Tuesday, August 25, 2009

more on dogs and culture

You have to laugh when Pakehas tells Tongans to respect the culture of New Zealand, especially when it comes to eating dogs. Putting a dog into an earth oven is part of the culture of this land. This is, after all, Polynesia.

Don't get me wrong – I'm personally no more likely to eat a kuri than I am a pig, but when the Minister for Agriculture, and meat farmer, David Carter gets self righteous about Paea Taufa (humanely) knocking off his pitbull terrier and cooking it, I can't help snorting aloud. Maybe the Minister is trying to ingratiate himself with the animal rights people in a bid to pave the way for resuming live sheep exports, but what a bunch of arse. Actually I reckon that Mr Taufa should be commended.

Not so much for preempting the potentially serious problem of a dog that was trying to bite the neighbours, although that alone should give the hysterical cause to pause. No, I think that in this time of recession and ecological crisis, with the NZ economy dependent on an commodity producing agricultural sector that is (with a few notable exceptions) environmentally reckless if not vandalistic, and as we accelerate into the last few years of the Oil Age, any tendencies towards self sufficiency should be encouraged. For incorrigible carnivores, dog eating may be the way of the future.

Actually guinea pigs and rabbits are probably a better source of meat. They can be kept on small areas of lawn and are far more efficient at converting grass to protein than cows or sheep. They are cheap to buy, easy to breed, and (I imagine) simple to dispatch. And as well as the economic and environmental arguments, I reckon there is a moral question too. No one should eat meat who isn't prepared to kill the animal and butcher it themself.

I don't imagine the people down at Turangawaewae preparing the feasts for the coronation week are squeamish about butchering. Mind you, I don't imagine they are eating guinea pig either. Lots of ordinary pigs, cows and sheep, though, will be going through those kitchens as workers toil to feed the thousands of people descending on Ngaruawahia to pay their respects to King Tuheitia. I suspect that David Carter will not be there, honouring the culture of New Zealand. In fact most Pakeha New Zealanders will be only dimly aware, at best, of this major event in the Maori calendar.

So whenever I hear Pakeha complain about dog eating, or burkas or people squatting on the lav, or object to hearing foreign languages spoken around then, I can't help reflecting on the fact that after more than 160 years of us being in this country, most of us have only the most perfunctory idea about Maori culture, Maori language, Maori values or Maori aspirations. We live in a parallel universe, it seems, yet one so close to us that we bump shoulders with it every day.

Part of the reason, I suspect, is because most Pakeha don't really see ourselves as part of an ethnic group with a culture of our own. We see culture and ethnicity as words to describe other people's quirky ways and how they differ from the norm, as defined by us. Think 'ethnic food' and it is more likely to be dog that springs to mind than lamb and mint sauce. Maybe that's why the whole Maori Flag debate is so important. In some ways recognising one is an easy symbolic gesture for the Government, but it's a powerful one all the same. It says we are not one homogeneous people, and we are no longer scared of that basic truth.

from my Waikato Times column 22 August 2009

2 comments:

Frog said...

Clearly the foolish Minister hasn't read "The tale of the cannibal dog" about Captain Cook's voyages. (I recommend it)

Lucinda said...

I totally agree, I thought it was really obnoxious to preach about adopting "New Zealand" values when it was blatantly clear that they were moreso European values than anything.

"No one should eat meat who isn't prepared to kill the animal and butcher it themself."

Sigh. This is a huge moral quandry for me because I eat meat, I agree with the above statement, but, having lived on a farm, I know that I would struggle to slaughter an animal I had known personally. I think it'd be a lot different if I was starving and was killing an animal that I hadn't gotten to know.

But it all boils down to me being a hypocrite. Dammit.