I'm half Batak, which means that the sight of people munching on dog meat doesn't really surprise me. It was common enough at family events, that I always knew to ask by aunt before scooping some unidentified meat onto my plate. I don't care if my relatives want to eat dog, but, personally, the idea always made me feel a bit queasy. I still eat all kinds of other meat, and I know this pretty much makes me a hypocrite, but so is nearly everyone else out there.
Most of the world thinks dogs are off-limits as food. And here in Indonesia, a group called Dog Meat Free Indonesia definitely feels the same way. The organization has been fighting against the consumption of dog meat for years. And now, the central government is listening.
The government recently issued a new regulation banning the consumption and sale of dog meat. Animal abuse, religious beliefs, and rabies concerns definitely played a role in the decision. But so did tourism.
“Foreign countries find a low standard of animal welfare and cruelty unacceptable and will stop visiting Indonesia, which is bad for tourism," Syamsul Ma’arif, the director of veterinary public health in the Agriculture Ministry, told The Jakarta Post, in a recent interview.
The argument goes that foreign tourists find eating dogs distasteful, and they might choose to visit elsewhere instead, taking those holiday dollars with them. I don't know if this is true, after all people eat dogs in a lot of countries that still get plenty of visitors, but I am also a bit relieved that dog meat is finally off my plate.
But what about the people who make a living selling the stuff? Here in Indonesia, dog meat is a common enough ingredient in Batak and Manado food. How will they deal with part of their cuisine suddenly vanishing from the menu? I headed over to Jakarta's Mall Ambassador, a Manado food mecca, to figure it out.
Watch: Dining on Dogs In Yulin
It didn't take me long to find someone with RW, or Rintek Wuuk, Mandonese for "soft fur," on the menu. Om Rudy, the owner of a Manado food stall, greeted me with a warm smile and offered me some tasty rica-rica. Afterwards, he pulled up a chair and brought some canine I could tear into with my own canines. I took a small chunk of RW to be polite.
“My RW is the best around here,” he said. “That's what people say.”
Om Rudy has been selling Manado food, RW included, for decades, and he admitted that dog meat has always been his best-selling item. People order the dish to celebrate, to pair with alcoholic drinks, or for medicinal purposes, he explained.
“Today I only cooked half the usual amount,” Om Rudy said. “Usually, on the weekends, I cook twice as much, and it sells out really fast.”
“The government said it’s going to ban the trade for dog meat,” I told him. “How do you feel about that?”
Om Rudy stayed silent for a while, and I was kind of expecting an angry reply. After all, this man is known for his delicious RW.
“Well, the RW dish have been under scrutiny by animal lovers," he said. "Because dogs are different, you know. I have five dogs at home. They’re loyal creatures. Chickens aren’t special like that."
Om Rudy told me that while he's going to comply with the ban, he knows that his peers back home are just going to switch to taking orders by phone.
“The question is, how strict are the rules going to be?" he said. "If the consequences aren’t severe, then people would still sell it regardless."
It’s true. The demand for dog meat has only been increasing in Indonesia, with the dish hitting menus in places like Yogyakarta, Solo, and Bali. Eating dogs is considered haram in Islam, but Om Rudy told me that plenty of Muslims come to his stall to consume the dish for medicinal purposes.
Years ago, he served a young man who was suffering from rashes all over his body the dish two to three times a week. After a month, the rashes disappeared. "Manadonese people believe that RW is good for the skin, because it increases body temperature and improves circulation,” Om Rudy said. “But maybe it’s just suggestion."
In Jakarta alone, around 73,000 dogs are killed for consumption per year. With such high demand, it’s unlikely that traders are just going to stop. So far, the government hasn't announced when the ban will take effect, or what the consequences will be. So most dog meat vendors are probably not even thinking about it. Still, Om Rudy said he was a bit worried.
“It’s a source of income for a lot of people," he said. "What will happen to the stray dogs once the ban takes place? We mostly take stray dogs, because their diet is more natural than pets. And what if someone sick comes to me for help? It’s a matter of conscience. How can I not give them the medicine?"
The concept of conscience in this business is a little too complicated for me to discuss, so I just keep eating instead. Om Rudy then pointed at the "No Smoking" sign right next to his stall.
“It says no smoking there," he said. "But people smoke all the time, because the consequences aren’t severe. They would wait till the guards disappear, and light up their cigarettes. It’s hard to prohibit something that feels or tastes good."
It’s hard indeed.