a Vietnamese worker, admitted that he and his fellow countrymen killed and ate cats and dogs as they could not afford to buy meat and did not have enough money to pay for their passage back to Vietnam. One of the Nepalese workers claimed to have seen a Vietnamese man using a piece of wood to strike a cat and placing the dead animal in a plastic bag. A local restaurant owner claimed that his two pet puppies had gone missing and believed they had been eaten by the Vietnamese workers. 50 Vietnamese and 40 Nepalese were living at the factory hostel awaiting deportation. Management were providing daily rations of rice, potatoes, dhall and chicken. If the reports are true, it is a symptom of hardship. The possibility of racist rumours cannot be discounted though.
CHINA: CAT-MEAT FOUND IN KEBABS, SHANGHAI (2006)
According to the Shanghai Small Animal Association in January 2006, Shanghai street vendors were using the meat from stray cats to supplement mutton in snacks such as kebabs. The Shanghai Small Animal Association had just completed a one-year investigation into samples of "lamb" and "rabbit" kebabs. Using DNA analysis, the kebabs tested positively for cat meat.
Cats are considered a delicacy in wealthy Guangdong province in the south, but elsewhere in China diners prefer more conventional meat such as pork, mutton and rabbit. In a city with a huge stray cat population where the cats can often be picked up at no cost, this has caused some street vendors to pass off cat meat as mutton.
According to Li Ruohai, director of the Shanghai Small Animal Association, there is no way to protect cats in Shanghai. The city has no laws that defend their rights. With around 100,000 stray cats and dogs living and breeding in the city, the animals are often snatched from the street with little regard as to whether they are homeless or are owned pets. According to Li, the problem began when Shanghai residents who bought cats as pets, or received them as presents, grew tired of them and abandoned them.
News agencies reporting the story have not commented on whether there are laws governing the adulteration of rabbit or mutton kebabs with cat meat or whether diners would continue to eat the kebabs if the true content was disclosed.
KUWAIT: CAT-MEAT SUSPECTED IN KEBABS, JAHRA (MAY 2007)
Health authorities shut down a popular shawerma (doner kebab) restaurant in Jahra after several custoemr complaints and allegations it mixed stray cats' flesh and frozen meat which it sold as fresh meat. Officials monitored the restaurant before raiding it. They found meat that was unfit for human consumption and so rancid even dogs would not eat it. Cats, along with other carnivores, are taboo for Muslims. Officials were afraid the restaurant would reopen through wasta (unofficial/corrupt connections). Doner kebab shops in the west are sometimes asuspected of using dog or cat in their cylinders of reformatted "mystery meat".
ITALY: ITALIAN CHEF PROMOTES CAT-MEAT DISH ON TV (FEBRUARY 2010)
Italian chef Beppe Bigazzi was suspended indefinitely from his position as food expert on national TV show "La Prova del Cuoco" (The Cook's Challenge, similar to Britain's "Ready, Steady, Cook") for telling the television audience about the wonders of "tender, white cat meat." The 77 year old chef explained how to tenderize cat meat by leaving it under running water for three days to tenderise it before cooking it in a stew: "Leave it for three days under a stream or running water and you end up with a delight, I've eaten its delicious white meat many times". The Italian Animal Protection Agency called for him to be permanently removed from the programme. Instigating others to commit an act of animal cruelty is a criminal offence punishable by up to 18 months in prison. Bigazzi later claimed he had been talking about a tradition in the 1930s and 1940s when wartime food shortages in Tuscany, Italy put cat on the menu. He claimed on the show that it was a long-held tradition in Valdarno, a town near Florence. Eating cat is illegal in Italy where 8 million cats are kept as pets, but up to 50,000 strays are either neutered or put down annually.Footnote: As an aside, cats are farmed in parts of China. They are tethered using wire and farmed for their fur and potentially their meat. The fur is used in trinkets and fur-covered animal figurines. Killing is by stabbing, bleeding or drowning either in containers of water or, to avoid damaging the fur, by forcing a water hose into the cat's throat. Although the British RSPCA stated (September 2001) that cats are not farmed for their fur because it is unprofitable, this contradicted reports and photographic evidence from American humane societies.
Having been told that my refusal to condemn Asians (an inaccurate blanket term) outright for of eating cats and dogs (as opposed to condemning the avoidable cruelty) makes me a disgrace to "whites", those critics (who are primarily racist rather than being entirely concerned with animal-welfare) should consider the following acts of cruelty from "white" culture:-
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