From pet to plate
“We still eat dog, but not this kind of dog,” Liu Ming, a pet shop salesman said, pointing to a toffee-coloured puppy with floppy ears on sale for about 500 yuan or $70.
“We eat much bigger dogs”.
However keeping pets is becoming all the rage among the affluent in China, even though some Chinese still consume dog and cat meat.
Combined spending on pet food and pet care in China will be worth an estimated $870 million in 2008, according to Euromonitor International. That’s up roughly 15 percent from the $757 million spent in 2007.
In the marquee cities of Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, a growing nouveau-riche class even sees pets, particularly dogs, as fashion items, outfitting them in designer clothing, paying for spa treatments and dyeing their fur unnatural colours.
Despite the emergence of Western-style pet rearing, dog meat remains a popular winter cuisine in parts of China.
Beijing has more than 120 restaurants serving dog meat, although recent media reports say that many are closing as the city tries to change its image before it hosts the Olympic Games in August.
Known as “fragrant meat”, dog meat is purported to have medicinal benefits and improve blood circulation in winter.
The meat, culled from farmed animals that are mixtures of Chinese dogs and St. Bernards or other big breeds, are served stewed, roasted, or sliced in a hot pot.
Plate to pet
China’s pet industry is still tiny compared to its counterpart in the United States where owners are projected to spend over $43 billion on their pets this year.
But experts say the industry’s potential in China is enormous as incomes rise and more of the country’s elite “DINK” couples – double income, no kids – see pets as less needy child-substitutes while they balance white-collar careers with family life.
Despite popular perceptions that dogs and cats are poorly treated in China compared to Western countries, both animals have long histories there.
The region’s pet craze has also caught on in Hong Kong, which has around 200,000 registered dogs, according to government data.
But the hard life for dogs and cats in greater China could be changing as Western pet culture takes root.
What do you think… should we respect ‘ancient’ food culture or police it as animal cruelty?