What makes eating a food taboo? It’s a much-debated and extremely thorny question. Animals make it onto the coveted “do not eat list” due to (perceived or actual) intelligence, grossness, religious prohibition, companionship, or good old-fashioned tradition, but the list changes from country to country and continent to continent.
One of the most notable critters on America’s list: man’s best friend, Canis lupus familiaris. Here, dogs are boon companions. In Vietnam, the line applied to rabbits in Roger & Me is perfectly valid: “pets or meat.”
Outside has tackled the topic in detail, and its article on eating dogs in Vietnam is notable not just for its zesty topic, but for the fact that its author, Steven Rinella, is a hell of a good writer.
Here’s Rinella recalling his father using the family dog as a handy model for how to butcher an animal:
Using a drink stirrer, he traced out the proper incision line up Bo-Bo’s underside, ass to esophagus. The dog lolled his head back and forth in the ecstasy of human attention while my dad mimicked the act of clearing out its entrails.
My family and I had always owned and loved dogs—lots of random strays and one particularly good duck hunter named Duchess—but I could never shake the implication of my dad’s lesson: Underneath all that playful fluffiness, dogs are made out of meat. From then on, I often wondered about the line separating the things that I was allowed to eat (cows, deer, chickens) from those that were taboo (dogs, cats, cockatiels). Who drew that line, anyway? And why was I bound to it?
In the process of snacking on dogs, Rinella reflects on the relationship between culture and cuisine, the ins and outs of Vietnamese superstition on the best times of the year to eat dog, and the mysterious internal heat that dog meat seems to produce after you’ve ingested it.
Gross? Perhaps. Fascinating? Absolutely.