Wednesday, August 15 2018


Column sparks debate on nation's meat-eating habits

Update: March, 01/2013 - 06:39

Last week, Viet Nam News asked readers to provide their comments on the column written by Joel Brinkley, a Stanford University professor, which criticised Viet Nam's meat-eating habits as the reason for the dearth of wild animals in the country.

Here are some of the responses:

Adam Bray, American, Mui Ne, Phan Thiet:

There were many problems with Joel Brinkley's story, from incorrect statements, to exaggerations made from extreme examples and conclusions based on anecdotes presented out of context.

However, not everything Mr. Brinkley said was untrue. For instance, Viet Nam does indeed have a very serious problem with wildlife trafficking.

Addressing the question of whether we should respect the cultural practice of eating dog and rat in Viet Nam, I would say no, not any more than we should respect or hold in esteem the culture of eating sheep testicles or wild possums in the United States. Or, for that matter, of eating cheeseburgers and hot dogs.

I don't mean by this to imply equivalence per se, but as with dogs and rats in Viet Nam, not every American eats these things. I also believe all points of culture in any society are fair game for criticism.

Even many Vietnamese and other Asians are both revolted and embarrassed by the practice of eating dog, rat, cat or any number of unusual animals in their respective countries.

Indeed, some people, particularly impoverished ethnic minorities in the rural mountain areas (more so in the past than presently) may eat dogs or rats by necessity. I have been served rat and dog meat when visiting such homes myself.

But the majority of Vietnamese, who do eat them, do so as a novelty. And it is indeed this cultural novelty – this desire to consume unusual animals – that is integral to the practice of eating wildlife in Viet Nam.

JD Kellas, Australian, Ha Noi:

There is always a problem when perceptions of a country are drawn from a brief visit, leaving the visitor believing they have a complete understanding of a country, plus its customs and culture.

Clearly Professor Brinkley has assumed he gained full knowledge of the Vietnamese and their customs from such a visit.

The keeping of pets (dogs and cats) as companion animals is a western concept that clearly Prof. Brinkley wants to impose on other cultures. I am sure that if he had pet cows, sheep, goats etc; he would like us all to stop consuming them and become vegetarians or worse, vegans.

Living in Ha Noi, we know that eating dog is not an every day event. When I was in Ha Noi, its consumption appeared to be restricted to certain parts of the city.

My observation was that the Vietnamese had easy access to chicken, pork, duck and seafood and that dog was rarely available in the markets as it was expensive.

As for seeing native species in the wild, Brinkley raises some valid issues. To feed 90 million and also export food to other countries, Vietnamese farmers strive to maximise productivity, using insecticides to reduce the insect supply for birds.

Sadly this may also kill birds that threaten crop productivity, as I also saw very few in the major agricultural areas of rural Viet Nam. But in the highlands and parks, native birds are more obvious and the role of conservation is a high priority in such places.

With respect to birds, Brinkley has clearly not observed the pride of the men of Viet Nam in raising and keeping whistling birds - especially in the cities.

Nguyen Thi Hoa, Vietnamese, Ha Noi:

Personally, I think Brinkley's judgement of Viet Nam's meat-eating habit as the reason behind the dearth of wild animals is totally emotional, wrong and one-sided.

For one, I think dogs do not belong to the category of wild animals. In terms of rats, they spoil crops and other things in our house. Beside these negative aspects, I do not see anything positive.

Therefore, dog and rat eating seems to have no relation to the dearth of wild animals. Frankly, I don't regard it as part of the culture but an eating custom; however, I think it should be respected.

Andrew Burden, Canadian, Ha Noi:

My wonderful, university-educated family-women adult students treated me to a meal of dog (at my request) just prior to the Tet celebrations. It was quite relaxed, civilised and presumably nutritious.

I will video and photograph this centuries-old practice before I return to Canada (where millions upon millions of bison and pigeon were slaughtered for fun and quick profit not so long ago).

Indeed, Canada was explored and developed as a nation for its beaver pelt. Our iconic animal - really just a large water rat that whittles down trees and dams up rivers-was killed to make fur coats for European women.

Our bears were killed so that London's Buckingham Palace guards could have their soldier hats. Our annual seal pup hunts receive international condemnation. This is where thousands of baby seals are bludgeoned to death on ice with what basically looks like a baseball bat.

I could not disagree more, Joel. You are way off base on this one. I suggest you stick to examining the European horse meat scandal, or faecal contaminated beef (regularly occurring in both Canada and the US).

How about primitive Spanish bull fighting (cowardly men in effeminate tight-pants spearing bulls with swords before thousands in an arena) and France's foie gras duck-liver force-feeding torture or Chinese (and Taiwanese) live shark fin-cutting (then discarded back into the ocean to drown/die)?

Come to think about it, Joel, at a meta-level, our human species is a parasite on this Gaia planet. We have pushed the planet's resources over the brink of any decent level of survival. Many species are extinct. Many more are endangered.

Viet Nam has many problems. Being aggressive or eating dogs are not on that list.

Le Nhu Ha, Vietnamese, Hue:

First of all, we should note that a column expresses strictly the author's personal viewpoint. A column is meant to generate debate and in this case, at least Mr. Brickley has been able to do so.

However, he must back up the column with valid examples and evidence. His provocation contained many flaws: we don't eat rats out of garbarge ( the type of edible rat is called chuot dong or field mouse) and obviously there are birds (though not many in the city due to the sprawling rate of urbanisation) and squirrels clearly in the conservation and rural areas.

Dogs are taken out for a walk frequently although it's not a popular choice among Vietnamese families due to limited living space. Only families who own large houses and are a bit weathier tend to own dogs, as well as those in the countryside.

And his assumptions that Vietnamese are more aggressive because we eat meat and that the Southeast Asian neighbours have left their wildlife alone are culturally-biased. I'm sure those countries also have problems in protecting their wildlife.

Though not a fan of dog or rat eating, I don't sympathise with Western travellers who come to countries such as Viet Nam and feel disgusted by the customs. I believe that travelling is part of learning and discovering new and unusual aspects of cultures and learning to respect them. — VNS

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