Culture Clash

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Introduction

Culture is defined as the beliefs, norms and attitudes binding a society. Culture lays down the relations of a society. Different societies have different cultures governing them. Culture clash can therefore, be defined as the disagreements and misunderstandings amid different cultures. The disagreements cause disruption to the contemporary traditions.

This paper focuses on culture clash in particular, dog eating in Korea. The consumption of dog meat is discordant subject to the people of Korea. According to studies, a cultural argument was made in support of dog consumption in Korea. The claim was that, feeding on cute critters was a unique culture that the outsiders could not understand.  However, in the near past concerns over the welfare of animals have been on the increase and they have clashed with the old traditions and values. Getting the important and famous people in the society to air their views on dog eating was not an easy task. The social debate has always been reduced and simplified to savage vs civil argument or yes or no for cultural relativism (Appiah 31). The paper relates the conflict with the readings of Appiah in Cosmopolitanism among other readings in determining whether there is a solution to the problem.

Dog-eating in Korea

In South Korea and other East Asian cultures, dog eating has a long history. Dog eating is also practiced in North Korea, although the form or extent of the activity is presently not clear. However, this has been contentious both within and outside Korea as a result of sanitary and animal rights issues.

Approximately thirty percent of South Koreans have consumed dog meat no less than once in their life, but only a small number of the populace consumes it on a regular basis. In South Korea, there exists a smaller group who desires to make dog eating popular in Korea, as well as the entire world. They consider the practice as being part of Korean culture that has a long history important to be preserved. According to Appiah (117) individuals should be given freedom to choose what they want rather than trying to preserve diversity and trap people in situations they do not desire. He deems that individuals all over make their personal use of international commodities and can resist any influences from global capitalism. Additionally, there are a number of Korean citizens who are against dog eating. In spite of this controversy, some people strongly feel that individuals have a right to do what they perceive is right.

In 2003, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) revealed that about 4,000 to 6,000 restaurants in Korea served dog meat soup. Every year, Koreans consume eighty-five hundred tons of dog meat, whilst ninety three thousand and six hundred tons are used in the production of Gaesoju, a medicinal tonic, according to the BBC. Dog eating is frequently done during the summer.

The Korea Kennel Federation estimates that between 3.5 and five million dogs are kept as pets. Individuals raised dogs in a similar way to other animals such as pigs, a factor that made some believe that there exists two kinds of dogs: those kept as pets and those for consumption.

Several organizations that have the responsibility of protecting animals argue that the consumption of dog meat is not part of Korean culture. Dog eating activity became popular in the 1950s when the country was faced by after war poverty. Nevertheless, the ‘Korean Journal of Food and Nutrition’ published an article in 1999 claiming that consumption of dog meat began during the Samkug era 57BC to AD676, diminished during the Buddhist rule, but re-emerged in the 1300s. On the other hand, some individuals claim that consumption of dog meat in Korea is a culture. They base their claims on the fact that as other cultures practice beef or goat eating and they perceive it right, dog eating is also right in Korean culture.  This can be supported by Appiah writings. In chapter 4, Appiah talks of moral disagreement (60-65). He focuses on the different ways in which individuals can conflict due to values. According to Appiah, value terms are contestable and will constantly be argued within and across cultures. Though individuals share similar moral vocabulary, disagreements can occur where similar values are interpreted and weighed differently.

Every year, South Koreans consume approximately one and two million dogs according to estimates (Podberscek 615-616). Most of them suffer vast cruelty prior to being killed. Dogs are raised in awful conditions and fed on bad diet prior to being jam-packed in cages and transported for slaughter. The Koreans belief that by deliberately making slow the slaughter process and exposing the animals to torture, the flavor of the meat will be improved. Can the truth of this statement be verified and do other cultures that practice dog eating have the same belief?

The Ministry of Health and Society officially institutionalized dog eating ban in 1984. In spite of this, local; governments went slow in taking action against the law breakers, a factor that has made dog meat selling to be perceived as a socially recognized practice. There also lacks long lasting political dedication to the ban. During the Seoul Olympic Games in 1988, the prohibition was put forth as a result of extensive global pressure, which called for the Korean government to undertake the required actions. Nevertheless, this was not enthusiastically put into effect and in 1996, prohibition of dog eating was decided against by a Court of Appeal, permitting dog- eating in Korea in spite of the legislation.

