For many, going overseas is a wondrous experience full of new sights, sounds and, most importantly, new foods. The exotic markets of Asia, for instance, are home to some truly bizarre dishes, at least as far as the Western palette is concerned. From scorpion and seahorse to toad and raw horse meat, the ways in which other countries prepare their animals (and the animals they do prepare) give a whole new dimension to mealtime.
Unfortunately, in the pursuit of fantastic food experiences, there are some markets that go further than many travellers would desire. We've talked in the past about the shark fin trade and the seal fur industry, but there lurks in Indonesia, a darker market for animal cruelty.
However, that market now looks a lot brighter, as we’ll discuss in this week’s climate column. But first, a little background.
The ‘extreme’ market of Tomohon.
Tomohon is a city located in North Sulawesi in central Indonesia. It has a rough population of 90,000, mostly Christians, but with a mix of faiths, including mainly Muslims and other religious observances who hold strict rules around halal meats. In fact, only around 7% of Indonesians consider themselves regular eaters of dog meat. But that hasn’t prevented the ‘extreme’ market of Tomohon from being a place of noteworthy tourist attention. And for some, animals such as dogs are considered to provide certain benefits, including increased vitality in men.
Until 2018, after lobbying by the animal activist group Change for Animals, the market was promoted on Trip Advisor as a place for tourists to try exotic foods that were hard to come by elsewhere. We will point out here that Trip Advisor was one of many websites to do this and that other sites were also closed down or were restricted from promoting the market around this time.
The reason the market was so controversial is not just because of the species it sold, although cats, dogs, snakes and bats alone may constitute exotic meats. It’s the way these animals were prepared for consumption.
It’s estimated that 90% of the animals slaughtered were pets, many of whom were found outside the Sulawesi region. Rabies is rampant in all but eight of Indonesia’s thirty-seven provinces, and the majority of the dogs sold on the market were found to have been infected with the disease. The conditions under which the meat was sold were also extremely unhygienic, with no practice of cleaning or disinfecting, as germs travelled between butcher and carcase.
Even more disgusting was the treatment of the animals. Kept in small, cramped cages too confined to stand up in, through temperatures that could get up to and above 40°C in summer, these animals waited to be killed. The most common method was a blow to the head with a wooden bludgeon to avoid blood spilling and to preserve the meat. The blow, in many cases, was not sufficient to kill. The animals were then blowtorched to singe off the hair, which is said to keep the meat fresh for later preparation. Reports of twitching and struggling indicate that many of these animals were still alive during the burning.
To repeat. Dogs and cats were burnt alive for the purpose of food novelty.
The good news.
Since 2017, and amidst the COVID-19 outbreak, organisations like Humane Society International and Animal Friends Manado Indonesia have been fighting to ban these practices. Initial interest was sparked back when the HSI released their in-depth exposé in 2017, a documentary which showed dogs being killed in the manner mentioned above.
These actions have paid off too. This recent victory has been largely due to the HSI’s sponsors and various celebrity endorsements, showing that donations do make a difference. The agreement between the Tohomon city district and the HSI has set a permanent ban on the slaughter, trafficking and sale of dogs and cats as meat. The agreement should put an end to the estimated 130,000 dogs slaughtered each year in Tomhon’s extreme market.
The ban, announced on the 24th of July, now closes the last seven traders of dog and cat meat on the market. It should hopefully help prevent the spread of rabies and disease, with traders switching to pork, chicken and beef prepared in less extreme ways. Twenty-five dogs and three cats were also liberated at the same time as the ban was announced. All of these animals are now in the process of finding new homes.
Much left to do.
This good news in one corner of the world is certainly a reason for celebration, but it also reminds us of the work left to do and the internet's continuing role in animal and human welfare. For example, many areas of South Korea still sell dog meat, with thousands of farms nationwide actively killing dogs through confinement, disease, exposure and cruelty.
South Korea has popularised the practice of eating live octopi and shrimp. In Seoul, there exists a restaurant that serves these creatures cooked alive in spaghetti, still squirming when they arrive at your table. Eating live animals is also a popular viral trend on YouTube, with streamers cutting up and torturing animals before they finally die in their mouths.
