Dogs are nutritious

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It doesn’t take much understanding of the dog’s history to realise that its first job was to fill people’s bellies. Dog people don’t like talking about eating dogs. For those of us who live with them, who learn to understand how they think and feel, who adopt them into our families as “honorary humans”, not quite children but also not quite as ‘animal’ as other animals, eating a dog seems almost cannibalistic. (I bet some people have never forgiven Roald Amundsen and his colleagues for eating their sled dogs during their successful expedition to become the first explorers to reach the South Pole.) That’s possibly why most of the books I’ve read gloss over the subject of dog meat and say that the dog’s first job was to help on the hunt. But that’s impossible. It would have taken countless generations of breeding before dogs came to assist us rather than compete with us when hunting. Dogs were our first livestock. Just as thousands of years later the first domesticated horses were originally raised for food and only after used for other purposes, so were dogs. The first domesticated dogs were ready made meals.

There’s a curious clue in the DNA of the human tapeworm Taenia solium that reveals we’re a species with a long history of eating dogs. Genetic studies of this tapeworm indicate that humans acquired it by eating dogs. Other studies show that ancient pigs ate us or dogs and that’s how they acquired another tapeworm, Taenia asiatica.

Eventually, we developed techniques for raising more energy-efficient animals to eat, the herbivores. Dog dropped from the main course on the menu but remained an emergency food supply, a reliable source of nourishment when crops failed or hunting was unsuccessful. Dog meat was widely eaten wherever there were dogs; in Europe during times of famine, most famously during the deprivations of the French and Russian Revolutions and those of the two World Wars.

Needs can turn into pleasure. There were dog meat shops in Germany until the 1980s while, according to the Swiss newspaper the Rheintaler Bote, in the Appenzell and St. Gallen cantons of Switzerland there was and allegedly still is, a local tradition of wind-curing dog meat.

Dog meat has been vital for survival elsewhere, especially amongst the indigenous people of the Arctic regions, the Inuit. In Arctic Canada, oral histories of the now aging Inuit who hunted before the arrival of the snowmobile have been recorded.?Mary Irraju Anugaaq Sr., tells this story.?“…one time Juugini was out hunting at the open sea during winter and he fell in the water and was drowning and the only help he got was from a dog. As he was drowning, his own dog saved him (…) during a starvation period, Juugini was very hungry and freezing and he killed the dog and ate it.”

Issacie Padlayat says this about “Qimmiit”, the Inuit word for “dogs”.?“The Inuit and Qimmiit were very knowledgeable of the land and never got lost even when they travelled everywhere (…) They were our only means of transportation, I don’t think anyone would have survived without the use of dog teams. They were used for long distance travel and hunting. Even when the Inuit were starving, we used to survive by eating our dogs (…) We used them for trapping, hunting, to transport our belongings to shore when we had to travel by qayak in the spring…I’ve seen a few summer dogs .. which they used for caribou hunting during summertime.”?Elsewhere, dogs were actively bred and fed for their meat. I mentioned in the last chapter that the Polynesians fed their edible dogs cooked taro root. Studies of ancient dog bones in Mexico show that the Aztecs’ dogs ate a diet that consisted almost exclusively of maize. That would only have been possible if they were actively fed it. When Hernando Cortes arrived in Tenochtitlan in 1519 he wrote in a letter that “small gelded dogs which they breed for eating” were sold in the marketplace.

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