ArticlePDF Available

Dog meat politics in a Vietnamese town

Authors:

Abstract

In 1999 there were only two semi-clandestine dog-meat restaurants in Hoi An, a town in Central Vietnam. In 2004 there were dozens, serving mostly men of the new middle class. This article explores the sudden popularity of dog meat in Hoi An and discusses its meanings. Based on traditional forms, eating dog meat expresses masculinity. While class distinctions, religious propensities, and processes of modernization shape local attitudes regarding this culinary trend, the overarching theme that explains the sudden proliferation of dog-meat restaurants in Hoi An is political and has to do with the diners' attitude towards the regime: eating dog meat expresses political allegiance, while avoiding it indicates disdain.
59
ETHNOLOGY vol. 50 no. 1, Winter 2011, pp. 59–78.
ETHNOLOGY, c/o Department of Anthropology, The University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA 15260 USA
Copyright © 2012 The University of Pittsburgh. All rights reserved.
DOG MEAT POLITICS IN A
VIETNAMESE TOWN
Nir Avieli
Ben Gurion University
In 1999 there were only two semi-clandestine dog-meat restaurants in Hoi An, a
town in Central Vietnam. In 2004 there were dozens, serving mostly men of the
new middle class. This article explores the sudden popularity of dog meat in Hoi
An and discusses its meanings. Based on traditional forms, eating dog meat
expresses masculinity. While class distinctions, religious propensities, and pro-
cesses of modernization shape local attitudes regarding this culinary trend, the
overarching theme that explains the sudden proliferation of dog-meat restau-
rants in Hoi An is political and has to do with the diners’ attitude towards the
regime: eating dog meat expresses political allegiance, while avoiding it indi-
cates disdain. (Dog meat, politics, masculinity, Confucianism, Vietnam)
Dog-meat restaurants and eating dog meat have long been popular in the
North of Vietnam, but not in the Center and South. In 1999, there were only a
couple of places serving dog meat in Hoi An, a town in Central Vietnam. One
was hidden in a maze of alleys beyond the town’s ancient quarter; the other
was located outside the town, by a small country road. The signs for both
restaurants read “Thit Cay” and not “Thit Cho” (dog meat). Cay, according to
my Vietnamese language teacher, “is a kind of fox and a euphemism for dog
meat in the Center and South, used to camouflage places selling dog meat.”
But in 2004, there were dozens of eating venues throughout the town
announcing “Thit Cho.”
This rapid development of a culinary fashion stimulated exploring why
dog meat became popular so quickly, and if any meanings were attributed to
eating it. In Hoi An, it turns out, eating dog meat is a contested praxis,
interpreted differently by people. Some say that dog meat is desired as a male
aphrodisiac, is a means of class distinction, or an expression of cosmopoli-
tanism and modernity. The rejection of dog meat was usually explained in
religious and cosmological terms. Most intriguing, both dog-meat eaters and
disdainers attributed this culinary fashion with political meaning.
This recent culinary trend is not merely a new mode of middle-class
consumption, but is an act that expresses the diners’ political disposition
toward the national regime. Confucian ideals are an important component of
contemporary Vietnamese masculinity, and political meanings applied to male
culinary practices derive from the notion of Confucian masculinity, which
emphasizes political engagement.
60 ETHNOLOGY
The data presented in this article are based on anthropological research
conducted in Hoi An since 1998, and derive from two fieldwork periods of
three months each in 2004 and 2005. The research methods include participant
observation of food events (Lupton 1996; Ashkenazi and Jacob 2000) in
commercial food venues in town, talking to restaurant owners and patrons,
and attending religious, social, and civic events and rituals. I conducted semi-
structured interviews in Vietnamese and English with people who eat dog
meat and held conversations on dog-meat eating with acquaintances and with
people I met in various social circumstances. For deeper layers of meaning, I
relied on longstanding key informants.
It is important to note that dog meat consumption in Hoi An occurs only in
restaurants that specialize in dog meat. While ancestor worship rituals in the
North include having dog meat, I have never witnessed or heard of dog meat
being served at rituals or in private settings in Hoi An and its surrounding
countryside. In Hoi An, it exists only in the male setting of thit cho restaurants.
This long-term research in Hoi An is also aimed at engaging with one of
the alleged shortcomings of anthropological research, “the Orientalizing gaze
of the ethnographic present” (Prost 2003; cf. Sanjek 1991). The time span
allows witnessing processes of development and change which a short-term
ethnographic research design would not allow. The study also differs from my
other research projects in one important respect: I did not try eating dog meat.
When asked why when offered some, I explained that having had dogs as pets,
I could not eat their flesh. This was a common explanation with Hoianese who
avoid dog meat and was acceptable and sensible in local terms.
MASCULINITY AND VIETNAMESE MEN
Studies of masculinity have been drawing increasing attention in books
and articles. Much of this work was initially focused on white Western men
(Connell 2005; Connell and Messerschmidt 2005; Seidler 2007; Herzfeld
1987), straight or gay (West and Lay 2000), or their “significant others”:
North American black men (Collins 2004), Latin machos (Gutmann 1996),
colonial/ex-colonial subjects (Sinha 1997; Roy 2002). One of the key con-
cepts in this body of literature is “hegemonic masculinity” (Connell 1987,
Donaldson 1993), which defines masculinity as emphasizing physical power,
emotional inexpressiveness, detachment, and competitiveness (Bird 1996).
Hegemonic masculinity
was not assumed to be normal in the statistical sense; only a minority of men might enact it.
But it was certainly normative. It embodied the currently most honored way of being a man, it
required all other men to position themselves in relation to it, and it ideologically legitimated
the global subordination of women to men. (Connell and Messerschmidt 2005:832)
DOG MEAT POLITICS 61
Though hegemonic masculinity was developed with studies of white Western
men, Connell and Messerschmidt (2005:832) say this is an abstract rather than
descriptive concept, and is based on the assumption that gender relations are
context dependent and subject to change: “Hegemonic masculinities … came
into existence in specific circumstances and were open to historical change.
More precisely, there could be a struggle for hegemony, and older forms of
masculinity might be displaced by new ones.”
As it became clear that masculinities were not monolithic or static but
context-dependent, increasing attention was paid to non-Western cultural
constructions of masculinity. Gilmore’s (1990) cross-cultural comparison of
masculinities was followed by research on men in different geographic
regions (e.g., Gutmann 2003 on South American masculinities; Ghoussoub
and Sinclair Webb 2006 on manhood in the Middle-East; Chopra, Osella, and
Osella 2004 on South Asian masculinities; Ong and Peletz 1995 on Southeast
Asian men and women; Cleaver 2002, Inhorn 2009 and Jacob 2011 on
Egyptian masculinity; Sasson-Levy 2002 on Israeli masculinity; Morrell 1998
on South African men; Lancaster 1992 on Nicaraguan machismo; Peletz 1994
on Malay men; Louie 2002 and Geng 2004 on Chinese masculinity; Louie and
Low 2003 on Chinese and Japanese men; and Elmhirst 2007). These texts
depict a variety of masculine practices that capture nuances such as “blue
collar” and “white collar” in the Israeli army (Sasson-Levy 2002), “sword”
(wo) and “pen” (wen) masculinities in China (Louie 2002), “tiger” and
“gangster” manliness in Indonesia (Elmhirst 2007), or machismo in Latin
cultures. Hegemonic masculinity, however, is a reference point with which
other forms of masculinity correspond in many of these texts.
Hegemonic masculinity across cultures is therefore depicted in much of
this literature as composed of a set of common characteristics, such as a
powerful sex drive, corporeality, physical strength, emotional avoidance,
competitiveness, and a variety of local features and practices that characterize
different cultures, social classes, religions, etc. This theoretical framework
accommodates the universally common perception that all men are alike (also
phrased as “boys will be boys”). An example of this is found in Doyle’s (2002)
study of Vietnamese masculinity. Its title, Why Do Dogs Lick Their Balls?,
insinuates that men (across cultures), like dogs (across breeds), are mainly
motivated by sexual gratification. Doyle says that men are all the same
(2002:190) and also that men are all different (2002:197). Regarding his male
informants, he argues, “What we had in common was much more than what
differentiated us … a bond of ‘sexual desire.’ As one informant put it after
confiding to me about a weekend he spent away from his regular partner with
a sex worker, ‘Well, we’re men, aren’t we?’” (Doyle 2002:187).
62 ETHNOLOGY
With much recent research on Vietnamese male sexuality (Ghuman, et. al
2006; Martin 2010) and on health risks incurred by extra-marital sexual
activities (Phong 2008; Phinney 2008, 2009; Ta 2010), particular attention is
paid to the ways in which Vietnamese men engage with professional sex
workers. Nguyen-vo (2008), for example, relates sex and neoliberalism via
widespread contacts with professional sex-workers, while Ta’s (2010) study
of Vietnamese miners explains that paid sex offers relaxation and reward for
risk and hard work, and strengthens identity, social networks, and group
membership. Sex workers are also confidants with whom men may share
feelings and worries that they are reluctant to reveal to male friends or female
partners. Rydstrom’s (2001, 2002, 2003a, 2004) analyses have the transfor-
mation of the penis into a phallus to symbolize masculine power.
