by Gene Owens
The Hawaiian state legislature has been considering a bill that would ban the slaughter of dogs and cats for food. The average Hawaiian probably needs that about as badly as South Carolina needs a law against killing possums and coons for food.
Southern pavement is littered with bodies of those unfortunate animals, and some of us still have fun hunting them. But Southerners don't eat road kill, especially since Kraft quit making its gummy road-kill candy, which was molded to look like flattened critters with tire marks across their backs. Kraft bowed to pressure from Yankee environmentalists, who feared that kids would graduate from eating the gummy candy to eating the gummy critters. Road Kill candy is now history.
Hawaiian dogs and cats, like Southern possums and coons, are more likely to end up in the median than on the menu. But many islanders have ethnic ties with countries where dogs and cats are regarded as livestock. Most Hawaiians have long since abandoned those barbaric tastes for more civilized food such as pizza, tacos, hamburgers and French fries.
But some Hawaiians became alarmed over rumors that dogs were being stolen and sold for food, and began pressing for pet-protection legislation.
Would such legislation represent an ethnic slam at people whose forebears ate cats and dogs? And would it discriminate against animals that are as intelligent and as lovable as canines and felines but maybe more appetizing to civilized palates?
If the pet-protection idea spreads to the mainland, it could strike a serious blow to dietary diversity. Not everyone is content to sit down to a steady diet of fried chicken; they crave culinary variety. I can take you to a few homes in the South where people aren't above eating possums, groundhogs and coons. Mostly, they're in very poor rural areas where a taste for the meat is a holdover from a time when if you wanted to eat meat you had to go out and hunt it.
When we sharecropped in South Carolina, a backwoods couple used to drive down the dirt road past our house in a mule-drawn wagon. They would often tie up the mules at a chinaberry tree in our yard and step up on the front porch for a leisurely visit. I once heard the lady telling Mama how to cook a coon (you use lots of peppers to burn away the wild taste).
Possums and coons rarely show up in Southern pots, but I can see where some folks might get riled over a law that said they couldn't eat them if they wanted to.
Greasy hamburgers are already an endangered species, not because they're hard on cattle but because they are drenched with cholesterol. Will pit-cooked barbecue be next?
Barbecue was a major lubricant in the flow of Yankee jobs into Dixie. During the '50s, Southern economic-development folks would invite Yankee moguls to visit during the dead of a Northern winter. There in the crisp outdoors, by a sparkling pond, they would stand them downwind from a fired-up barbecue pit and ply them with Bourbon out of plastic glasses.
Then the Yankees would listen in amazement as the politicians took turns lambasting labor unions in front of a cheering crowd of blue-collar workers who were willing to die rather than exchange their cherished independence for the high wages of a union shop. It was the sauce on the barbecue, and it brought many a Northern job down South. I can see Ted Kennedy moving to outlaw barbecue on grounds that it represents unfair economic competition.
I don't think fricasseed feline or barbecued beagle would result in the exporting of mainland jobs to Hawaii.
So on what grounds would anybody object to dogs and cats on the platter?
"Cats and dogs are great companions,"¯ responds Kim Soiti of Honolulu. "They're not stupid. They have emotions."
But pigs, too, are intelligent and undoubtedly have emotions.
Miss Peggy tells of the time her family raised a pig named Porky. She and her sisters lavished affection on him, unaware of the grim destiny that awaited him. The girls never knew what happened to him until one day the family was having sausage for breakfast and their older brother, Lee, mentioned that Porky was tasting pretty good that day. It was years before her sister Judy would touch another piece of pork.
Their native Georgia is the only Southern state that outlaws the slaughter and sale of dogs, cats and other animals that are considered companions.
It sounds as though Porky needed a lawyer to argue the case against the death penalty for him: He was intelligent, he had emotions, and he was a companion to the kids.
Unfortunately, he also made excellent sausage. I would argue that dogs don't share that quality. I may be wrong, but I don't intend to prove it.
Gene Owens has been around the Southern journalistic scene for 48 years. He has been senior associate editor of The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va., and editorial-page editor of the Roanoke Times in Roanoke, Va.
As senior editor for Creative Services, a management consulting firm in High Point, N. C., he ghosted more than a dozen published books for professional clients. For the past nine years he has been assistant managing editor, political editor and columnist for the Mobile Register. Register readers named him their favorite local columnist, and readers of the independent regional magazine, Bay Weekly, agreed. He was runner-up in the regional Green Eyeshades competition among writers of humor columns.
He has been on the board of directors of the National Conference of Editorial Writers and was editor of The Masthead, the NCEW’s national quarterly. He is in semi-retirement in Anderson, S. C.
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