Currently, such countries as China, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand as well as parts of Switzerland practice dog eating. In Asia, approximately thirteen to sixteen dogs are consumed every year according to estimates. It can probably be said that the Asian countries share some values and beliefs amongst themselves. This can be linked to Appiah’s claim that human beings all over have a lot of commonality. These encompass daily activities for instance, eating and buying things; as well as universal values including generosity and kindness (Appiah 85). He puts forth that such shared activities; ideas and values can stimulate cross cultural communications resulting in more and better ways of feeling, thinking and acting. In the western region countries, the concern of dog eating is extremely emotive. In countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States, the practice has never or rarely occurred. In these regions, the idea of eating a dog is perceived as morally corrupt and abhorrent. This is possibly not surprising taking into account that dogs are mostly kept as pets. The differences in perceptions between the western and Asian countries can be linked to differences in values and beliefs. Trying to agree on why people of different cultures do what they do can result to disagreements. According to Appiah (78) moral agreements are real and can take place, but cross cultural conversations regarding values should not result to disagreements. For instance, people can live in harmony and peace without being in agreement on the principal values.

Why is dog-eating a problem?

When a food taboo is part of a respected tradition or a religious identity, it contains a sacred barrier that is hard to destroy. However, when a food taboo stirs up criticism externally, it accrues a huge impact of globalization. In the contemporary world, different people are crossing borders resulting to an interchange of food customs. Consequently, the agreed upon traditions and the stable premises are thrown into complex situations. In addition, external criticism renders traditions based on own rationality groundless. External criticism is inescapable to such countries as  South Korea which is committed to becoming developed only finding itself in the spotlight at times for instance when it hosted the FIFA World Cup and  the Olympic Games (Simoons 209).  Therefore, it is of paramount to understand that the custom of consumption of dog in Korea is a situation that links globalization and tradition.   However, exploring this issue demonstrates a stereotypical pattern which states that globalization does not favor cultural diversity allowing differences only from certain boundaries.  

In chapter seven of his book, Appiah counters this argument by stating that globalization threatens homogeneity and generates new forms of disparities. Further, he argues that people should be left to choose what they want other  than preserving diversity and holding them in situations they want to escape from (Appiah 117). The procedure that declares particular food taboos for instance meat from dogs, cats or horses instigates debates from all corners that deserve to be taken into account. The custom of eating dogs in Korea has been all over the news overseas. The media claim that the custom is barbaric and horrible without even evaluating the fact. For instance in 2007, the British Broadcasting Corporation aired a program titled  Cooking in the Danger Zone: Taboo Foods. This title is a clear indication of the typical way in which the Western culture views the issue of dog eating. This chauvinism is also evident within the Koreans and it results in internal conflicts. Appiah in chapter 5 asserts that irrespective of the moral disagreements being real, it is not a must for the cross-cultural conversations to end up in misunderstandings (71). He claims that people can agree on the right way forward even without agreeing on the reasons behind different cultural values. He discourages people from trying to reach an agreement through persuasion and reasoned arguments.  As such, the Koreans as well as the cross cultures can live in harmony if they do not try to agree on the underlying cultures behind the custom of eating dogs. Furthermore, he states that  human beings are common in a number of ways. They include values such as generosity and kindness as well as, daily activities as eating, buying things, laughing, reading, attending parties, movies and funerals. His argument is that people can use these points to create harmony since when people sharing ideas, it becomes easy to open up and share other people’s thoughts and feelings (Appiah 85). As a result, one is able to understand why others behave the way they do.  

According to Cwiertka & Walraven, South Koreans feed on more than 12,000 tons of meat from dogs annually. In the near past, dogs have also become a favorite pet.  Thus arises the question; how do Koreans feed on the same animal they term as champion? Compartmentalization has been given as the answer. According to the South Koreans, dog meat is in a different moral category as pets.  The dogs they consume are mid-sized with short light colored hair. Moreover, they look like Old Yeller and they bare the name nureongi (53-57). In the market, they are also placed in different cages with the pet dogs. 