Vietnamese ethnographic research often focuses on men from the North,
mainly Hanoi and the Red-River Delta, with less attention to men elsewhere
in Vietnam. This article highlights aspects of Vietnamese masculinity that are
distinctive for men from Central Vietnam, where the political meaning of dog
meat, as in Hoi An, stems from its specific cultural and political context and is
hardly applicable to the North or the South.
MEAT, POWER, AND MASCULINITY
Anthropologists have long noted the strong links between meat, physical
power, social dominance, and masculinity. Fiddes (1991:65) argues that eating
meat is above all symbolic: “Killing, cooking, and eating other animals’ flesh
is the ultimate authentication of human superiority over the rest of nature.”
Beardsworth and Keil (1996:202) also suggest that eating “red meat is seen, in
a sense, as the ingesting of the very nature of the animal itself, its strength and
aggression.” Stavick (1996:25) points out that the British Royal Guards were
named “Beefeaters” because of their food, designed to ensure their physical
strength as well as to reward them with high-status food otherwise reserved
for the upper classes.
Meat eating also represents socioeconomic and political power. In his
classic essay on political types in Melanesia and Polynesia, Sahlins (1976)
says that pork sharing in public feasts is a key physical and symbolic resource
in the political game. Far from being exclusively an act of generosity and co-
operation, meat is a token in the competition for status and prestige. Twigg
(1983:21) suggests that “meat is the most highly prized and culturally
significant of foods,” while Elias (1978) mentions Medieval Europe members
of the higher classes consuming prodigious amounts of meat, while peasants
ate very little of it. Bourdieu (1984) also notes that meat is indicative of
wealth and high social status, and that eating certain kinds of meat expresses
economic, cultural, and symbolic capital.
DOG MEAT POLITICS 63
Eating meat is clearly a gendered practice. Meat is central to the meal of
every Cretan who considers himself a man (Herzfeld 1985), while Twigg
(1983) suggests that the blood that gives red meat its color indicates power,
aggression, passion, and sexuality—attributes desirable for men but con-
sidered offensive for women. Willard (2002:12) thus concludes, “Because
physical power is historically associated with masculinity and virility … meat
has been perceived as a masculine subject.”
Feminists (e.g., Adams 1997) suggest that symbols related to meat are
situated in a hierarchy, with culture above nature, humans above animals, and
men above women. Twigg (1983) adds that the association of vegetarian and
dairy foods with femininity indicates weakness and passiveness. For Fiddes
(1991:210), “meat exemplifies, more than anything, an attitude: the masculine
worldview that ubiquitously perceives, values, and legitimates hierarchical
domination of nature, of women, and of other men ….”
MEAT, HOIANESE MEN, AND BEER GIRLS
Hoianese establishments that specialize in dog meat belong to the culinary
category of quan nhau (liquor shops), which are drinking establishments
where men consume alcohol and duong (Chinese yang) charged meat dishes.
In the late 1990s, most Hoianese quan nhau were dingy makeshift sheds in
back alleys serving cheap rice alcohol (ruou gao) and meat dishes, mainly to
blue-collar men. The dishes were of pork and poultry, though a few places
specialized in the expensive dishes attributed with power and sexual potency,
such as he-goat (de),1 snake-headed mullet (ca loc), or forest animals (boars,
monkeys, lizards, and even tigers and bears), commonly referred to as thit
rung (jungle meat). The power embedded in these meats is further enhanced
by nong (hot), libido-enhancing spices such as chili, lemongrass, ginger, and
rau ram (rice paddy herb), with which they are cooked and served. (On the
hot nature of men see Rydstrom 2003b; Horton and Rydstrom 2011.) These
venues serve beer and liquor, making them relatively expensive, even though
the setting is simple.
McNally (2003), Nguyen vo (2008), and Horton and Rydstrom (2011) call
similar establishments karaoke om (hugging karaoke), where “girls serve food
and drinks to customers, select the songs that they wish to sing, and allow the
men to touch, hug, and kiss them” (Horton and Rydstrom 2011:552). While
karaoke om are common in Vietnam, authorities in Hoi An have been effec-
tive in curbing them. Dog meat restaurants and other Hoianese quan nhau
differ from karaoke om in their emphasis on food and drink rather than
karaoke and explicit sexual services. Specific kinds of meat are therefore the
attraction of these places, although alcohol and sex are a part of the parcel.
64 ETHNOLOGY
One result of the increasing affluence and emergence of a middle class in
Hoi An is the proliferation of an upgraded version of quan nhau: the open air
or “garden” (vuon) restaurants. These, located at the town margins, over-
looking countryside, river, or beach scenery, offer a variety of expensive
power-, libido-, and status-enhancing dishes and local and imported alcoholic
drinks. While the cheaper quan nhau are for men only, these new culinary
establishments attract couples and families, who uneasily share space with a
majority of male groups, often drunk, loud, aggressive, and rude.
The new garden restaurants are mostly owned and managed by women
and most have both waitresses and gai bia (beer-girls). The waitresses are
employed by beer companies and are paid a commission for the beer they sell.
The waitresses in these venues, and especially the beer girls, dress in daring
and sexy outfits (at least by Hoianese standards), wear heavy makeup, and
offer a variety of extras. They pour the drinks, light cigarettes, feed the
customers, wipe their faces with cold towels, and even sit on their laps. They
often drink and smoke with the clients, flirt with them, and allow different
measures of physical contact. Some of them engage in paid sex, while others
double as kept mistresses. Gai bia in Hoi An are only a notch above gai om
(hugging girls or prostitutes).
Women are pivotal for the masculinity enhancement that takes place in
these establishments. They encourage the consumption of duong charged food
and alcohol, and excite their clients with a combination of feminine sub-
mission (lighting cigarettes, wiping sweat, using respectful female grammar,
speaking in a childlike high-pitched tone) and assertive sexuality (in dress,
drinking, smoking, and flirting). These women also serve as receptacles for
this excessive masculinity: by having sex with their male clients, they literally
incorporate the excessive duong into their bodies.
Until 2002 there were only two dog-meat restaurants in Hoi An, both
small and marginal. As dog meat was not cheap, these places were of the more
expensive category of exotic meats, and a dog-meat meal, despite the dingy
setting, was not a casual affair. The dog-meat restaurants that expanded rap-
idly by 2004 belonged to both types. Some were where blue-collar workers
consumed dog meat and cheap alcohol, while others were upgraded to garden
restaurants where elaborate dog meat dishes and expensive alcoholic drinks
were served by beer girls to men of the new middle class. Unlike other garden
restaurants, dog meat restaurants attracted almost exclusively male clientele,
where “a man would not take his wife or girlfriend to eat dog meat, but might
take his mistress,” a male friend told me.
Hoianese dog meat venues are masculine spaces where men recharge and
boost their masculinity and sexual prowess with food and drinks and where
they display and perform it with the female staff. Although dog meat is a male
DOG MEAT POLITICS 65
aphrodisiac in neighboring China and Korea (Podberscek 2009), it is not
described in Vietnam as an aphrodisiac in the same way as he-goat meat.
Eating dog meat is expensive, especially in garden restaurants where it is
always accompanied by costly alcoholic beverages, with additional money
spent on waitresses, beer girls, mistresses, and their sexual services.
Before 2004, dog meat was not popular in Hoi An and eating it was rarely
mentioned. However, by 2004, not only did the number of dog-meat estab-
lishments soar, but public discourse surrounding this culinary practice became
pronounced and heated. Raising the subject brought strong emotional reac-
tions. In most conversations, the initial reaction was negative and critical, with
faces twisting in contempt and disgust, although the verb commonly used was
so (scared) rather than ghe (disgusted). The explanations for this rejection was
that most of the dog meat served in Hoi An was from stolen dogs, the belief
that eating dog meat incurs bad luck, and the moral and religious transgression
related to the close ties between humans and dogs. But as conversations devel-
oped, other explanations regarding eating dog meat were suggested.
One of the most disturbing aspects of the increasing popularity of dog
meat in Hoi An is dog theft, which plagues the town due to the sharp rise in
demand. While many town dwellers and most farmers in the Hoi An district
own dogs, they are not pets in the Western sense, and certainly not quasi-
family members. Dogs are not allowed indoors, are fed leftovers, and none of
the dog owners that I know spends money on pet food. Hoianese dogs are not
bred for meat as they are in the North, but are working animals intended to
guard the house. This does not mean that Hoianese dog owners are not fond of
their dogs. When dogs are injured in traffic accidents or when they get sick,
the owners are upset and try to nurse them and alleviate their suffering
(though there is no veterinary service for dogs in town.) When I was told that
dogs were lost, the owners usually recounted how they tried to find them. One
man, for example, told me that his parents’ new puppy disappeared. When I
asked how, since the dog was kept in a fenced yard, he said that the dog was
stolen, then added bitterly that it was probably eaten.
