DARE TO ASK: No cats -- on or off the menu
By PHILLIP MILANO, The Times-Union
To Chinese people or people who work in Chinese restaurants: Do you kill
cats, cook them and sell them to your customers, stating that it is chicken?
Elizabeth S., 23, mixed race, Philadelphia
Cat (or dog) meat does not taste like chicken. Cats and dogs are inefficient
sources of protein. They are much more expensive than pork or chicken. In China,
they are served on special occasions, and not everyone can afford them or has a
preference for them. They are not served in North America as chicken because of
the cost. Chinese living in America also understand the taboo against eating cat
or dog meat in this culture.
Leonard, 45, Asian, Tampa
There are animals that are raised for food, and then there are pets. One
should not eat pets.
Katherine, 22, Asian, Toronto
My wife is Filipina, and I've visited that country with her many times. She
tells me that only the very poor and desperate eat dog meat, much like some
poorer people in this country used to eat horse meat.
A.C.C., male, West Lafayette, Ind.
Icelandic people eat putrefied shark meat and pickled ram testicles. Thais
are rumored to eat cockroaches. Northern Chinese enjoy turtle soup. Kenyans eat
monkey brains. Koreans used to eat dog, although the younger generation, having
adopted Western values, considers it low-class and barbaric. Anyway, the list
goes on and on. Not just Asians eat funky stuff. White people and black people
around the world do, too.
Jake, 20, Korean-American, Los Angeles
Tongue got your cat?
Actually, there's no need to fear that your fave feline will wind up in a
takeout box as Egg Foo Fluffy.
This tale has been wending its way across the urban legend landscape for more
than 100 years, much of it due to a good old-fashioned fear of foreigners, says
Gail de Vos, a University of Alberta professor and author of Tales, Rumors, and
Gossip: Exploring Contemporary Folk Literature (Libraries Unlimited).
"Look at a cat. How much meat is there?" she said. "I'm not sure why there is
this rumor about Chinese restaurants. Maybe it's because meat [in Chinese
cuisine] is cut so finely ... in tiny chunks."
The stereotype sometimes pops up when there are news reports of a local
Chinese restaurant closing.
"It's a racist reaction. Because [Chinese restaurant owners] are different,
we can tend to distrust what they are giving us. And today we are more insular
than we used to be. Despite the Web and TV, we are still terrified of things
that are different."
It is true that dogs and cats don't enjoy exalted-pet status in all
countries. And while cats are eaten in some far-flung areas of China and dog
meat is served in Korea, these practices are waning, de Vos added. They
certainly aren't followed in North America or Europe among Asians or
Asian-Americans, she stressed.
Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee),
moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's
Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers. Send general
column comments to phillip. firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also hear his