CATS - FRIEND OR FOOD (3) WHERE AND WHY THEY ARE EATEN
Copyright 1999-2013, Sarah Hartwell

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?

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. According to "A Pictorial Geography of the World" (1840), S.G. Goodrich, Boston): “The principal article of food is rice, which is eaten with almost every sort of victuals, but in the north corn is more used. The Manchoos eat horse-flesh, and the lower classes, who are miserably poor, and often suffer from famine, do not refuse the most loathsome vermin…. Edible bird’s nests, which consist of some sort of gelatinous matter, tripang or sea slug, shark fins, and fish maws are among the luxuries of the Chinese table; opium, although forbidden by law, is much used. Dogs, cats, and rats are eagerly sought after by the poorer classes, and puppies are constantly hawked about the streets, to be eaten."

This slightly earlier account comes from “The Graphic” of 25 July 1891: “CATS IN CHINA are regarded as very precious animals. Severe retribution will follow any cruelty to poor puss, so says tradition, whilst kindness will meet with great reward and success in life. Still, this belief does not prevent beggars in some provinces from prowling round the streets to catch pet cats to sell their flesh and fur, garments of catskin being costly and much prized. Cats' flesh is much eaten in China, especially for lung diseases, as it is supposed to be as efficacious as cod-liver oil. Black cats furnish the best meat, and in some districts are regularly reared for sale. Some superstitious Chinese still believe in the " cat-spirit " entering human beings by witchcraft and playing many malicious tricks.”

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.


Puppies were also traded..

 

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.

This is illustrated in "Wenceslas Wratislaw Of Miteowitz. What He Saw In The Turkish Metropolis, Constantinople ; Experienced In His Captivity; And After His Happy Return To His Country, Committed To Writing In The Year Of Our Lord 1599": Once, on a festival after holy mass, a master-carpenter, a Christian prisoner, invited the chaplain and me to partake of a fine tabby tom-cat, which he had fed up for a long time, and named Marko. It was a fine and well-fatted cat, and I saw, with my own eyes, when the carpenter cut his throat. As my partner, Mr. Chaplain, would not go, and fettered together as we were I could not go without him, he sent us, as a present, a fore- shoulder of the cat, which I ate. It was nice meat, and I enjoyed it very much, for hunger is a capital cook, so that nothing makes one disgusted ; and if I had only had plenty of such tom-cats, they would have done me no harm. (Elsewhere in the book, the author describes how the Turks of Constantinople regularly fed stray cats.)

In "Prisoners Of War In Britain 1756 To 1815, A Record Of Their Lives, Their Romance And Their Sufferings" by Francis Abell (Published 1914), Abell wrote that in the late 1790s, numerous French prisoners were incarcerated in dungeons in Liverpool. Among these French prisoners were a number of other nationalities who had served on captured French ships. "One famous prisoner here was a Pole, named Charles Domery, whose voracity was extraordinary. He ate anything. After the surrender of the frigate on which he was captured he was so hungry that he was caught tearing the mangled limb of one of his fallen comrades. In one year he ate 174 cats, some of them alive, besides dogs, rats, candles, and especially raw meat. Although he was daily allowed the rations of ten men, he was never satisfied. One day the prison doctor tested his capacity, and at a sitting he ate fourteen pounds of raw meat and two pounds of candles, and washed it all down with five bottles of porter. Some of the French prisoners used to upbraid him with his Polish nationality, and accuse him of disloyalty to the Republic. Once, in a fit of anger at this, he seized a knife, cut two wide gashes on his bare arm, and with the blood wrote on the wall ' Vive la Republique ! ' He stood six feet two inches, was well made, and rather thin, and, despite the brutality of his taste in food, was a very amiable and inoffensive man." It sounds as if this person may have had a metabolic disorder that caused him to be continually hungry and eat inappropriate things.

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".

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.

Postscript

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:-

1. What the West Sees, What the West Ignores
2. Racial Slurs and Stereotypes
4. Recent Cases
5. Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Cat Eaters

MESSYBEAST : GENERAL INTEREST

 

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