Until the recent surge in demand, trade in dog meat was handled by dog
peddlers that roamed the countryside on old bikes and motorcycles in search
of surplus dogs and puppies, which were exchanged for home utensils. These
traders, however, were unable to supply enough dog meat for the demand. The
outcome was higher prices and a huge increase in dog thefts.
During 2004 and 2005, I was told at least a dozen times that dogs of my
acquaintances or their neighbors had been stolen. In the summer of 2005,
there were two dog thefts that almost ended in lynching the thieves. In one
case, a pair of dog thieves was caught in a neighboring village by the locals,
who beat them severely. A week later, I came across some policemen, three
66 ETHNOLOGY
dead dogs, and a burnt motorbike. I was told that professional dog thieves
poisoned a few dogs during the night in order to steal them, but someone
awoke and called for help. The angry dog-owners and their neighbors caught
the thieves, beat them, and burned their motorbike. Had someone not called
the police, the thieves might have been killed.
An aspect frequently brought up when discussing dog meat was bad luck:
eating dog meat brings misfortune. A 30-year-old university graduate and
businessman from Da Nang said:
I have eaten dog meat six times, and had a traffic accident each and every time. Well … you
do drink too much when you have dog meat, and I thought that this might be the reason. So
when I had dog meat the last time, I drove home very carefully, but some woman crashed into
me…. I won’t eat dog meat anymore!
A 23-year-old cake-shop owner recounted:
[P]eople in Hoi An believe that eating dog meat causes accidents …. Did you not hear what
happened to my brother? He had dog meat, and when he came home, our dog bit him … and
our dog never bites!
In this case, there was a gap of a month between the meal and the biting event;
but the important point, of course, is the link made between eating dog meat
and a mishap. Another belief is that eating dog meat does not necessarily
inflict bad luck, but rather reverses it. A Vietnamese colleague pointed out
that “If your luck is good, you wouldn’t want to eat dog, unless it’s the end of
the lunar month, when it doesn’t matter, because everything starts fresh at the
beginning of the new month.” This connection of dog meat and bad luck
explains why people kept using so (the term for scared) when explaining their
avoidance of dog meat, which is not merely repulsive but also dangerous for it
might incur misfortune. Fear was the feeling most commonly associated with
the idea of eating dog meat.
In some of the interviews and in many casual conversations, dog meat
avoidance was explained by the close relations between humans and dogs. I
was often told “I love dogs, how could I eat them?” or “I have a dog at
home….” This canine-human intimacy was supported by the suggestion that
dogs are like humans. A recurring claim during interviews was that dogs cry
when they are slaughtered. A hotel receptionist said, “If you would see only
once how dogs are being killed, you would never eat them…. The dogs cry,
literally shed tears … they know that they are about to die.” An elderly
acquaintance explained that he avoids dog meat because he was born in the
year of the dog, implying that those born under the dog zodiac have a close
affinity with dogs. The idea that dogs and humans are somehow similar, and
that eating dog meat verges on cannibalism, is in line with Sahlins’s (1976)
DOG MEAT POLITICS 67
analysis of dog meat avoidance in the U.S. This notion of cannibalism can
also be discerned in a conversation with the 16-year-old sister of a friend, who
overheard us discussing dog meat eating:
Thuy: Nir, have you ever eaten dog meat?
Nir: No, for me it is like eating human flesh (thit nguoi).
Thuy: Yes. You know, the Chinese eat human flesh!
Nir: Who told you that?
Thuy: A friend of mine told me…. She read about it in the internet.
The Chinese take three- [or] four-month-old embryos from the womb and eat them.
Nir: But a three-month-old embryo is so tiny. There is nothing to eat!
Thuy: Well, maybe six months old.
Dog meat has long been a sought-after delicacy in Northeast Asia, and its
popularity in North Vietnam is probably an outcome of thousands of years of
cultural contact. This identification of dog meat with the North also hints at a
political dimension because the People’s Republic of China is perceived in
Hoi An as the source of power and inspiration for the current regime.
A common explanation for the rejection of thit cho has to do with
Buddhism. When I asked why dog meat was not consumed in Hoi An in the
past or why an interviewee avoided it, I was often told, “We are Buddhists and,
therefore, we don’t eat dogs” or “Buddhists don’t eat dog meat.” Buddhism
and Buddhist practices are resurfacing in Vietnam after years of oppression
(Do 1999; Soucy 2007). As opposed to the North, where Buddhism was
forbidden and oppressed for over two generations, a serious attempt to curb
Buddhism in Hoi An took place only between 1975 and 1986, a relatively
short period in which religious feelings were not eradicated and practices not
forgotten, as they were in the North. Moreover, while communist ideology
gained support in the North, this was not the case in Hoi An, where many
sided with the Southern regime and did not reject religion or Buddhism.
Second, institutional Buddhism in Hoi An has been flourishing since 2000,
with temples renovated and extended, new temples built, and an increase in
the number of monks and nuns. Personal involvement in Buddhist practices is
on the rise, in view of an increased participation in Buddhist ceremonies and
festivals and in the increased consumption of vegetarian food on the first and
fifteenth days of the lunar month.
Finally, whether or not the Hoianese are fervent Buddhists, Hoianese
interviewees repeatedly connected dog meat avoidance with Buddhism.
Buddhism is therefore an important component of the Hoianese attitude
toward eating dog meat.
Dog meat is one of the ten forbidden meats mentioned in the Buddhist
scriptures, along with human, elephant, horse, snake, lion, tiger, leopard, bear,
and hyena (Tambiah 1969). While some of these are forbidden for their royal
68 ETHNOLOGY
status (elephants and horses), or their food preferences (hyena), the dog is
forbidden due to its closeness to human beings. This proximity, however, is
ambivalent. While some Buddhist sources put forward that the dog is man’s
best friend and eating it verges on cannibalism, Tambiah (1969:435) points
out that dogs in Theravada Buddhist Thailand are tolerated but loathed. The
Thais, he argues, perceive of the dog as humanlike in many ways, but they
breach two of the most fundamental human taboos: they are incestuous and
they eat their own excrement. Dogs are therefore considered in Thailand as
sort of degraded human beings that lack moral restraint and indulge in
forbidden practices. In Mahayana Buddhism, commonly practiced in Hoi An,
dogs are perceived as lowly creatures. Buddhists refrain from eating dog meat
either because they like dogs or loathe them as morally degraded creatures. In
short, the dog is problematic because it is loyal and brave, but also immoral
and incestuous. In any case, Buddhists should not eat dog meat. Moreover,
interviewees not only attributed religious meaning to Buddhism, they added
regional and political implications. They repeatedly claimed that the Hoianese
avoid dog meat because the people of the Center and South are Buddhists,
implying that the Northerners are not. For instance, an elderly man said,
“People in the Center and South are Buddhists and, therefore, don’t eat dog
meat.” When asked whether the Northerners are Buddhists, he explained,
“They are Communists, not Buddhists.... In the past, no one ate dog meat in
the Center and South, but many Northerners came here after 1975 and they
taught us how to eat dogs.” This statement suggests that Buddhism and
Communism are competing ideologies, and associates eating dog meat with
Northerners and Communism.
When I inquired about the sudden proliferation and popularity of dog meat
restaurants, the explanations had a more pronounced political edge. The
practice as well as the diners and patrons, I was repeatedly told, are North-
erners or somehow related to the North; and eating dog meat was associated
with Northern political bureaucracy. Quite a few informants insisted that the
owners of the dog meat restaurants in Hoi An are all Northerners. Though I
couldn’t verify the regional identity of all the proprietors, every owner whose
restaurant I visited or discussed with my interviewees had some kind of
Northern connection: some were immigrants from the North, while others
were Hoianese who moved to the North and returned with Northern customs.
When I inquired about the customers in these venues, I was also told that they
were mostly resident officials from the North or their descendants, or tourists
from Hanoi. When I pointed out that many of the clients were from Hoi An,
people suggested that these are Hoianese who visited the North or lived there
and acquired a taste for dog meat.
DOG MEAT POLITICS 69
When asked to describe their first dog meat experience, the stories were
similar and always involved an element of seduction by a Northerner. A 42-
year-old businessman recounted, “On a business trip to Hanoi, an acquaint-
ance invited me to have dog meat. I refused, but he insisted: ‘try some … just
a bit.’ So I tried … and I liked it ….” A Northern figure appeared in most of
these stories—someone who was a government official or a local friend who
was a descendant of one of them. Others recounted a trip to Hanoi, usually for
political purposes or for business, and being invited (or seduced) by their
Northern hosts to try some dog meat. Many of them admitted to being scared
at first, but felt compelled to eat food so as to establish good social relations
and indicate political and economic allegiance. Some developed a liking for
dog meat and went on eating it without further encouragement.
THE MEANINGS OF DOG MEAT
Hoianese interviewees suggested a few additional reasons for the
proliferation of dog meat venues in Hoi An, which go beyond male potency,
class distinction, and conspicuous consumption. For some, eating dog meat
stood for modernization and secularization, as it involved the rejection of
Buddhist conventions and the adoption of new culinary choices unbound by
tradition or religion. For others, it expressed cosmopolitanism, sophistication,
and freedom, as a taste for dog meat indicated that the Hoianese can now
freely travel around the country and acquire new exotic tastes. Cosmopoli-
tanism was also expressed in the assertion that Hoi An was now frequented by
tourists, who bring their own customs and foodways, which the locals are
eager to experience and, at times, adopt. Therefore, dog meat restaurants stand
for modernization and for the town’s connection to the national fabric.
