Dog meat: North Korea’s Pie in the Sky
Recent North Korean media is focusing on Kim Jong Un’s purported focus and interest on the concept of a ‘national food’ – in this case, dog meat.
DPRK propaganda claims that dog meat is the food of their ancestors, and that Kim Jong Un’s kindness has made it possible for all North Koreans to continue consuming it.
North Korean refugee Kim Jang-Ok is from Hoeryong and arrived last July. She told us, “When I was living in North Korea, we had never considered dog meat a ‘national food’. The first thing that comes to mind when I think about dog meat is how expensive it is. A national food usually means something that everybody can enjoy, but dog meat is only available for some people, because it is at least twice as expensive as other kinds of meat. You might buy pork by the kilo in the markets, but it’s a different story with dog meat.”
Dog meat in North Korea was not always this expensive – in the past, it cost around the same price as pork. However, as smuggling activities increased around the China-Korea border, families began to sell their pet dogs, still live, to buyers in China. They found it was more profitable to sell living dogs to border smugglers than to sell their dog meat on the North Korean market.
Another refugee from Hyesan, Choi Chul-soo, was a dog trader in North Korea. He explained that all dogs he could find in the markets, farms and villages around cities, he sold to the Chinese buyers through smugglers. In 2013, the standard price for one dog was 250 to 350 yuan. Though sizes vary, dogs had to be about 75 to 80 centimetres in length to be considered worthy of sale.
Nowadays, it is mainly households in the cities that breed dogs, not households in the countryside. After purchasing a puppy in early spring from another breeder, it is fed a diet of ground corn and soy pulp (the residue after making bean curd). A larger dog will then be available for sale by late autumn. It is said that keeping two dogs is more beneficial, because as they compete for food, they become less fussy and will eat just about anything they’re given.
Unless there is a family member suffering from severe malnutrition and is in serious need of protein, dogs are sold on like this for a profit. By selling instead of eating, money can be used to purchase the expensive firewood that will keep them warm during winter. Common remarks while buying and selling puppies include, “This year’s firewood is on you.”
Choi told us, “In Hyesan, under Kim Jong Un’s orders, a new restaurant specializing in dog soup was established. The building was fancy, complete with a flashy sign, but ordinary citizens couldn’t frequent the place. One bowl of dog soup cost the equivalent of an entire family’s meal.”
He added, “As soon as the restaurant opened for business, the very first customers were officials. The restaurant opens every day at twelve, and is very busy. Seats only begin to free up after two o’clock. In front of the restaurant, officials lined up with bodyguards, with cars and motorcycles parked nearby. You could see them wiping the grease off their mouths after finishing their meals, walking out of the restaurant.”
When listening to refugee testimonies, it is clear that dog meat is only a ‘national food’ for officials and perhaps their assigned bodyguards. Ordinary North Korean citizens, we are told, often make the following derisive comments about the DPRK authorities: “They bark like the dogs they devour.”
Reporting by Park, Ju-hee