Disgust, anger, acceptance, and appreciation. That's pretty much how my emotions evolved over the course of my lunch today. I mean, I ate dog meat. Never (like ever...ever....EVER) did I think I would eat dog meat in Korea (or anywhere). In fact, I was pretty disgusted at the whole idea before I came here and had been told that people don't really eat dog in Korea anymore. I was informed that "eating dog in Korea is outdated and no one really does it now." It's true that the majority of citizens in South Korea don't consume their canine pals for lunch these days but at select locations you can still find your furry friend on the meat rack.
The other day a good Korean friend of mine who recently moved to Seoul came back to Masan for a visit. On Tuesday night we had drinks together and he suggested that we eat some dog meat together for lunch today. I actually thought he was joking until we entered the dog meat restaurant today at 12PM. Upon walking into the place of canine consumption, I immediately regretted my decision. The dog meat restaurant smelled terrible and I felt nauseous. Nonetheless, I had already committed to the experience so we sat down at a table.
My friend and I were promptly served the traditional Korean appetizers (pan-chan) and shortly thereafter Lassie showed up on my plate. I took a look at the Cold War generation of Korean elders sitting around me and, for a brief moment, I thought of them as monsters as I watched them shovel heaping portions of man's best friend down their throats. It was at this point in the meal, when my friend looked at me and said, "you don't have to eat it, I just took you here so you could experience a part of Korea's history that most foreigners never see." At the moment my friend uttered those words to me that I realized I was indeed experiencing something special (in a really weird way). I still couldn't get myself to dig in, however so the meal ended shortly for me. I had a couple small pieces and that was that. I ordered some more rice and drank as much water as I could.
After my buddy got done grubbing down, we had a conversation about dietary preferences, Korean culture, animal cruelty, etc. We talked about Korea's history and the country's lack of resources in the past; the reason why dog meat was ever considered an option as food (as he put it). Ironically, both my friend and I have gone through periods of our lives where we have eaten no meat whatsoever and today we were having a conversation about vegan-ism over dog meat stew. One of the most interesting things my friend said to me (which I thought was a pretty good point) is as follows: "People think there is something wrong with eating dog but they themselves eat beef, pork, and other types of meat that often times is slaughtered in a way that is much more cruel than the meat we are eating today." Basically, meat is meat....and if you eat beef/pork/whatever, you cannot really hate on the dog eaters.
When I left the restaurant, I took one last look at the older Korean folks sitting around me enjoying their meals. As we walked out I made eye contact with one of the Korean gentlemen sitting at a table close to the exit and he smiled at me and tipped his cap. "They're not monsters," I thought to myself... My friend then looked in my direction and said, "I think it's safe to say that you'll be at least 10% Korean by the time you leave here."