However, the overarching explanation for the sudden popularity of dog
meat, a point mentioned by virtually everyone, had to do with the attribution
of this culinary custom to the North. And as the North is the political and
ideological center of the country, the ascription of this preference to the North
has a strong political sense; interviewees saw eating dog meat as a public
manifestation of one’s political inclination toward the North, while the rejec-
tion of dog meat expressed a negative attitude toward the regime.
While it could be suggested that dog meat might simply be a regional
culinary custom, and people try dog meat just as they tend to try food from
other regions or countries, the interviewees stressed the political context,
recounting time and again how the invitation to try dog meat was not merely
done in the North or by a Northerner, but always while interacting with
government officials, either colleagues or those in position to make decisions
and grant favors. There was always a sense of power in the description of
these events (“I refused, but he insisted”), while the setting required
70 ETHNOLOGY
compliance, as the whole meeting was about bonding with the political and
administrative elite.
One interviewee, an ex-Viet Cong, resents bitterly the fact that despite his
allegiance with the North during the war, he was sent to a re-education camp
and along with his family members suffered great hardships during the late
1970s. He too explained that the Northerners introduced dog meat to the
Hoianese, but insists that he never eats it “because dogs are loyal friends.”
After a brief reflection he added: “You see, this is how they are, they even eat
their friends.” His statement implies a connection between dog meat and
political ethics: eating dog meat is immoral because the dog is a loyal friend.
But the Northerners eat dogs, and by doing so they expose the problematic
morality underlying the ideology that they have imposed on the country,
which includes the abuse of former Viet Cong, who were their allies in the
Center and South. It also implies that sending a Viet Cong to a re-education
camp is like eating one’s friend.
HOIANESE MASCULINITY
Latin-American machismo, the “expression of male-centered privileges
and the ways in which they [men] foster chauvinism against women (or other
men),” is also a way of “enrich[ing] the examination of heterosexual
masculinity in patrilineally organized Vietnam,” according to Horton and
Rydstrom (2011:543). Welsh (2001, quoted in Horton and Rydstrom 2011:
546) used the concept of machismo in his study of Nicaraguan men, but
pointed out that the term might also be useful “when attempting to capture
particular types of gendered privileges, even in settings other than the
Nicaraguan one.” Machismo, the authors suggest, may be applied to the Viet-
namese case because it is not culture specific, but is rather “a phenomenon
which accrues particular meaning in specific contexts … [and] provides an
overreaching perspective for studies of the social reality of women and men in
particular sites” (Horton and Rydstrom 2011:546).
However, applying machismo to the analysis of Vietnamese masculinity
could blur the singularity of the Vietnamese case. If Vietnamese men do
feature macho qualities, how are they different from Nicaraguan men and
macho men of other cultures? In other words, applying terms such as
machismo for different cultural contexts implies that “all men are alike” even
when, as Horton and Rydstrom (2011) do, the local particulars are repeatedly
emphasized and a warning is issued against the tendency to portray a “fixed,
trans-historical model such as that which has often been erroneously used
within discussions about hegemonic masculinity” (Horton and Rydstrom
2011:546).
DOG MEAT POLITICS 71
The use of hegemonic masculinity, machismo, or other terms coined to
depict masculinities elsewhere tends to de-emphasize the unique characteris-
tics which set Vietnamese masculinity apart from men in other cultures. One
mode of recognizing the unique nature of Vietnamese masculinity is to frame
it in Vietnamese terms. This can be done by turning to one of Vietnam’s most
influential social theories: the teaching of Confucius. Viewing Vietnamese
masculinity through a Confucian lens is sensible for several reasons. First,
Confucian thought is male oriented and patriarchal (Louie 2002; Geng 2004),
being a product of a pre-Confucian androcentric social order and the ideologi-
cal scaffolding upon which patriarchy was later consolidated. Scholars of
Vietnam have long argued that Confucian thought, norms, and values shape
the ways in which Vietnamese male and female roles and relations are under-
stood, constructed, and enacted (Marr 1981; Jamieson 1995; Young 1998;
Pham 1999; Drummond and Rydstrom 2004; Rydstrom 2004; Horton and
Rydstrom 2011).
It is also well established that this Chinese social theory was reworked by
Vietnamese scholars who “tended to detach Chinese thoughts and practices
from their original contexts ... picking and choosing whatever met their fancy
as Vietnamese …” (Marr 1971:18). Alternatively, “Vietnamese reality incor-
porated aspects of this orthodoxy [Confucianism] into a different cultural
matrix” (Young 1998:137). Whether we accept Marr’s view of an opportun-
istic Vietnamese approach or Young’s more reserved reading of this process,
it is clear that the Vietnamese developed a distinct version of Confucianism.
As opposed to notions of hegemonic masculinity developed for the analysis of
men in other cultures, and of machismo, developed within Latin-American
cultures, the Confucian conceptualization of masculinity is finely-tuned to the
Vietnamese context. Last, Confucianism is a political theory (Tu 1993) and
therefore appropriate for understanding the political context that underlies dog
meat eating in Hoi An.
THE CONFUCIAN GENTLEMAN
Confucius devised a political theory that addressed the most pressing
problem of his era: how to rule a state during times of social and political
upheaval. Public affairs and politics were at the core of his teachings.
Confucius suggested that the relations of men, society, and the state are the
foundation of the social order, and he viewed the state as an extension of the
family, with citizenship modeled on kin relations. The private was not set
apart from the public but subordinated to communal affairs, with the family
“politicized as a public domain” (Geng 2004:91). In short, “Confucian Doc-
trine does not distinguish between state and political relations, on the one
hand, and social and family relations, on the other. The subjects governed by
72 ETHNOLOGY
the ruler … [are] analogous to the members of the household, who are gov-
erned by a senior male” (Drummond and Rydstrom 2004:7).
Confucianism is a male oriented social system. Women are considered
inferior by nature and therefore bound to the domestic sphere (Geng 2004:90).
Yet Confucianism is not simply a patriarchal system. Among men, the theory
defines the ideal of Quan Tu (Junzi in Chinese), the ideal Confucian Gen-
tleman. The Confucian ideal man followed the four virtues of filial piety, love
of sons, loyalty to ruler, and reliability. To be an ideal gentleman required
mastering the five arts: ritual, music, calligraphy, carriage-riding, and archery.
Most important, the ideal man had to be involved in public affairs (Jamieson
1995:21). Such men were obliged to be in the civil service in order to con-
tribute to the stability, efficiency, and viability of the regime. In the Confucian
system, “the worth of a man lies in his success in public vocation; com-
mitment to political affairs and lofty political aspirations constitute the
touchstone of the Junzi” (Geng 2004:91). Confucian education was therefore
intent on producing civil servants, men of letters that by virtue of their
learning were the scholar elite and held bureaucratic positions.
This model of masculinity was not restricted to the upper classes. Geng
(2004:90) points out that “[t]his politicized notion of masculinity has not only
become the established value of the elite class, but had also been widely dis-
seminated and deeply rooted in the minds of the uneducated common people,
and therefore became a ‘master narrative’ for ideal men in the society.” He
also says that Confucian ideology was so hegemonic that “there existed an
internalized link between being masculine and being Confucian” (Geng
2004:90), meaning that across social classes, masculinity was all about being
educated, knowledgeable, and politically involved.
Interestingly, dog meat is historically associated in neighboring East Asian
cultures with masculinity, Confucianism, and politics. Walraven (2001) points
out that Confucius himself was so fond of dog meat that it was nicknamed
“Confucius meat.” It is interesting that dog meat was popular in Korea during
periods when Confucianism was the state religion, while its consumption
declined whenever Buddhism was popular (Ann 1999, 2003, quoted in
Podberscek 2009:619).
HOIANESE DOG MEAT POLITICS
The sudden craving for dog meat among male members of the new
Hoianese middle class is political in essence and echoes the political
engagement expected of Confucian gentlemen. It is hardly by chance that dog
meat has become popular among them. These men belong to a state-created
socioeconomic echelon, composed of government officials and businessmen
educated and trained by the modern state system. Many of them accumulated
DOG MEAT POLITICS 73
their initial capital as state employees and managed to increase their wealth
through contacts with members of the ruling elite. They owe their prosperity
and social status to government policies and feel obliged to express loyalty
and commitment to the regime.
One way of expressing their loyalty is by incorporating the cuisine popular
among the members of the ruling elite and which is identified with their
province of origin and culinary culture. This is very important because eating
dog meat is a transgression of local custom and therefore a public expression
of a rejection of local moral standards and the adoption of Northern ones. By
eating dog meat, Hoianese men respond to the Confucian ideal of political
engagement and demonstrate their political loyalty, and the introduction to
eating dog meat is always expressed as being accompanied by a sense of fear
and guilt.
