Kiangan, Philippines: Man's Best Friend Over Rice
By Lauren G. Ferreira
With only two weeks of a solo, six-month trip throughout Asia remaining, I felt confident that I had successfully navigated any and all obstacles to maintaining a vegetarian diet. After trekking in Nepal, island hopping in Thailand, living the rural life in Laos, and immersing myself in the chaos of Cambodia, I had had the pleasure of sampling many delicious cuisines without compromising cultural immersion.
Having been invited to visit my friend Jordan, in Ifugao, a northern province in Luzon, Philippines, I booked a ticket posthaste. Seeing a familiar face and tasting yet another new cuisine seemed a perfect way to end the journey.
After an exhausting flight and an overnight bus trip, I arrived in the small town of Kiangan, where I met up with Jordan at his home. Wanting to show me a bit of the countryside, he arranged for us to travel to a village in a more mountainous region of Ifugao, near the famous rice terraces of Banaue. There he was to meet with the mayor on “official” business. Heading out of town the next morning by way of jeepney we ascended into the sharp-ridged, heavily-forested mountains.
After a full day’s journey, we arrived at the sleepy hamlet. It was easy to spot the newly built, two-story, concrete municipal building amidst the handful of single-story, hand-built homes. Greeting us upon arrival, the mayor invited us to lunch. It took minutes to walk to our lunch spot in the home of one of the mayor’s staff. A group of local men were seated outside on dingy plastic chairs. I was the only woman and the tallest of the group. Two men stood up offered up their spots, make-shifting new ones for themselves from overturned crates. “Please take your seats,” the mayor pronounced.
The smell of meat cooking wafted from the kitchen. It was unmistakable. “Don't worry,” I thought to myself, “there’s bound to be rice and vegetables.” In short order a gigantic, aluminum-like pot was carried forth. Having the girth and depth of a sawed-off wine barrel, it held a mountain of white rice that could have filled a kiddie pool. The widespread arms holding the rice placed it gingerly atop the table.
Following the tremendous trough of rice were two smaller containers piled high with steaming meat. I waited for the greens to follow, but none did. Meat and rice were the only menu options. No matter how I worked it out in my head, there seemed no way to avoid eating meat without offending our hosts.
Having spent the last six months balancing my strict eating habits with the various eating habits of the cultures I was in, I had managed to strike an ideal equilibrium. Not wanting to offend my hosts, and having no intention of missing out on a unique, cultural experience, I had vowed never to refuse a direct offer from a local and had not yet done so. Somehow I had avoided eating meat without doing any of the above.
It seemed I had finally reached an impasse. After fast and furious deliberation, I chose meat. Inhaling deeply, I made up my mind that the appropriate time had come for me to break the last vestige of vegetarianism and eat some flesh.
For a few moments I watched as the Filipino men loaded up their plates. The two meat courses were marinated mysteries, and before I could take part my curiosity had gotten the better of me.
“What kind of meat is it?” I inquired of the mayor who sat nearby.
“It’s dog,” he stated bluntly, and then stared fixedly at me. He and his compatriots were very familiar with the American aversion to eating man’s best friend. Jordan and I gave each other what-the-fuck looks. We had anticipated beef, pork, ox, or even some lesser-known Filipino animal, but not dog. With a fast shake of our heads, our simultaneous gut reaction was a quick “No, thank you.”
We were weighing our cultural distaste with wanting to be the gracious guests, and struggling with the process. Eating dog is not a common dinner table topic to Americans, but still the taboo is understood at an early age. After all, we bring dogs into our homes to be part of the family and, more often than not, spoil them like newborn babies.
Who among us hasn’t snuck the little moochers scraps from the table? They are our protectors and perky playmates. How could we fry up something that we spend hours teaching to speak and shake our hands?
While many of us in the U.S. frown furiously upon the eating of our pets, only seven states actually prohibit the slaughter and sale of dogs, cats or other companion animals. Of those, only California and New York actually prohibit their consumption. Thus, it is technically legal in 48 states to eat your pet.
But potential eaters beware: there are some documented side effects. One Filipino who ate dog unknowingly as a child said, “[Afterwards] the dogs around me kept smelling me, which got me scared.” Apparently it is common for dogs to sniff and growl at those who have just eaten their kind. Additionally, 10,000 dogs and 350 humans die of rabies each year in the Philippines alone. Chew on that.
Indeed, some people have no qualms about eating, not just dog in general, but their own pet. A Filipino acquaintance, while hanging around with his friends some years back, killed and cooked a dog that had wandered nearby. Soon after, a man came around who was irate, as the dog had been his. To assuage his anger the group of teenagers told him a car had killed the dog.
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