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On the menu

By Terry Joseph
December 03, 2004

In a country where far too many people believe "what don't kill does fatten," this week's furore over mere hypothesis that restaurants in an eastern village may have been substituting dog meat for fine-dining fare, indicates agreement among even the most flippant Trinis on a base-paradigm in matters of health and nutrition.

Mark you, we live in a country where bake-and-shark is virtually a national dish, dismissing disdain in which the rest of the world holds this particular sea-scavenger and the fact both components of this meal are deep-fried, enhancing cholesterol content, then sandwiched in a white-flour preparation; a combination predictably revolting to the health-conscious.

We are also a people whose savoury preferences include chicken-foot souse and many among us gorge on meats from undomesticated animals with foreboding names like manicou, quenk, tattoo, agouti, lappe and iguana which, seasoned beyond recognition by olfactory or tactile senses, could pass for a lot of other things and-more importantly-vice versa.

The dog-flesh anxiety comes at Christmastime, when every trail to "wild-meat" is followed like a star in the east, a determination coupled with excesses of appetite-intensifying liquor. In such circumstances, lovers of rare animal protein are unlikely to demand affidavits certifying every morsel of "something salt" as having come from the forest.

But not dog. Oh God, no!

The more mature among us will remember an uproar caused by conviction that a small St James fast-food outlet, was serving curried dog meat wrapped in dhalpouri. Subsequent conviction of its proprietor was a topic that left the public scandalised and retching but escaped calypso critique, presumably because most singers had gleefully munched on at least one such late-night meal.

Nor was it an isolated case. In Port of Spain stood a café specialising in fried chicken some say derived its singular flavour from being done in the same bubbling pot of lard for several years. San Fernando too had its gory story, with an outlet ruined by dog-roti allegations. The tastiest doubles, some still contend, are those prepared with wastewater from the nearest mortuary.

But the thoroughly revolting find of skeletal remains of a large number of dogs in Sangre Grande, a scenario further tainted by corbeaux circling overhead and land-based carnivores snapping at putrid remains, is indeed cause for concern and not limited to what became of the choice cuts. That some person or persons could, without earlier detection, kill a large number of animals and ferry their carcasses to the location for burial shouldn't bring any comfort to the missing-persons bureau either.

In the absence of detail, perception wins, for it is difficult to conjure other feasible explanations. It may be that, given their high-frequency hearing ability, the more sophisticated canines developed a communication system far beyond our comprehension and convinced minion mongrels to join them in a macabre pact, but that suggests the information exchange was used for self-destruction, a trait not common even among common dogs and even so, the undertaker remains mysterious.

From all appearances, it wasn't a herd of Lassie look-alikes nor cuddly poodles and Chihuahuas answering to names like Gulliver or Frisky but street-wise pooches outsmarted and set upon by malevolent persons, who fully understand that consumers seldom investigate already wrapped foods to verify the integrity of their fillings. Quite unlike a beef pelau, where visuals help trigger palatability, an egg roll could conceivably conceal some rather unpleasant surprises.

The Travel Channel having shown us Chinese in native environment feasting on dog-meat, something of a delicacy in the Far East, oriental restaurants in the district were first to experience the backlash. Already a dog-eat-dog business (oops!), proprietors were hurt by innuendo about missing flesh of the slain animals finding a warm niche in dim-sum, pow, tin-sam, samoosa and, more liberally applied, as a kind of hamburger helper for the ever-popular char-sue-kai-fan.

Literally a case of more bark than bite, sceptical consumers loudly condemned suspected villains, temporarily boycotting Chinese restaurants although, in a perplexing twist, several touted beef as a safe bet, notwithstanding the mad cow disease (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy) scare of the late 1990s. Others defended rack of lamb or mutton chops, although sheep have long been declared prone to the same BSE disease that sends its bovine cousins crazy; Trinis still refusing to accept that "dog better than ewe".

BSE is incurable, causing swift degeneration of the brain and central nervous system. A similarly complex disease in humans, known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), acts like an accelerated form of Alzheimer's, characterised by an irreversible formation of holes in brain tissue, which quickly disables and eventually kills its victims. Fear of contracting this fatal condition mortified meat eaters globally, creating widespread consumer panic but didn't stop the average Trini from going to the nearest roti shop and ordering "a beef with slight (pepper)".

Clearly, canine cuisine is quite a different matter and while exotic dishes like squid have lately been appearing on the local menu, dog meat is not likely to enjoy similar graduation.

Not dog. Oh God, no!

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