However, Hoianese men who eat dog meat harbor ambivalent feelings
about doing so, and the same men who admit privately to eating dog meat and
enjoying it criticize the practice publicly. The association of dog meat with
violence, crime, drunkenness, and illicit sex indicates that while eating dog
meat might be enjoyable, it is also considered problematic, immoral, and
shameful—even by the practitioners themselves.
Concomitantly, the association with Northern cadres when sharing dog
meat is deemed shameful and immoral. Indeed, many of the Hoianese men
who told me they regularly have dog-meat meals were critical of the regime,
its local representatives, the economic and social policies, the lack of freedom
and democracy, and the rampant corruption. They often declared that mem-
bers of the ruling elite are not motivated by ideology, socialist or other, but by
greed and the quest for power. A common complaint that accompanies these
criticisms concerns the exclusion of people of the Center and South who
fought for Vietnam independence from positions of power and influence.2
The affinity of these men with the regime is partial and tainted by self-
interest. They engage with representatives of the political elite in order to gain
economic advantages and not because of the deep sense of identification and
loyalty advocated by Confucianism. Eating dog meat is a perfect way to
express these complex feelings precisely because the culinary practice that
articulates engagement with Northern politics and politicians in Hoi An is
openly criticized and is treated ambivalently even by its very practitioners.
CONCLUSION
During the first decade of the twenty-first century men of the emerging
Hoianese middle class acquired a taste for dog meat. This new culinary
practice is attributed by its practitioners as having political meaning, for eating
dog meat expresses affinity with the current regime and its representatives,
74 ETHNOLOGY
while avoiding it expresses rejection and disapproval. Eating dog meat is
therefore a meaningful political act that reflects the traditional Confucian
principle that men should be politically involved.
Hoianese middle-class men, however, differ significantly from the
Confucian scholars of imperial Vietnam, the Quan Tu, who were members of
a scholar-elite class, defined and ranked by their level of education. The men
discussed in this article belong to a socioeconomic class where status is
achieved by individual enterprise and income, and defined by consumption.
While age was a crucial factor in the Confucian system, it plays no important
role for political maneuvering at present in Hoi An. Moreover, the way in
which contemporary members of the Hoianese middle class enact the
Confucian script is remarkably different from the traditional pattern. While
Confucian scholars were expected, first and foremost, to engage in politics out
of loyalty and commitment, the political engagement of contemporary
Hoianese men is subtle, ambivalent, and morally tainted, as expressed in
eating dog meat. In this sense, their choices are opportunistic and self-serving,
and hardly the expressions of high moral standards and social commitment
advocated by Confucius.
It could be argued that this is the Hoianese version of the postmodern
condition, characterized by compression (Harvey 1989) and collapse (Lyotard
1984), and where the production of knowledge is replaced by the consumption
of goods, and when time and space (as with age and social hierarchy) lose
their meaning, as ideologies and moral systems collapse into senseless con-
fusion. It seems, however, that this argumentation misses an important point.
Though Quan Tu (Confucian Gentlemen) were ideally knowledgeable, right-
eous, and moral, and would have applied themselves to the strategy that would
best serve the sovereign, nation, and justice, Vietnamese (and Chinese) Con-
fucian scholars were notorious for their sophisticated political maneuvers for
personal power and profit (Marr 1981:54) and were often Machiavellian as
well as corrupt. The Vietnamese sayings regarding success in the Confucian
examinations: “glory for oneself and wealth for one’s family” and “when a
man becomes a mandarin, all his relatives have recourse to him” (Le 2005:44)
express the widespread conceptualization of Quan Tu as opportunistic, and
nepotistic. In this sense, contemporary Hoianese men are not transgressing
sacred traditions but actually enacting the traditional cultural script quite accu-
rately, and like the Confucian literati, using political alliances to manipulate
the system for personal benefit.
As this is the case, the phenomena described in this article suggest a
cultural continuity and persistence of traditional patterns despite the radical
change of ideologies/metanarratives (from Confucianism to Communism to
post-Socialism) and of production modes (from subsistence rice farming to
DOG MEAT POLITICS 75
industrialization and consumerism). It therefore seems that contemporary
Hoianese men have a lot in common with the Confucian gentlemen of the past.
Hoianese dog meat restaurants are social spaces where Vietnamese mascu-
linity is experienced. There, men consume libido-enhancing foods, get drunk,
and purchase sexual services. Doing so, they perform hegemonic masculinity
as outlined by Connell (1987) and by the scholarship that stresses the physical
and sexual aspects of Vietnamese masculinity. Concomitantly, they perform
political masculinity, an essential component of the Vietnamese man as
defined by Confucian teaching. The popularity of dog-meat restaurants in Hoi
An is about Hoianese masculinity no less than about the taste of dog meat.
NOTES
1. De (he-goat, ram) is the common term for oversexed in contemporary Vietnamese. The
“he-goat walks around with 50 females … and he is potent enough to mount them all,” said
one informant. The snake-head mullet is a hardy river fish much sought after in Hoi An
during Tet (Vietnamese New Year) because of its great virility.
2. In 1975, after the Northern victory and reunification of the country, Northern cadres were
sent to run the liberated/conquered Center and South.
BIBLIOGRAPHY
Adams, C. 1997. The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory.
Continuum.
Ashkenazi, M., and J. Jacob. 2000. The Essence of Japanese Cuisine: An Essay on Food and
Culture. Curzon.
Beardsworth, A., and T. Keil. 1996. Sociology on the Menu: An Invitation to the Study of
Food and Society. Routledge.
Bird, S. 1996. Welcome to the Men’s Club: Homosociality and the Maintenance of
Hegemonic Masculinity. Gender and Society 10(2):120–32.
Bourdieu, P. 1984. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste. Routledge and
Kegan Paul.
Chopra, R., C. Osella, and F. Osella. 2004. South Asian Masculinities: Context of Change,
Sites of Continuity. Women Unlimited.
Cleaver, F. (ed.). 2002. Masculinities Matter: Men, Gender, and Development. Zed Books
Collins, P. 2004. Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender, and the New Racism.
Routledge.
Connell, R. W. 1987. Gender and Power. Allen and Unwin.
——— 2005. Masculinities. Polity Press.
Connell, R. W., and J. W. Messerschmidt. 2005. Hegemonic Masculinity: Rethinking the
Concept. Gender and Society 19(6):829–59.
Do, T. 1999. The Quest for Enlightenment and Cultural Identity: Buddhism in Contemporary
Vietnam. Buddhism and Politics in Twentieth Century Asia, ed. I. Harris. Continuum.
Donaldson, M. 1993. What is Hegemonic Masculinity? Theory and Society, Vol. 22, no. 5,
pp. 643–57.
Doyle, N. 2002. Why Do Dogs Lick Their Balls? Gender, Desire, and Change: A Case Study
from Vietnam. Masculinities Matter: Men, Gender, and Development, ed. F. Cleaver,
pp. 186–208. Zed Books.
76 ETHNOLOGY
Drummond, L., and H. Rydstrom (eds.). 2004. Gender Practices in Contemporary Vietnam.
Singapore University Press and NIAS Press.
Elias, N. 1978. The Civilizing Process, Vol. 1: The History of Manners. Basil Blackwell.
Elmhirst, R. 2007. Tigers and Gangsters: Masculinities and Feminized Migration in Indonesia.
Population, Space, and Place 13:225–38.
Fiddes, N. 1991. Meat: A Natural Symbol. Routledge.
Geng, S. 2004. The Fragile Scholar: Power and Masculinity in Chinese Culture. Hong Kong
University Press.
Ghoussoub, M., and E. Sinclair-Webb (eds.). 2006. Imagined Masculinities: Male Identity
and Culture in the Modern Middle East. Saqi Books.
Ghuman, S., et al. 2006. Continuity and Change in Premarital Sex in Vietnam. International
Family Planning Perspectives, Vol. 32, no. 4, pp. 166-174.
Gilmore, D. 1990. Manhood in the Making: Cultural Concepts of Masculinity. Yale
University Press.
Gutmann, M. 2003. Changing Men and Masculinities in Latin America. Duke University
Press.
Gutmann, M. C. 1996. The Meanings of Macho: Being a Man in Mexico City. University of
California Press.
Harvey, D. 1989. The Condition of Modernity: An Inquiry into the Origins of Cultural
Change. Blackwell.
Herzfeld, M. 1985. The Poetics of Manhood: Contest and Identity in a Cretan Mountain
Village. Princeton University Press.
——— 1987. Anthropology through the Looking Glass: Critical Ethnography in the Margins
of Europe. Cambridge University Press.
Horton, P., and H. Rydstrom. 2011. Heterosexual Masculinity in Contemporary Vietnam:
Privileges, Pleasures, and Protests. Men and Masculinities, Vol. 14, no. 5, pp. 542–
64.
Inhorn, M. 2009. Male Genital Cutting: Masculinity, Reproduction, and Male Infertility
Surgeries in Egypt and Lebanon. Reconceiving the Second Sex: Men, Masculinity,
and Reproduction, eds. M. Inhorn, et al., pp. 253–80. Berghahn Books.
