CATS - FRIEND OR FOOD (1) WHAT THE WEST SEES, WHAT THE WEST IGNORES
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.
Cats, along with dogs and rats, were eaten during the Siege Londonderry in 1689. George Walker’s account and a play based on it (“Ireland Preserved; or the Siege of Londonderry, a tragi-comedy” by Reverend John Graham, Rector of Tamlaght-ard, Derry) give some idea of the value of cats and dogs for food during the siege. By 28th July, close to the end of the siege, there were only nine lean (starved) horses left alive. Walker’s account stated: One pound of horseflesh 1s 8d; Quarter of a dog (fattened by eating corpses) 5s 6d; A dogs head 2s 6d; A cat 4s 6d; A rat (fed on human flesh) 1s 0d; A mouse 0s 6d.
Graham’s play, based on that account, says: “The soldiers hunt up and down the city for dogs and cats, as cats do for mice. . . . Here is a list of prices in the meat market, if such it may be called; it was put into my hand this morning, by John Hunter of Colonel Stewart's Maghera regiment: Horse flesh, twenty pence a pound. A quarter of a fat dog, five and six pence. A rat from the church-yard, one shilling. A mouse, six pence. . . . The soldiers and starving citizens have eaten up all the dogs and cats in the town.”
According to Chambers Journal, 4th February 1832: 'We are informed by Browne, in his ‘Natural History of Jamaica,’ that cats are considered a very dainty dish among the negroes; and Goethe, in his ‘Rifleman’s Comrade,’ says:- “At Palermo [Sicily], some of the soldiers caught a cat belonging to a convent, and having skinned the carcass, it was cut into pieces, and soaked twenty-four hours in vinegar, then anointed with garlic and honey, until the strong flavour had left it, after which it formed an excellent fricassee. To be serious,” continues our author, “I can assure my readers that the flesh of a well-fed cat is extremely good. It is indeed, (presuming her to be properly dressed,) not only agreeable in taste, but actually a dainty; and it is imagination and prejudice alone which protect the feline race amongst us from the uses of the gastronomic art.” – Brown’s Anecdotes of Quadrupeds.' The editor notes: 'The people of Palermo have a right to exercise their own taste in cooking and eating the gigots of cats, and I shall not quarrel with them for doing so; for my part, I prefer to stick to our good old Scottish fare, and would recommend all my readers to do the same.'
In the 1860s and 1870s, the “Foreign Quarter of London” was largely inhabited by political refugees and other immigrants, “[In the days before the Emperor Napoleon III. sat upon the throne of France] many were the satires upon Leicester-square and the strange cosmopolitan community living on its borders. The foreign colony exists still, and some of the old political refugees who were poor enough not to care about going back remain; but the fashion of them has altered by the invasion of others of their countrymen who are not refugees. What are they—the of this queer community? [. . .] in the cat-haunted rubbish heap called Leicester-square. At one time the wretched, skinny, starving creature [immigrant/refugee], living on cat’s-meat and cabbage-soup, and always saying, “Yes, Sare!” and trembling before the brawny and beef-eating Englishman.” (Penny Illustrated Paper, 24th April 1869)
The Penny Illustrated Paper (29th October 1870) described some “Curious Food Experiments” caused by the siege of Paris. “An acquaintance of mine, invited out to dinner, ate part of an excellent rabbit, as he thought, and greatly enjoyed it. Next day his host had the hardihood not only to inform him he had been eating cat, but actually to show him other cats hanging up in the larder, and some more in the barrel all sorted for the siege. They had the advantage of costing nothing, being picked up casually from the street. This daring gastronomist was about to try dog, but hoped there to draw the line, and defended himself on the ground that his condition required meat, and that before long there would not be even horse at the butcher’s.”
Above: 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. One observer “considered cats ‘downright good eating,’ and the price of a cat on the market was four times that of a dog.”
A PARISIAN DOG AND CAT BUTCHER - The Graphic, 14 January 1871: THE following letter, received by balloon post from our Paris correspondent, will fully explain our sketch. It is dated December 27. " I send you a sketch of a dog and cat butcher established in the St. Germain Market. It is hard to be forced to eat horseflesh, but still harder to think we may one day or other be glad to breakfast on a dog-chop. The aspect of this butcher's stall was horribly disgusting. The counter was covered by a dirty brown cloth, upon which the different quarters of the unfortunate animals lay tumbled together. Some attempt, however, was made to cut the joints professionally, the legs and shoulders were neatly cut off, and the loins ready arranged for separation into chops. At the back of the stall was a chopping block, as dirty as the cloth and on it half a dozen recently slaughtered carcasses. When the heads of the animals are cut off it is difficult to distinguish dog from cat, but I concluded from the purple hue, as well as from the dimensions of the bodies, that they were all dogs. One of the crowd informed me that the cats went off better than the dogs. A shoulder and a leg bought by a gentleman, who seemed to be a regular customer by the easy manner in which he chose the joints, came to ten francs, being at the rate of two francs per lb. The master of the establishment expressed his regret for the want of variety in his present stock, but declared that he had made large purchases, and would be able to exhibit a fine show next day. As I was about to leave the shop, a little old lady came stealthily up to him and drew from under her cloak a young poodle. After a minute examination he returned it to her: 'What we want, madame, are fine large animals; however, I don't refuse to take him, but you had better keep him for a week or two, feed him well if you can, and then I'll try him.'
