A Modest Proposal – Dog for Thanksgiving

Eating dog for Thanksgiving may be considered shocking and taboo by many Americans but is actually a well documented practice.  When Franklin Delano Roosevelt first commissioned a survey of American’s eating habits as part of the WPA, turkey was often substituted for duck, pig, rabbit, and other household livestock.  In amongst the list is dog. It is not surprising that dog gets on the list more often in times of financial crisis, when other types of protein are harder to come by.  Although a modest proportion of the American diet overall, dog meat consumption spiked in 2008 and has not dropped considerably since.

The American Farm Bureau Federation reports the cost of a ten serving Thanksgiving dinner will drop this year to just under $50.  This is good news for families that were obliged to eat their pets for Thanksgiving. No joke, the highest levels of dog consumption per state in the United States are registered in Louisiana during the last quarter of each year. Psychology Today speculates that the taboo was eased by necessity in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and was then buoyed by the economic downturn. 

Dog for dinner as happened after Hurricane Katrina, can be (awkwardly) understood, but admitting it has a direct financial correlation, is the country’s dirty little secret.  At the city level, Detroit has the highest levels of dog consumption. Detroit–a city gutted by the financial crisis is also the perfect setting for a dog to be eaten.  The city’s poorest inhabitants have a latent demand for cheap food, and the thousands of empty homes offer a breeding ground for a  stray dog population that is in the tens of thousands.  Dog meat even beats deer as a preferred meat for Thanksgiving, likely given the need for a hunting license for deer, whereas hunting dog requires none.

The traditional culture surrounding the consumption of dog meat is well rooted in American history and is more authentically American than most politically correct Americans want to admit. Many cultures throughout the Americas ate dog regularly prior to the arrival of Europeans. The Siox, Cheyenne, Innuit, and even the Aztecs all considered dog a dish to be served both in times of need and in times of festivity.

The practice was understood and continued by European settlers from their arrival at Plymouth to the push beyond the Rockies.  Europe had a long tradition of eating dog, that today fiercely survives in but a handful of locations, of which the Swiss cantons of Appenzell and St. Gallen are the most famous because they fought PETA and other civil associations to a standstill in 1996.  (see the link in the UK’s Daily Mail)

The European custom of eating dog was well entrenched in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey mining towns as reported by the The New York Times in 1876 and 1885.  At the time of the WPA surveys in 1937, the Great Depression and the food shortages of the Dust Bowl had conspired to again make dog meat an unspoken staple of the American family. There was even an open fad among Ivy League graduates from 1917 to 1920, propagated by the exploits  Sir Ernest Shackleton, who extolled the virtues of dog meat on his expeditions. “Our dogs lived on dog’s flesh and pemmican the whole way, and this enabled them to do splendid work. And if we ourselves wanted a piece of fresh meat we could cut off a delicate little fillet; it tasted to us as good as the best beef,” he wrote.

Eating dog meat has waned since the 1930’s but found revival with the new cross-section of American demographics.  Eating dog is a delicacy in China, Vietnam, and Korea as well as in parts of Nigeria.  These groups are accustomed to eating dog but must often do so in the shade, due to social prejudice and laws equating slaughter of dogs with animal cruelty.

Eating dog for Thanksgiving is a bold proposition for many, but this year, in China, where it is hard to find turkey, I am considering trying dog.  It is locally reared, eaten only at the close of the lunar month, and is, in short, a seasonal and authentic ingredient.  Today we went to the local market in Lianzhou to find a dog from the local butcher. If nearly a billion Indians find eating beef offensive, and a billion Chinese have no issue with eating dog, then why, in a society that espouses the rule of the majority,  should a few hundred million Westerners dictate what constitutes the morality of what we eat for Thanksgiving?