Jacob, W. 2011. Working Out Egypt: Effendi Masculinity and Subject Formation in Colonial
Modernity 1870–1940. Duke University Press.
Jamieson, N. 1995. Understanding Vietnam. University of California Press.
Kelley, L. 2006. “Confucianism” in Vietnam: A State of the Field Essay. Journal of
Vietnamese Studies, Vol. 1, nos. 1–2, pp. 314–70.
Lancaster, R. 1992. Life is Hard: Machismo, Danger and the Intimacy of Power in Nicaragua.
University of California Press.
Le, D. C. 2005. Culture and Development. Social Sciences 1, pp. 39–46.
http://vjol.info/index.php/vss/article/viewFile/265/215.
Louie, C. 2002. Theorizing Chinese Masculinity: Society and Gender in China. Cambridge
University Press.
Louie, C., and M. Low (eds.). 2003. Asian Masculinities: The Meaning and Practice of
Manhood in China and Japan. Routledge.
Lupton, D. 1996. Food, the Body and the Self. Sage Publications.
Lyotard, J. F. 1984. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Manchester
University Press.
Marr, D. 1971. Vietnamese Anti-Colonialism. University of California Press.
——— 1981. Vietnamese Tradition on Trial: 1920–1945. University of California Press.
DOG MEAT POLITICS 77
Martin, P. 2010. These Days Virginity is Just a Feeling: Heterosexuality and Change in
Young Urban Vietnamese Men. Culture, Health, and Sexuality, Vol. 12, Supplement
1, pp. S5–S18.
McNally, S. 2003. Bia Om and Karaoke: HIV and Everyday Life in Urban Vietnam.
Consuming Urban Culture in Contemporary Vietnam, eds. L. Drummond and
M. Thomas, pp. 110–23. Routledge.
Morrell, R. 1998. Of Boys and Men: Masculinity and Gender in Southern African Studies.
Journal of Southern African Studies, Vol. 24, no. 4, pp. 605–30.
Nguyen-vo, T. H. 2008. The Ironies of Freedom: Sex, Culture, and Neoliberal Governance in
Vietnam. University of Washington Press.
Ong, A., and M. Peletz. 1995. Bewitching Women, Pious Men: Gender and Body Politics in
Southeast Asia. University of California Press.
Peletz, M. 1994. Neither Reasonable Nor Responsible: Contrasting Representations of
Masculinity in a Malay Society. Cultural Anthropology 9(2):l33–76.
Pham, V. B. 1999. The Vietnamese Family in Change: The Case of the Red River Delta.
Curzon Press.
Phinney, H. 2008. Rice Is Essential but Tiresome; You Should Get Some Noodles: Doi Moi
and the Political Economy of Men’s Extramarital Sexual Relations and Marital HIV
Risk in Hanoi, Vietnam. American Journal of Public Health, Vol. 98, no. 4, pp. 650–
60.
——— Eaten One’s Fill and All Stirred Up: Doi Moi and the Reconfiguration of Masculine
Sexual Risk and Men’s Extramarital Sex in Vietnam. The Secret: Love, Marriage,
and HIV, eds. J. Hirsch, et al., pp. 108–36. Vanderbilt University Press.
Phong, V. H. 2008. Male Sexual Health Concerns in Muong Khen, Vietnam. Culture, Health,
and Sexuality, Vol. 10, Supplement 1, pp. S139–61.
Podberscek, A. 2009. Good to Pet and Eat: The Keeping and Consuming of Dogs and Cats in
South Korea. Journal of Social Issues 65(3):615–32.
Prost, A. 2003. Caught in an (Ethnographic) Moment: Negotiating Religious
Loyalities in and out of the Field. Anthropology Matters, Vol. 5, no. 2.
http://anthropologymatters.com/index.php?journal=anth_matters&page=article&op=
viewArticle&path%5B%5D=117&path%5B%5D=230.
Roy, P. 2002. Meat-Eating, Masculinity, and Renunciation in India: A Gandhian Grammar of
Diet. Gender and History 14(1):62–91.
Rydstrom, H. 2001. Like a White Piece of Paper: Embodiment and the Moral Upbringing of
Vietnamese Children. Ethnos 66(3):394–413.
——— 2002. Sexed Bodies Gendered Bodies: Children and the Body in Vietnam. Women’s
Studies International Forum 25(3):359–72.
——— 2003a. Embodying Morality: Growing Up in Rural Northern Vietnam. University of
Hawaii Press.
——— 2003b. Encountering “Hot Anger”: Domestic Violence in Contemporary Vietnam.
Violence against Women 9(6):676–97.
——— 2004. Female and Male Characters. Gender Practices in Contemporary Vietnam, eds.
L. Drummond and H. Rydstrom, pp. 75–96. Singapore University Press.
Sahlins, M. D. 1976. Culture and Practical Reason. University of Chicago Press.
Sanjek, R. 1991. The Ethnographic Present. Man, Vol. 26, no. 4, pp. 609–28.
Sasson-Levy, O. 2002. Constructing Identities at the Margins: Masculinities and Citizenship
in the Israeli Army. The Sociological Quarterly, Vol. 43, no. 3, pp. 357–83.
Seidler, V. 2007. Masculinities, Bodies, and Emotional Life. Men and Masculinities, Vol. 10,
no. 1, pp. 9–21.
78 ETHNOLOGY
Sinha, M. 1997. Colonial Masculinity: The “Manly Englishman” and the “Effeminate”
Bengali in the Late Nineteenth Century. Kali for Women.
Soucy, D. 2007. Nationalism, Globalism, and the Re-establishment of the Truc Lam Thien
Sect in Northern Vietnam. Modernity and Re-enchantment: Religion in Post-
Revolutionary Vietnam, ed. P. Taylor, pp. 342–70. ISEAS Press.
Stavick, J.1996. Love at First Beet :Vegetarian Critical Theory Meats Dracula. The Victorian
Newsletter. 89:23–29
Ta, V.T. 2010. Meanings of Sex, Concepts of Risk, and Sexual Practices among Migrant Coal
Miners in Quang Ninh, Vietnam. Culture, Health, and Sexuality, Vol. 12,
Supplement 1, pp. S31–40.
Tambiah, J. S. 1969. Animals Are Good to Think and Good to Prohibit. Ethnology 8(4):423–
59.
Tu, W. M. 1993. Way, Learning, and Politics: Essays on the Confucian Intellectual. SUNY
Press.
Twigg, J. 1983. Vegetarianism and the Meanings of Meat. The Sociology of Food and Eating,
ed. A. Murcott, pp. 18–30. Gower Publishing.
Walraven, B. 2001. Bardot Soup and Confucians’ Meat: Food and Korean Identity in Global
Context. Asian Food: The Global and the Local, eds. K. Cwiertka and B. Walraven,
pp. 95–115. University of Hawaii Press.
Welsh, P. 2001. Unlearning Machismo: Men Changing Men in Post-revolutionary Nicaragua.
A Man’s World? Changing Men’s Practices in a Globalized World, eds. B. Pease
and K. Prongle, pp. 177–91. Zed Books.
West, R., and F. Lay (eds.). 2000. Subverting Masculinity: Hegemonic and Alternative
Versions of Masculinity in Contemporary Culture. Rodopi.
Willard, B. 2002. The American Story of Meat: Discursive Influences on Cultural Eating
Practice. The Journal of Popular Culture 36(1):105–18.
Young, S. 1998. The Orthodox Chinese Confucian Social Paradigm versus Vietnamese
Individualism. Confucianism and the Family, eds. W. Slote and A. de Vos, pp. 137–
62. SUNY Press.
... Theravada Buddhists in Thailand and Mahayana Buddhists in central Vietnam agree that dogs are humanlike, but that they are also disgusting and therefore inedible because they openly violate two funda- mental human taboos: incest and the consumption of excrement. In other words, paradoxically, Buddhists seem to refrain from eating dogs because they both like them and despise them (Avieli, 2011 ;Tambiah, 1969 ). ...
... Despite these widespread reservations, dogs are -or at least were until recently -exploited as food items in many other societies around the world, including China and Korea, Southeast Asia and Indochina, North and Central America, sub-Saharan Africa, and the islands of the Pacifi c (Avieli, 2011 ;Beier, 1959 ;Burkardt, 1960 ;Driver & Massey, 1957 ;Frank, 1965 ;Ishige, 1977 ;Olowa Ojoade, 1990 ;Podberscek, 2009 ;Simoons, 1996 ;Titcomb, 1969 ). Archaeological evidence sug- gests that, during the Neolithic and Bronze Age, the practice of dog-eating was also widespread in Europe (Bokonyi, 1974 ), as it was among the Preclassic (1200 BCE-AD 250) Maya of Belize (Clutton-Brock, 1994 ). ...
... In South Korea where keeping dogs as pets is growing in popularity, edible dogs and pet dogs tend to belong to different breeds or physical types, and where they are sold alongside each other in markets, the pets are distinguished by housing them in pink cages (Podberscek, 2009 ). In parts of West Africa, the true origins of dog meat may be disguised through the use of euphemistic terminology (Olowo Ojoade, 1990 ), and in central Vietnam, men who privately admit to eating and enjoying dog meat will publicly condemn the practice due to its shameful associations with criminal behavior and illicit sex (Avieli, 2011 ). ...