A large dog fetches from two hundred to three hundred francs, but the small ones sell for twelve, twenty, or thirty francs, according to size. Cats vary from nine to twenty-five francs. During a great part of the day the bystanders discuss the merits and demerits of these additions to our alimentation, some maintaining that dog flesh is a good imitation of mutton, while others declare that it more resembles game. It is probable that Sara Weller's pieman, had he been present, would still have been of the opinion that it all depended upon the sauce. The Figaro is responsible for the following :- gentleman, coming out of a restaurant after a hearty dinner, hearing a boy whistling and calling 'Fox, Fox,’ felt a sudden start in his stomach. A friend explained the symptom by suggesting that the food had probably been insufficiently cooked.
We have already consumed the animals of the Jardin d'Acclimatation, as well as many of the inhabitants of the Jardin des Plantes. The antelopes, camels, giraffes, &c., are luxuries within the reach of the rich alone, and will probably form the Pieces de resistance for the New Year's Day dinners. A few days ago the flesh of two camels and of a young elephant were offered for sale by a butcher who is said to have given 4,000 francs for the two former animals. The Parisians are gradually getting accustomed to these strange meats. Following out the principle that use is second nature, they now apply the name of viande to all that which is neither fish nor vegetable.
Below: Same theme, this time The Illustrated London News. If you were rich enough to afford cat, you might serve "Le Chat Flanqué de Rats" (Cat Flanked by Rats), "Emincé de Rable de Chat. Sauce mayonnaise" (sliced saddle of cat in mayonnaise), Ragout of Cat a la Parisienne or Jugged Cat with Wild Mushrooms. Starvation caused the populace to eat the zoo animals as well.
A much later example of a cat being eaten in France is given in “REVENGE ENDS IN A "CAT"—ASTROPHE” (Derby Daily Telegraph, 23rd February 1929) That he ate his neighbour's cat out of revenge, because the animal had stolen a succulent morsel of morning bacon, was the defence of a man at Argentan in the Orne department, when he was fined sixteen francs (about 2s. 8d), the local court yesterday, says Central News message. The man, a quarry worker, said the cat stole his bacon worth eight francs (1s. 4d), so he killed it, and finding that he had no more meat in the house resolved complete his revenge by boiling the cat and eating it. The neighbour, enraged at the loss of his pet, brought the case to court in order to claim compensation.
And here is a report from the Second World War entitled "SIEGE RATIONS" (Lancashire Evening Post, 4th February 1937) where history was repeating itself: News from Madrid which has reached London, states that the city’s inhabitants have been reduced to stewing their cats. This, if we are to believe the evidence of Henry Labouchere's despatches from the Siege of Paris, is no great hardship. After three months of that siege the market price of a good cat had reached 25 francs. “Cat," wrote Labby, “is something between rabbit and squirrel, with a flavour all its own. It delicious. I recommend those who have cats with philoprogenitive proclivities, instead of drowning the kittens, to eat them. Either smothered in onions or in ragout they are excellent." He even felt grateful to Bismarck for having taught him that “cat served for dinner is the right animal in the right place." He admitted, however, to “a guilty feeling when I eat dog, the friend of man." As for the animals in the Paris Zoological Gardens during the siege, the monkeys alone were kept alive to the end – “from a vague and Darwinian notion that they are our relatives.”
From the British journal “The Graphic” of 19 September 1874, comes this account: “An old man at Nottingham, who has long been suspected of stealing cats, was last Saturday taken before the magistrate. The police in searching his home had found some cooked cat's-flesh and cat-skins, but the old man's plea that he had " picked up" the cats was accepted, and the charge dismissed.”
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.
According to this article in the Nottingham Evening Post dated 27 August 1929, Turkish people were being advised to eat cats due to the surfeit of them in the country: EAT MORE CATS. TENDER, SUCCULENT AND AGREEARLE TO THE PALATE. If a report the president of the Turkish Veterinary Association acted upon it is likely that cats will form staple part of everyone's diet. The flesh of the cat, the president (Mustapha Santour Bey) has declared, is as delectable as it is nutritive, and it is only a popular delusion that has prevented people from eating it before. The president has the backing experts. The head the Department of Public Hygiene says that it is quite easy to acquire a liking for cats' meat. It is very tender, succulent, and agreeable to the palate. Further it is extremely easy to prepare. When once cats' meat is tasted it is always eaten, asserts. It is significant fact that at the present time Constantinople has surfeit of cats.
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?
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:-
2. Racial Slurs and Stereotypes
3. Where and Why Cats are Eaten
4. Recent Cases
5. Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Cat Eaters
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