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Donkeys and dogs, snakes and guinea pigs

2013-11-12 10:38:39



My Western friends laugh when they hear me say I am dead serious about not eating dogs and donkeys, and not just for the alliteration. Quaint cliche, they say.

I live in Beijing where every street corner has a hole-in-the-wall selling the ubiquitous donkey sandwich, or lyurou huoshao. No one blinks an eye when they wait anxiously for hot split sesame buns stuffed with chopped up mule meat.

It's lean and delicious. Healthy. Cheap and good.

I should be converted, but I made the mistake of making friends with a donkey with large lustrous eyes and the longest eyelashes I'd

seen along the road from Beijing to Hohhot.

If it's any consolation to animal activists preparing to bray out protests, these are farm-raised animals reared for meat, and skin.

Donkey skin, and only the best, is used to distill thick glue called e jiao, a valuable Chinese medicine that will keep a woman young and supple. It comes in chewy black pieces that resemble cut-up Michelin tires, which are then lovingly melted down again with yellow wine, honey and dates.

Sometimes it is made into a soft candy with walnuts. It still tastes like donkey glue and I want to be able to look my next donkey friend right in the eye.

As for dogs, I love them-but alive and frolicking around the house, coming up occasionally to bestow unconditional love, happy barks or a few wet licks.

Do people still eat dogs in China? Yes. They do, and it is an ethnic dish popular in the southwestern part of the country and in the northeast, just like donkey in Beijing. I can respect that.

Unlike donkeys though, which are bred for market, the source of dogmeat in China is murky and often surreptitious. Few farmers admit to raising dogs for the dining table because the trade is banned in certain provinces.

So you read of pet pooches being kidnapped and trucked off in stacked lorries to regions where they look more at the quality of the meat than the personality of the dog.

China has large and diverse tastes and there are countless unscrupulous food suppliers who prefer evil short cuts that make you question if they believe in the Chinese concept of reincarnation.

It's really hard to forget the pitiful eyes of golden retrievers and poodles looking out from the back of these trucks and it is even harder to imagine them cut up in chunks and served as "fragrant meat", as dog is known when it arrives at the table. It's all about food ethics.

No matter how exotic the tastes, it is perfectly understandable if meat is properly farmed and raised with conscience. National broadcaster CCTV's agriculture channel often features exemplary entrepreneurs breeding snakes, guinea pigs, emus and peacocks for the market.

But when the farmer will not eat what he produces, when profit wins over conscience, we are in serious trouble, because that's when China's infamous "food scandals" will surface.

Examples include fruit orchard owners who spray their trees with so much pesticide that it kills entire hives of bees from a neighboring farm, pigs raised on steroids for muscles (aka "lean" meat) which warp their figures into grotesque shapes, or farmed fish dosed with "growth enhancers" that send residual hormone levels through the roof.

The chain continues downstream to restaurateurs who must question their sources and verify that meat and vegetables they use meet the highest safety standards. In a city with almost 300,000 restaurants on the average and more opening every day, the desire to cut costs and up profits is fearfully natural.

So why worry about dogs or donkeys when there is so much more to be afraid of? It's no longer about squeamishness of unfamiliar foods, but a real concern about food safety, civic responsibility, or the sad lack of.

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