Chapter
Human attitudes to nonhuman animals (henceforth ‘animals’) are influenced by a variety of different factors. For example, animals that are perceived to be economically or instrumentally beneficial to human interests are generally, though not invariably, viewed more positively than those that are seen to be detrimental. Thus, honey bees that make honey and pollinate crops are regarded more positively than cockroaches, even though bees can sting—sometimes fatally—and cockroaches cannot. Certain animals may also possess inherent characteristics of appearance or behavior that humans find appealing or repellant on a purely emotional level, independent of the animal’s instrumental value. Butterflies, for instance, tend to be liked for purely aesthetic reasons, while snakes are commonly loathed, despite the latter playing an important role in the control of agricultural pests. Animals are also ‘culturally constructed’ in the sense that they acquire a wealth of symbolic and metaphorical associations and meanings that are peculiar to particular cultural settings. For example, the ‘sacred’ status of cows in India is a cultural construct derived from Hindu religion that contrasts markedly with attitudes to cows in, say, Europe or North America (Serpell, 1996; 2004). Western attitudes to animals are generally colored by a strong sense of human exceptionalism that has its roots in the traditional Judaeo-Christian worldview. According to this perspective, humans and other animals were produced by separate acts of divine creation, and a vast moral and intellectual gulf is perceived to separate us from them (Midgley, 1983; Thomas, 1983; Serpell, 1996, 2005). Despite such traditions, however, it is clear that this gulf can be bridged under certain circumstances, such as when human victims of political or racial oppression find themselves summarily reclassified as ‘animals’ preparatory to having their legal and moral rights ignored or denied (see e.g. Arluke & Sax, 1992). Occasionally, the barrier between human and nonhuman can also be penetrated from the opposite direction. Just as humans may be classified as animals, so animals—for one reason or another—may be categorized and treated as persons. In the Middle Ages, dangerous animals and vermin were occasionally tried, tortured and executed for committing ‘crimes’, as if they were guilty of malicious intent, and could and should be held morally accountable for their actions (Dinzelbacher, 2002; Evans, 1906; Gergen, 2003). Conversely, animals can also acquire many of the benefits and privileges normally reserved for human beings, usually by becoming the objects of strong emotional attachments. In theory, any animal can attain quasi-human status in this way but, in practice, only two domestic species, the dog and cat, appear to have done so with any degree of permanence. And while cats often tend to behave like temporary lodgers, retaining the ability to come and go as they please (Serpell, 2013), dogs are now so thoroughly assimilated into the human domain that it is hard to imagine them flourishing outside of this context. Indeed, as several chapters in this book suggest, the lives of feral or free-roaming dogs are typically short and uncomfortable (see Macdonald & Carr, Chapter 16; Boitani et al., Chapter 17; Hiby & Hiby, Chapter 19). Dogs and cats are also the only domestic animals that do not require physical barriers—walls, cages, fences or tethers—to enforce their association with people. But whereas cats are generally more tied to places than to people, many dogs behave as if permanently attached to their humans by invisible bonds. Given the opportunity, these dogs will accompany their owners everywhere, and exhibit obvious signs of distress when separated involuntarily (Serpell, 1996). Moreover, this form of separation-related anxiety may become so exaggerated that the animal will howl, bark, whine, defecate, urinate, or chew up and destroy household furniture and fittings whenever it is left alone (Appleby & Pluijmakers, 2003; Podberscek et al., 1999). Although dogs may form these strong attachments for people at any age, the process tends to occur more readily in early development during the so-called ‘socialization period’. At this time, from roughly 3 to 12 weeks of age, puppies establish their primary social relationships (see Scott, 1963; Serpell et al., Chapter 6). The process of primary socialization not only determines who or what the puppy will respond to in a positive social manner, it also effectively defines the species to which it belongs. Cross-fostering experiments have shown that if a puppy is reared exclusively with cats and kittens during this period, it will grow up to regard cats as conspecifics rather than dogs (Fox, 1967). It is also apparent that, if a young dog is exposed to the attentions of two different species within the socialization period, it will readily form attachments for both. A further important aspect of early socialization is that it appears to occur independent of rewards and punishments. Scott (1963) was able to show that while puppies, like all animals, react positively to rewarding stimuli and negatively to aversive ones, the process of primary socialization will proceed irrespective of the quality of the accompanying stimulus. In other words, if exposed to their company at the appropriate age, a dog will develop a strong affinity for humans, regardless of whether it is rewarded or punished for doing so. This tendency to voluntarily ally itself with humans—this capacity to form strong interspecific attachments, even in the face of rejection or punishment—places the dog in an unusual position relative to most other animals. With the possible exception of some nonhuman primates (see Dawkins, 1993; Diamond, 1993), no other species comes as close to us as the dog in affective or symbolic terms, and, by the same token, no other species makes a stronger claim to be treated as human. Yet, far from making the dog the object of universal affection and respect, this unusual ‘closeness’ or affinity seems to provoke a puzzling degree of psychological tension and ambivalence. The purpose of this chapter is to explore the nature and sources of this tension in our relations with the domestic dog across a range of different cultural contexts.
... It should, furthermore, be noted here that these numbers do not include the consumption of dog meat and 'wild meat'. Both are widespread practices (see Avieli, 2011;Drury, 2011), so the total meat consumption is considerably higher than these numbers indicate. ...
... While there is social distinction involved in choosing not to eat meat within certain social segments, the same is certainly true for eating lots of meat. Some meat practices, such as eating dog meat and wild meat, are considered masculine and can also be status-enhancing (Avieli, 2011;Drury, 2011), although many among especially the young, urban middle class consider such practices outdated and even cruel. Eating the reproductive organs of certain animals is believed to be libido-enhancing. ...
Article
The global consumption of meat and animal products has increased dramatically in recent decades, particularly due to rising consumption in so-called developing countries. This increase has popularly been explained as part of a “nutrition transition” driven by rising income, urbanisation and foreign culinary influences. From the supply side, the increase has been approached as part of a “livestock revolution”, or alternatively as the outcome of capitalist agricultural processes. This paper argues, however, that these explanations have given insufficient attention to how and why consumption of meat changes. The paper analyses the case of Vietnam, where meat consumption has increased very rapidly since the initiation of market reforms in 1986. In understanding how meat consumption and development have co-evolved, the paper argues that consumption should be approached at the intersection between systems of provision and everyday practices. With this backdrop – and partly combining, partly going beyond standard explanations – the paper locates four main contributing factors towards increasing meat consumption in Vietnam: (1) changes in systems of provision for meat, (2) the meat intensification of traditional meals and the import of meat-intensive eating practices from abroad, (3) the increasing prevalence of eating out; and (4) the positive social connotations attached to meat as a symbol of development and progress. The paper goes on to argue that the dramatic meatification of food provision and practice in Vietnam should be understood as the result of capitalist development processes and their associated economic and social changes, rather than the ‘natural’ and inevitable outcome of development.
... Culture is reflected in every person's action, attitudes, and positionings in the specific surroundings. For example, concerning the consumption of canine, if for many civilizations it would be unthinkable to eat a dog, for others, such as the Vietnamese, it is not only desirable, but also related to good fortune and considered as an aphrodisiac (Avieli, 2011). Undoubtedly, culture shapes beliefs and values, and contributes to the person's self-determination via the construction of its identity. ...
... Such a dynamic may have existed in the Iron Age Levant between Philistine and Israelite/Canaanite peoples (Maher 2017). In modern times, Avieli (2011) has examined the intersection of identity and cynophagy in Vietnam. He argues that eating dog at semi-clandestine restaurants is associated with the performance of a distinct type of middle class masculinity, one that simultaneously highlights masculine carnivory, rejects Buddhism, and fashions a sense of a distinction and, thus, status. ...
Article
Full-text available
Archaeological assemblages, texts, and iconography indicate a multifaceted, yet often ignored, canine economy in the ancient eastern Mediterranean and Near East. This economy included not only dogs’ celebrated roles as hunting aids, guards, village scavengers, and companions, but also the regular processing, use, and consumption of dogs for foods, hides, and medicinal/ritual purposes. Drawing on ethnohistorical information and zooarchaeological data from three Chalcolithic/Bronze Age sites—Tell Surezha (Iraq), Mycenae (Greece), and Acemhöyük (Turkey)—we emphasize evidence for the processing of dog carcasses, which reflect a range of post-mortem treatments of dog bodies. We suggest the widespread use of primary products from dogs, features of an ancient canine economy that are rarely reported on in depth and often explained away as aberrations by modern scholars of the region. We speculate that this neglect stems in part from analysts’ taboos on cynophagy (unconsciously) influencing archaeological reconstructions of dog use in the past.