And before anyone in the West casts a stone, it’s estimated that 99% of animals used for food in the U.S. live in factory farms, confined in cages just as cramped and disease-ridden as anywhere in Asia.
New Zealand is hardly blameless — we’ve covered battery farms before in our column and the slow, disingenuous response our government has implemented with less-than-surface-level policy changes.
We’re far from an end to animal cruelty, and the bar for the well-being of our food animals is still incredibly low. Even without committing to vegetarianism or veganism, surely our readers would admit their food shouldn’t suffer unnecessarily. Pain doesn’t taste any better.
But together, we can walk out of the darkness and make stories like this recent one in Tomohon’s extreme market more common.
Supporting worthy causes.
At Eartha, we’re committed animal activists and supporters of organisations like the Humane Society International and Forest & Bird. You might even notice that the cute dog pictured at the beginning of this article (and directly above) is our very own Indie, Eartha’s official voice for animal rights.
Animals share the planet with us and, as creatures capable of emotion, pain, empathy and love, are deserving of life, comfort and respect.
If you’d like to help fight against the dog meat markets in Korea, you can join the donation drive here, which is close to achieving some real results towards banning dog farming practices.
You can donate here if you’d like to help the Humane Society with its various animal relief programs. Right now, first-time donations up to $20,000 are being matched by a generous donor, which means whatever you submit will be doubled towards the cause of helping liberate animals from unfair testing laboratories, factory farms and abuse in the wild.
So please, if you’re in the position to, and you haven’t signed up for a charity yet, make the Humane Society your goodwill deposit and help save the lives of some deserving animals.
- ‘Animals Used for Food’ on Peta. Date Accessed: 5th August, 2023. Site Link: https://bit.ly/44S72vW.
- ‘Bludgeoned and blow-torched: Inside a dog meat market’ on Sky News. Date Published: 8th April, 2019. Site Link: https://bit.ly/3OKtpxC.
- ‘"Brutally cruel" animal market sparks backlash’ on abc news. Date Published: 24th January, 2018. Site Link: https://bit.ly/3rUOIUl.
- ‘Closing Down Indonesia’s “Extreme” Live Animal Markets’ on Change For Animals. Date Accessed: 5th August, 2023. Site Link: https://bit.ly/3KtNWUZ.
- Eriksen, Lars. ‘Live and let dine’ on The Guardian. Date Published: 10th November, 2010. Site Link: https://bit.ly/3OGwrmL.
- ‘Extreme Market In Tomohon | Sulawesi Indonesia|’ on The Indo Trekker. Date Published: 28th November, 2022. Link: https://bit.ly/3qhvhEO.
- ‘Indonesia's notorious Tomohon animal market to stop selling dog and cat meat’ on Sky News. Date Published: 21st July, 2023. Site Link: https://bit.ly/44T9oup.
- ‘Indonesia’s notorious Tomohon ‘Extreme’ Market bans slaughter and sale of dogs and cats for meat in historic agreement’ on Human Society International. Date Published: 24th July, 2023. Site Link: https://bit.ly/44YdmlQ.
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- Skladany, Joey. ‘Sannakji Is a Live Octopus Dish That May Shock the Most Adventurous Eaters’ on Food & Wine. Date Published: 10th December, 2022. Site Link: https://bit.ly/44VW1K3.
- Taufan, Mohammad. ‘A notorious Indonesian animal market has ended its brutal dog and cat meat trade, campaigners say’ on abc news. Date Published: 21st July, 2023. Site Link: https://bit.ly/3YjOPoF.
- ‘The Top 30 Unusual Foods in Asia’ on Backpacker Travel. Date Accessed: 5th August, 2023. Site Link: https://bit.ly/3Oq8bnH.
- ‘Tomohon Traditional Market Is Not For Faint-Hearted People’ on Talking Indonesia. Date Accessed: 5th August, 2023. Site Link: https://bit.ly/3DHfVwj.
- ‘Why Dogs Deserve Better – Ending Indonesia’s Cruel Dog Meat Trade’ on Change For Animals. Date Accessed: 5th August, 2023. Site Link: https://bit.ly/44bN3Yd.