Cultural Differences in Why Dog-Flesh Is Forbidden

Though in some cultures dog meat has gained popularity, for various reasons, feeding on canine flesh is considered a taboo in a better section of the world. In the Western nations, the idea of consuming dogs is horrible. This is due to the fact that, to them a dog is both a friend and a family member. This trend is referred to as the humanization of pets by the industry of pet products. Humanizing the dog mean that consuming it is akin to cannibalism. Contrary, people from Middle East And India do not eat dog meat they consider dogs as vermin. For instance, the Hindus despise dogs for they eat corpses and vomit as well as, play sex with their relations. The Koran also condemns dog eating as it is considered to be unclean. This is a demonstration of the relation between human and meat. This means that one does not eat a creature considered as a companion or a creature that is disliked. 

Why We Eat What We Eat

Anthropologists share the same view that food preferences in a society are directly linked to the culture of that particular society. However, they disagree on the exact nature of this association. The cultural materialists claim that preferences of human food are coherent responses to material situations.  On the other hand, cultural idealists believe that preferences of food subjective beliefs that originate from the human mind. The two theories portray themselves as complete hence accruing varying explanations. 

Cultural Idealism

Differences in human food preferences are explained by cultural idealists as a direct impact of every society’s unique culture. This means that, idealists consider eating behaviors and actions to be part of cultural code, which mirrors, expresses, and symbolizes the distinct global perception of a specific society. In particular, in order to emphasize their argument, cultural idealists have provided different types of explanations with reference to food preference. Firstly, food customs are the effect of  subjective whim, taste or chance. Secondly, food customs are symbolic expressions of a community’s beliefs and values; and lastly, they are the impacts of historical connections that go back to unidentified beginning. As aforementioned, dog eating practice in Korea became popular in the 1950s when the country was faced by after war poverty. On the other hand, the ‘Korean Journal of Food and Nutrition’ published an article in 1999 claiming that consumption of dog meat began during the Samkug era 57BC to AD676, diminished during the Buddhist rule, but re-emerged in the 1300s (Podberscek 527-536). It can probably be said that dog eating habits amongst Koreans can be linked to these originalities, and it has continued in the forthcoming generations. 

Cultural idealists argue that the majority of individuals fail to make their own choices regarding what to eat based on the three rational bases. They put forward that human food eating habits mirrors cultural motive, instead of adaptive rationality. It is an illustration of the idea that human cultures are planned beyond utilitarian interests. Cultural idealists argue that human differences of the inedibility or edibility of dog meat are quantitative, and they cannot be justified by ecological, biological, or economic factors. For instance, the centrality of beef consumption in the United States is an illustration of the irrationality. The U.S taboo on dogs make its consumption unimaginable, although dog eating is technologically practical as well as rational from a nutritional viewpoint. These observations render cultural idealists to conclude that culture makes up utility, and the opposite does not apply.

Cultural Materialism

To the idealists, food preferences indicate the perception and thought of humanity while to the materialists human food habits begin with the supposition that the food habits of a society indicate a massive amount of biological, environmental, technological and political-economic influences. Studies indicate that the materialist assert that such infrastructure procedures result in the creation of different forms of structures such as political organizations as well as, superstructures such as religious systems amid communities. Once the structures and superstructures are in place, materialists realize that they can impact the various sections of social life such as food habits. As such, the cultural imperialism theory is based on the principle that human social life is a practical answer to the issues of earthly existence.  In the Korean society, dog eating has faced controversial explanations. Regarding the custom of dog eating as part of the culture of Korean, ignores the feelings and thoughts who find the horrifying act. It also does not recognize that this is an act that negatively impacts the culture of the land by violating its essence.  An underlying aspect of the Korean culture is reciprocity. Koreans have a great emphasis on the importance of friendship. Past literature indicates that there is no other culture that loves its dogs as the Koreans (Podberscek 437). However, those who consume the dogs tries to justify their acts at the expense of the true meaning of their culture. Some practices betray the true meaning of the culture of a society, and this is the case with Korea. Koreans can only honor their culture by protecting the animals who show them love. As such, this will help reduce their cultural clashes on the issue of dog eating.

Based on Appiah’s cosmopolitanism, these cultural clashes cannot be resolved. As discussed in this paper, different societies have different cultures which pre-determine their actions. This according to Appiah is as a result of different values, which can result in conflicts if interpreted and weighed differently. It is difficult to come into an agreement regarding the reasons why people do what they do. In this case, Appiah discourages individuals from trying to reach an agreement through persuasion as this will negatively affect conversations across cultures. 

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