... In the abovementioned regions, mean temperatures are optimal for Toxocara, and the relative humidity and annual precipitation are high, while in East Mediterranean countries, where the T-seroprevalence was estimated to be low, it is warm and dry, and precipitation is low. Another for the situation in South America or East Asia regions might be that contact with pets and stray animals is close [45][46][47], and in some countries of East Asia such as Korea, China and Vietnam dog and cat meat is commonly consumed [48][49][50], while in East Mediterranean countries, due to religious beliefs, close contact with dogs and cats seems to be relatively limited. In addition, in some of East Mediterranean countries, there are legal restrictions to having pets and taking them to public places [51,52]. ...
... In the abovementioned regions, mean temperatures are optimal for Toxocara, and the relative humidity and annual precipitation are high, while in East Mediterranean countries, where the T-seroprevalence was estimated to be low, it is warm and dry, and precipitation is low. Another for the situation in South America or East Asia regions might be that contact with pets and stray animals is close [45][46][47], and in some countries of East Asia such as Korea, China and Vietnam dog and cat meat is commonly consumed [48][49][50], while in East Mediterranean countries, due to religious beliefs, close contact with dogs and cats seems to be relatively limited. In addition, in some of East Mediterranean countries, there are legal restrictions to having pets and taking them to public places [51,52]. ...
Article
Full-text available
Background Human toxocariasis is an important neglected disease. We performed a systematic review and meta-analysis study to estimate the global and regional prevalence of anti-Toxocara serum antibodies (referred to as ‘T-seroprevalence’) in human populations around the world. Methods We searched five international databases (PubMed, EMBASE, Web of Science, SciELO and Scopus) for seroprevalence studies published from 1 January 1980 to 15 March 2019. We used random effect models to calculate the overall T-seroprevalence (with 95% CIs) in all six WHO regions and worldwide. We also conducted subgroup and linear meta-regression analyses to evaluate the impact of socio-demographic, geographical and climatic parameters on seroprevalence. Results We identified 250 eligible studies (253 datasets) comprising 265,327 participants in 71 countries for inclusion in the present meta-analysis. The estimated global T-seroprevalence rate was 19.0% (95%CI, 16.6–21.4%; 62,927/265,327); seroprevalence was highest in the African region (37.7%; 25.7–50.6%) and lowest in the Eastern Mediterranean region (8.2%; 5.1–12.0%). The pooled seroprevalence for other WHO regions was 34.1% (20.2–49.4%) in the South-East Asia; 24.2% (16.0–33.5%) in the Western Pacific; 22.8% (19.7–26.0%) in the American; and 10.5% (8.5–12.8%) in the European regions. A significantly higher T-seroprevalence was associated with a lower income level; lower human development index (HDI); lower latitude; higher humidity; higher temperature; and higher precipitation (P-value < 0.001). Potential risk factors associated with seropositivity to Toxocara included male gender; living in a rural area; young age; close contact with dogs, cats or soil; consumption of raw meat; and the drinking of untreated water. Conclusions The present findings indicate high levels of infection with, or exposure to Toxocara spp. in many countries, which calls for increased attention to human toxocariasis and improved measures to prevent adverse health risks of this disease.
... En 2004 había docenas. Los restaurantes de carne de perro y consumir la carne de perro han sido populares durante mucho tiempo en el norte de Vietnam, pero no en el centro y el sur 337 . En Vietnam, una encuesta realizada mostró que, en general, las personas apoyaban el uso de perros como mascotas, animales de asistencia y como perros guardianes, pero estaban en contra del uso de perros como alimento; de acuerdo con esto, la mayoría apoyaría la prohibición de comer perros, pero hubo una gran diferencia de opinión cuando se comparó a los residentes de 2 ciudades: la mayoría de las personas que vivían en el norte (Hanói), a diferencia del sur (Ho Chi Minh) apoyaban el uso de perros como alimento y no apoyarían la prohibición de comer perros 338 . ...
Book
Full-text available
La alimentación humana está condicionada por factores ideológicos, climáticos, geográficos, tecnológicos y religiosos, entre otros. Esos factores crean patrones de dieta que los humanos eligen por variedad de razones, como preocupaciones éticas, deseo de una mejor salud, creencias religiosas y consideraciones ambientales, entre otras. El condicionamiento en la alimentación es creado en un ambiente sociocultural, que dista en tiempo, de la alimentación originaria en un ambiente natural; la cual por modificaciones conductuales, en la especie humana, evolutivamente, han causado cambios en adaptaciones anatómicas y fisiológicas en humanos. El estudio de esas adaptaciones genera hipótesis enmarcadas dentro de un contexto con validez bajo distintos puntos de vista, lo que dificulta establecer, en parte, la verdad sobre la alimentación humana. Para la elaboración de este libro se consultó literatura puramente científica. Los temas tratados abarcan la adaptación evolutiva de primates humanos, no humanos y algunas otras especies, existentes y extintas, con énfasis en la anatomía comparada; la experiencia multisensorial en la comunicación entre plantas y animales; la evolución de la dieta humana y aspectos nutricionales y de salud asociados al procesamiento de alimentos, al consumo de macronutrientes de origen animal y vegetal, y de compuestos fito y zooquímicos; además, relaciones entre la microbiota intestinal y las dietas. Temática que ofrece al lector diversidad de argumentos que llevan a suponer sobre lo que los humanos modernos, deberían o no, comer.
Article
Full-text available
Veganism’s visibility has soared in recent years. Contemporary veganism has built a trident approach of outreach that emphasises health benefits, ethical concerns about animals, and environmentally sustainable consumption. With this growth, there have been opportunities for influencer-activists to profit from positioning themselves as movement leaders. This is often connected with thin, white, wealthy women and the wellness industry, but there is also a changing ‘meatless masculinity’ within vegan influencer-activist spaces. Hegemonic ideals of masculinity around physical strength and virility are being hyper-individualised to ‘sell’ veganism through embodied and cultural performances of ‘redemption narratives’ by vegan influencer-activist men. However, in interviews with vegan men in Britain, their relation to these meatless masculinities was found to be in tension with hegemonic masculinity. Interviewees instead related their veganism to an ungoverning of masculine bodily ideals. Veganism was revealed in the interviews as entangled with men representing themselves as part of a progressive masculinity that engages with feminist ideas, even if they are sometimes misunderstood. In this paper, I explore the prevalence and purpose of these masculinity narratives online through social media examples, before exploring a contradictory growth in the re-thinking and rejection of hegemonic masculinity within the vegan constituency through interviews. I conclude that while vegan masculinities offer the potential for men to be a little less governed by gendered norms there remains a need for vegans to more fully embrace a feminist and intersectional veganism that is not dominated by whiteness and masculinist ideals.
Chapter
Kiêng kỵ, literally “forbidden [from the] heart”, is the term used in Vietnam when referring to taboos, yet the sense of complete prohibition associated with taboos in Western cultures is incompatible with Vietnamese food cosmology. Based on ethnographic research conducted in the central Vietnamese town of Hoi An since the late 1990s, this chapter follows the consumption of two kinds of meats that are publically condemned but may be consumed in specific contexts: he-goat meat (thịt dê) and “jungle” meat (thịt rừng). These meats are served in food venues that specialize in alcohol and are associated with excessive drinking, extreme masculinity, and illicit social relations. Michael Herzfeld’s notion of Cultural Intimacy is applied so as to explain the ambivalence and resulting anxieties, and their alleviation.
Chapter
The chapter examines the analytical scope of the banal nationalism perspective by applying it to the level of international governance focusing on the inclusion of food culture/cuisine in UNSESCO’s intangible cultural heritage list. Through an examination of the world heritage regime in general and two examples of inscription in the list, washoku of Japan and the gastronomic meal of the French in particular, the chapter shows that banal nationalism is at work even at the international/global level and contributes to the reinforcement of the nation state system thanks to a variety of factors: the contradictory status of UNESCO as the promoter of the universal values through the protection of the particular, the emerging human rights discourse and the entrenchment of romanticism-inspired cult of authenticity.
Book
The Sexual Politics of Meat is Carol Adams’ inspiring and controversial exploration of the interplay between contemporary society’s ingrained cultural misogyny and its obsession with meat and masculinity. First published in 1990, the book has continued to change the lives of tens of thousands of readers into the second decade of the 21st century. Published in the year of the book’s 25th anniversary, the Bloomsbury Revelations edition includes a substantial new afterword, including more than 20 new images and discussions of recent events that prove beyond doubt the continuing relevance of Adams’ revolutionary book.
Article
This paper examines some of the methodological and ethical dilemmas inherent to fieldwork in communities saturated by religious identification and discourses. I examine the dynamics of fieldwork along the fault lines of reflexivity, when one’s own existential ground is challenged and reformed through adopting a position of `practical empathy` with religious beliefs from which one had previously sought to distance oneself. Central to this is the idea that the ‘ethnographic moment’, i.e. the moment in which the anthropologist rises to meet a revealed problematic encapsulated in a particular instance of fieldwork, may be paralleled to the experience of religious epiphany, whereby embodied and intellectual understanding of phenomena and situation come to merge, producing a totalising understanding of the field and the “afield”
Book
The Fragile Scholar examines the pre-modern construction of Chinese masculinity from the popular image of the fragile scholar (caizi) in late imperial Chinese fiction and drama. The book is an original contribution to the study of the construction of masculinity in the Chinese context from a comparative perspective (Euro-American).