One man's meat, another man's pet

Update: October, 01/2014 - 09:40

by Chi Lan

HA NOI (VNS) — The recent arrest of a Vietnamese man living in Germany for the "crime" of killing and eating a cat has stirred up a lively debate among netizens in his homeland.

Mostly, the justification provided by the culprit has provoked as much outrage as the "crime" itself.

Tran Qui, who has been residing in Rhineland Town for the last two years, admitted to killing and barbecueing his neighbour's cat in mid-September, attributing his action to a longing for "the tastes of home."

He is now being investigated for breach of animal cruelty laws and hygiene regulations that forbid consuming pets as food. Qui could face up to three years in jail if charged and found guilty.

Apart from the predictable wrath of Westerners, Qui's confession drew considerable flak from his countrymen for bringing the homeland's cuisine into disrepute.

"He could not get over his personal cravings and broke the law. What is worse is that he used his nationality to justify his action," said travel and food blogger Duong Vu Hoang Anh.

The sale and consumption of cat meat has been banned in Viet Nam since 1998, and there is no real evidence that cat meat is a part of Vietnamese food culture.

The idea was backed by famous author and culturist Huu Ngoc. "Only a minority of Vietnamese eat cat meat. It is not a cultural dish," he said.

A rapid online survey of about 3,000 people carried out by the Thanh Nien (Young People) newspaper found 80 per cent of the respondents saying no to cat meat, so it is easy to understand why Qui's justification triggered such a rage.

However, there were also more reasonable voices pitching in, saying it was not Qui's eating cat meat per se that was a problem, but that he did it in the wrong place at the wrong time.

"The thing is he has done something terrible and unforgivable in a country that loves pets dearly," said Pham Hong Anh, a student.

"He did not respect the country where he lives."

An old Vietnamese proverb says: "When you enter someone's house, follow his rules." In other words, "When in Rome…"

Anh has a valid argument, one that is not uncommon in the East vs West food debate that has raged for long.

Asia is famous for its rich, diverse cuisines that make use of a wide variety of ingredients, some that are not palatable to Westerners and do offend their sensibilities.

Globally common pets like dogs and cats are meat sources in some parts of Asia, but this is anathema to Western culture, which finds it immoral to eat creatures considered man's best friends.

"The idea of eating dogs and cats tends to disgust most Western people," said American Ralitsa Ganevska.

"The core reason for two different views lies in the way we live with dogs and cats. Westerners take pets as equal to human beings while Easterners traditionally raise dogs just to guard houses and keep cats to catch mice," said Ngoc.

For many Asians, dogs and cats are raised for specific uses, like cows for milk, pigs for meat and chickens for eggs. If people can eat cows, pigs and chicken, why not dogs and cats, the argument goes, and it is tough to argue with that.

For instance, a devout Hindu could take as much umbrage over others eating beef as typical Westerners do over the consumption of dog and cat meat.

Would it make sense if a Hindu visiting the US condemns Americans for tucking into McDonald's burgers in the same manner as cat and dog meat eaters are condemned in the West?

"Condemning one's choice just because it is different from our own is similar to asking someone to convert his religion because we believe his religion or belief is not as good as ours," said blogger Hoang Anh.

We have made considerable progress in recognising the validity and accepting the equality of different religions, so can't we do the same thing with different food habits?

I am reminded of the tongue-firmly-in-cheek response attributed to Mahatma Gandhi when he was asked what he thought of Western civilization.

"I think it is a very good idea," he quipped. — VNS